ThreeStooges_1.jpgOlmert will resign or he won’t; Peretz will resign or he won’t; other ministers and senior IDF officers will resign or they won’t. Big deal. The Winograd Report, or at least this preliminary report, doesn’t tell us too many things about the war that we didn’t know already.

(I have to point out for the record that the Report states conclusively that the war was not only not pre-planned by Israel, it was run without any deep consideration of the implications of the war. This should put people like Juan Cole and others on the Left who have been trying to lay the blame for the war at Israel’s feet by claiming that it had been planned by Israel all along back in their little cubbies looking for the next piece of false accusation that they can plaster all over the Internet so that Walt & Mearsheimer can introduce it into their upcoming version of the Protocols).

Anyway, the point of the Report isn’t the incompetence of this leader or that. Rather, it reflects the incompetence of the Israeli government and military in general. Essentially, the country has come to be run by unqualified buffoons who are very good at ass-kissing and playing politics but very bad at governing and leading a country. This amateurishness is amplified by the constant pressures that affect Israel from both within and without. Israel would be a challenging country to run for any leader, and eventually has led to the downfall of most of its previous leaders at one point or another, but somehow the system in Israel which allows people to move ahead in politics and the military has become so distorted and different than the needs of the country and its populace that you end up with square pegs for round holes.

Olmert is undeniably a smart man and a very capable survivor within Israel’s political landscape. He understands how to find allies, how to give them enough to make them happy, how to do so long enough to keep them aboard whatever mission he’s on, and how to protect his flanks from injury regardless of how many attacks he may suffer. Note that none of this makes him either a good leader, a good prime minister, a good leader in wartime or a good leader in diplomacy. No, what he is good at is survival. If anybody had doubts, consider that he is still in power as I write.

Peretz is also a smart man and a capable survivor within Israel’s political landscape. He, too, knows how to find allies, use them to further his objectives while giving them enough of a taste to want to keep supporting him, understands well how to elbow out others in his way and how to protect his flank when he’s under attack. Note that none of the above makes him a good Defense Minister, Treasury Minister, or any other kind of minister. He isn’t experienced and even if he were, he hasn’t shown that he is particularly good at running anything in government. One just needs to see how Olmert keeps playing him to understand that he is not even Olmert’s equal.

Dan Halutz proved to be an incompetent Chief of Staff. Not only did Gilad Shalit get kidnapped in the most stupid way possible, considering that Israel had intelligence about a pending attack in that sector, but two weeks later Hizbullah succeeded in a similar attack. This is to say nothing of the fact that he didn’t prepare the army for this war or even the politicians whose guide he was supposed to be. How did he get his job? He was a convenient appointment for Sharon who needed somebody to handle the Gaza evacuation. Halutz was eager because the trade-off was becoming the first Chief of Staff from the Air Force in Israel’s history. Once again, it’s not excellence or appropriate experience that gives the individual the important and influential position, but rather a set of political circumstances showing that the person in question is excellent at personal politics not at the prescribed job.

The same sad equation can be applied to other parts of the government. For example, the now-resigned head of the Tax agency for Israel was appointed due to cronyism. His sister is Olmert’s longtime confidant and assistant. He is resigned because of shenanigans that happened under his watch where certain individuals received preferential treatment. Why did they receive preferential treatment? Because they personally knew the people in question.

When Israel’s police chief recently had to resign after another commission found him responsible for serious failings for the police to take action against underworld figures, the minister in charge sought to appoint the chief prison warden in Israel to the position. It turned out that the man had a serious cloud over his head for corruption as well. Enough media pressure and the fear that yet another committee would pummel him made the ex-chief warden refuse the position, but he could have taken it and nothing would have happened. He may have been afraid of some hidden skeletons coming to light.

Things are no different in the IDF. The Lebanon War’s failures are not only attributable to Halutz. Before Halutz there were other Chiefs of Staff and numerous generals who had been responsible for significant men and materiel. Who was promoted? Well, just as Halutz was promoted to a position for which he wasn’t suited, so were others who didn’t always perform at the highest level. The fact is that some of Israel’s finest potential generals never even got close to that lofty rank because they didn’t play their politics right along the way. Piss off the wrong commanding officer and you’re toast. Hold fast to an unpopular view or reject the views of superiors and your career is toast. Play the game right in the sense of building alliances, sucking up to the right superiors and learning to elbow others out while protecting your flank and you will get ahead. Is this going to make you a good commander and leader in wartime? Not necessarily, but it’s how one can get ahead.

The systemic issues have caused Israel significant problems over the years. Would its social problems run as deep if it had better leaders in place with vision and time to execute that vision instead of cynical politicians who are busy watching their backs instead of their ministerial portfolios? Unlikely. Would Israel find itself in this difficult political and diplomatic isolation around the world with competent leadership? Unlikely. Would Hizbullah have survived the last war, leaving the impression of IDF weakness? Unlikely. I can point to myriad problems such as traffic fatalities and injuries, unjust distribution of government revenues, growing ranks of poor and the division of rich and poor in Israel, the corruption nibbling away at Israel’s first world status, the refusal by centrist parties to join in changing the political structure of the state in order to cynically curry favor with small parties that blackmail them in coalition talks, etc., etc., etc.

