Ha’aretz tells us that in testifying before the Winograd Committee which he himself set up to investigate the functioning of the government during the Lebanon “Battle” (the government still refuses to call it a war, much to the consternation of some parents of deceased soldiers) in lieu of a state level investigation, Ehud Olmert stated that Israel had a plan to attack Hizbullah if they were to commit serious border violations including those that might include soldier abductions.
In his testimony, Olmert claimed he had held more meetings on the situation in Lebanon than any of his recent predecessors. The first meeting was held on January 8, 2006, four days after Olmert was called to take the place of Ariel Sharon, who had fallen into a coma.
The scenario presented in the various assessments reflected prior incidents: the abduction of soldiers from Israeli territory accompanied by heavy cross-border shelling. Then-chief of staff Dan Halutz said such an incident would have far-reaching consequences for Israel’s deterrent capability. Halutz said Israel could not show restraint in the face of a kidnapping in the north, and it had to respond. Olmert testified that he accepted this stance.
In a meeting in March, Olmert asked the army commanders whether operational plans existed for such a possibility, and they said yes. He asked to see the plans, and they asked why. He responded that he did not want to make a snap decision in the case of an abduction, and preferred to decide at that moment. Presented with the options, he selected a moderate plan that included air attacks accompanied by a limited ground operation. At the time, Shaul Mofaz was defense minister.
In other words, the IDF and the PM of Israel had a plan in the event of a strike by Hizbullah.
This would be excellent news under most circumstances. After all, they had a plan!
May God save us from such plans.
So then, why didn’t they have an effective strategy? Why weren’t they successful in stopping the rockets? Why were they at war for 33 days without an outcome that allowed Northern Israel to function normally? Why were there few stockpiles for soldiers including missing equipment? Why were battles sown with confusion, with commanders being given contradictory instructions? Why did intelligence not know about the location of many Hizbullah tunnels? How did a navy ship get fired upon successfully by an Iranian missile from the Lebanese shore? How is it they couldn’t get at the Hizbullah leadership?
I mean, if this is how Israel fights when there’s a plan, what will happen when there’s a surprise attack? It appears the Syrians are planning one right now…
Ha’aretz continues to describe other key questions that were raised during Olmert’s testimony to his friendly committee. It appears that Olmert is convinced that Sharon would have conducted the war as did Olmert, that Israeli ground offensives were successful (this despite the obvious fact that a couple of villages near the border were never cleared of Hizbullah fighters and remained hot-spots throughout the war), that the final offensive push, which included the battle where tanks were sitting ducks for Hizbullah anti-tank weapons, was necessary and successful and that Israel got its way by having the final version of UNSCR 1701 modified from the French-led version.
Absurd and sad. Not only is it clear that while many individual missions were successful, the overall strategy of the war failed abysmally, but it’s also clear that while Olmert sought to have UNSCR 1559 implemented faithfully, he failed at this by engendering 1701. 1559 is the resolution that demands that all militias in Lebanon disarm and that the Lebanese army take control of the border with Israel. Hizbullah never disarmed and maintained control over the border. The Lebanese Army never came close. 1701 ostensibly brings the Lebanese Army to the border, but for the first time it also brings an international peace-keeping force that appears to have its guns aimed at Israel as much as at Hizbullah. This force has also done nothing to stop the flow of arms to Hizbullah – in direct violation of 1701 – who remain armed in opposition to 1559 and 1701, and in de facto control of the Lebanese border.
It is also clear that the ground offensive came far too late into the war and was nowhere near as well planned, managed or concluded as it needed to be. Olmert has justified this by claiming that Israeli casualties would have been far higher had they executed the plan of coming south from the Litani River, but in fact he cannot know that this is true and the manner in which the war was conducted by the IDF leaves has cost Israel not only this war but its deterrent power.
Finally, in an interesting detail, the Ha’aretz report mentions that the Israeli leadership was contacted by Condoleeza Rice on the first day of the war with a request not to undermine Siniora’s government. The Israelis apparently took this to mean that contrary to their original plan, they would not destroy Lebanon’s infrastructure. A couple of things can be learned from this. First, we now know why the IDF “ran out of targets” as some commentators have pointed out. Second, we know also that Israel was able to cause far more damage than it did to Lebanon and instead of destroying a few blocks in S. Beirut and some villages in S. Lebanon along with a refinery and some roads, it could have truly damaged the country. The lesson here is not that they respected the request by the US Administration, that’s a given, but that the Israeli government and IDF are so stupid about public relations that Hizbullah was able to cream them in this arena and the world developed a very negative sense of Israel’s morality and conduct in this war at a time when Israel was holding back a great deal. Again, the impact is not that Joe Blow in Ohio or in Dublin dislikes Israel a little more, although that is one of the outcomes, it’s that Israel found its capabilities constrained by international public opinion and had less leverage when it came time to talk about 1701 because the governments of many Western nations were obliging the anger toward Israel of their constituents.
Olmert is a clever man and has mapped out how he will survive politically after this war. The fact is, however, that no matter how clever he might be, this war and its conclusion were significant failures on the part of Israel. While much of the blame falls upon the shoulders of Peretz, Halutz and the top echelon of IDF commanders going back well into the days of Mofaz as Chief of Staff, much of the blame falls directly on Olmert. He obviously ran this war as if he thought he could somehow replace or emulate Sharon. But he isn’t Sharon, and this war and the way it was fought and concluded has hurt Israel considerably. He should stop protecting himself and start to think about the country and its future. If he were to do the right thing right now, in my opinion it would be to set up a change in the Israeli election system to make Israel into a representative parliamentary democracy; to ensure that the IDF is changing its modus operandi and gearing up for a war that could come as soon as this summer; and then to arrange for an honest, upstanding, untainted politician to follow him as he resigns.