Israel is doing well in many regards and should be commended for this, but it could be doing so much better with qualified, competent leaders. The fact is that the system in Israel chews those folks up and spits them out long before they get these positions in government or the IDF. Instead you get the ones who are really good at moving their way through the ranks but not at running the show. They manage to violate the Peter Principle in that they advance even beyond their point of incompetence. For Israel to become the country we know it can become and should become and deserves to become, some people are going to have to step up and push to change the system.

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  • Three cheers for Israel for holding its leaders to account in this way. There’s that considerable bright side.

    Middle, that last item mentioned in your penultimate paragraph may be the key. The system rewards logrolling and back-room deals, and likely will continue to do so as long as small, special interest parties wield influence in the Knesset.

    The German experience is constructive in this regard. Under Weimar, small, often radical parties ate away at centrist, large ones; the NSDAP quite possible wouldn’t have gotten off the ground if the threshold for Reichstag seats was higher.

    The postwar BRD learned from this structural error, and set a percentage floor for parliamentary participation. Maybe Israel should do the same. That way, you’d have Labor outside of govt. and pressing for new elections, confronting Israeli voters with a real choice.

  • Israel’s Knesset does have a percentage floor, which they increased back in the days of Kahana to prevent his party from entering the Knesset. Perhaps the threshold is too low, however. But yes, special interest parties and smaller parties simply wield outsized influence and it harms the government’s functioning as well as its ability to offer equitable servicing to the broader population.

    In Israel, this translates to a greater burden on the centrist, secular middle class. They serve in the military, continue to serve in the reserves, pay more in taxes and receive less benefits such as for example, education. A Shas-run school offers way more than a typical public school.

    This inequity is a significant failure of imagination on the part of Israel’s leadership over an extended period and especially of the main parties closest to the center, Labor and Likud. It causes many good citizens to leave Israel ultimately and gnaws at the established mores and bonds to which most Israelis used to adhere. Ultimately, this is undermining society in Israel and many core beliefs that relate to Zionism. I don’t mean to paint a black picture, because it’s not all black. However, this war and the years leading up to it truly represent the culmination of a long ebb and decline. Somebody needs to wake up and drive a movement that can bring young, untainted and uncorrupted blood into leadership positions. The values upon which Israel was built are positive and enviable, but they are being undermined by cynics and cynicism. It’s time for some pragmatic Zionists with the rosy cheeks of innocence to take over.

  • According to Ha’aretz Mr Olmert told the commission that he had held a series of meetings after becoming Prime Minister and had decided that in the event of abductions there should be air attacks, accompanied by a
    limited ground operation. He told the military that he wanted to decide ahead of any such event rather than make a snap decision at the time.

    That sounds like pre-planning to me. Doesn’t sound like good planning, but planning nonetheless.

  • Rakiah, have you ever investigated what goes into planning a military assault of any size much less one that involves what happened last summer? A daydream and some decision made by Olmert – assuming he was being truthful – is not the same as planning a military campaign. This committee looked at this matter carefully and came to a conclusion that there was no forethought, plan, or consideration of consequences or an exit before what was essentially a hasty decision made after a couple of hours’ deliberation. Trust me, if there had been even a LITTLE planning, people would be somewhat relieved but the incredible and inexcusable thing is that they did this on a whim.

  • Well, yah, I haven’t exactly myself done the operational planning for any large scale military assault (does playing Command and Conquer or Battlefield 2 count?), but I have studied political science and have a MA in Middle East Studies from an Israeli university…and we did a wee bit on military history and strategy, diplomacy, negotiations, etc… Does that give me enough background to make any educated assumptions?

    Interestingly (to me at least), my MA thesis researched a famous case from the Israeli Supreme Court. From the Israeli State Archives, I was able to obtain the entire documentation of the case (notes from the justices, testimonies, minutes of the court, all the documentation submitted to the court) and one of my most interesting findings was the blatantly obvious way that the justices cherry picked the evidence to result in a decision that supported and ratified what was secret (which I also obtained corresponding documentation for from the archives) Israeli foreign policy at the time. One would NEVER be able to understand what was going on in the actual proceedings of the court or the totality of the evidence and testimony, from the only public document one gets, which is the decision of the court. I think that this is quite analogous to the report of the Winograd commission… you cannot take the results (and this goes really for any document) at face value, but have to contextualize, attempt to understand what forces influenced its specific articulation and framing.

    One cannot rule out that Olmert was lying in his testimony, but then one can also not rule that out about any of the players in this report. Least to say that the framing of the interim report (and almost surely the final report) is as much or more a prescription for what would have been ‘proper conduct’ and should be in the future, than it is was an unbiased ‘objective’ reading of what occurred (or of the testimony given).

    Olmert testified to the commission that he had first discussed the preparations in January of 2006 and requested detailed plans in March.

    The plans presented to him and approved were for a large-scale air assault which would later be complemented by a limited ground assault. The assumption here was that the air assault would be largely successful, and the ground force, if needed, would not either have to be so extensive, or have to enter under fire to the extent that they were in practice. Why an air based assault? Two main reasons: Halutz, Halutz, Halutz….and second, fear of the political implications of having to commit large numbers of ground forces.

    Why didn’t Olmert’s government inquire more deeply into the fitness of the ground forces for a large scale assault?

    The report answers that: “ Among other things, the [Chief of Staff] COS did not alert the political echelon to the serious shortcomings in the preparedness and the fitness of the armed forces for an extensive ground operation, if that became necessary….The COS’s responsibility is aggravated by the fact that he knew well that both the Prime Minister and the Minister of Defense lacked adequate knowledge and experience in these matters, and by the fact that he had led them to believe that the IDF was ready and prepared and had operational plans fitting the situation.”

    Damn straight that when the kidnapping occurred, Olmert made what seems a hasty decision, not “based on a detailed, comprehensive and authorized military plan taking into account the complexities of the Lebanese theater of operations”…

    Why was this? Because he had committed the Israeli government, and us along with him, to a ‘detailed,’ (whatever that means…it wasn’t obviously detailed enough), not so comprehensive (known after the fact) yet authorized military plan (the question here is authorized by who? Do they just mean here ‘not authorized by the Army’, surely it was authorized by the standing government), NOT taking into account the complexities of the Lebanese theater of operations.

    According to the testimony (and there are many other bits of evidence to support this), a now-known-to-be-bad plan was put forward in advance, it was decided upon and it was implemented (with bad results).

    One only has to look at the rapidity with which the intense bombing campaign commenced and the number of specific targets to know that there had to have been a preplanning of targets (and yes I understand that there is always going to be a short list of targets that at every moment are on hand by way of intelligence gathering).

    Even with this plan, did Olmert HAVE to implement it? No, when the soldiers were captured, he could have held off on implementation of any decision (well thought out or not), brought officers from the different branches of the military for discussion, put his diplomats on full engine, and “consider the whole range of options, including that of continuing the policy of ‘containment’, or combining political and diplomatic moves with military strikes below the ‘escalation level’, or military preparations without immediage military action — so as to maintain for Israel the full range of responses to the abduction.”

    Did he? No, HASTILY and without much forethought, gave the go ahead to the plan already on the table.

    Plan Plan Plan…. Bad plan…but plan.

  • Okay, I am sick and tired of our website’s inclination to reset itself every few minutes and especially while I’m in the middle of writing a long response. You hear me ck?

    Rakiah, we agree although you may not quite see it that way. Let me try to show you why.

    My friends who had served in the IDF used to tell me about training exercises where some head honcho or team would set up a scenario of attack and the IDF would need to respond. Apparently, all the relevant units in the exercise receive the same information and are told which plan is to be implemented. They then go to their filing cabinet or computer program, pull out the relevant plan and prepare their unit according to its role within this plan.

    Presumably, Israel has a contingency plan for any number of attacks from any number of enemies. One would assume that Hizbullah and Lebanon are on the list of such enemies for whom plans were written.

    Having such a plan, good or bad, is decidedly different than having a “pre-planned war.” The implication of those who use that phrase is that Israel prepared a war beforehand and sought such a war, when they suddenly had the good fortune to have Hizbullah attack and kill and kidnap some soldiers. Of course, the reason behind the accusation of pre-planning such a war is that it deligitimizes Israel’s response. After all, so what if Hizbullah attacked, Israel was planning to attack anyway.

    Well, I call bullshit and I now have the detailed Winograd Report to prove me right. Winograd is clear that no planning or systematic consideration of such a war existed prior to the decision to go to war. Even if Olmert’s contention that he had asked about a plan months earlier is true, and don’t forget that “senior officers” in the IDF have denied this and to my knowledge Winograd doesn’t seem to buy this claim either, it is not as if he was asking whether a plan to attack Lebanon was in place.

    Rather, Olmert would have been asking whether the IDF had a plan to respond in case of an attack. He would likely have asked the same about Syria and Iran. The IDF, being a professional military, probably has numerous such plans and if he did ask about it, they probably said that they had one and it involved a strategy of x, y, and z.

    Big deal. And Hizbullah had a strategy and plan as well, and so does Syria and so do Jordan, Iran and Zimbabwe. Having plans lined up is very different than deciding to go to war or pre-planning a war. We can only wish that these bumbling fools had actually pre-planned the war because then it would have gone as badly as it did. The fact that the goals were so puffed up and impossible, the haste of launching the war and most of all, the absence of an exit strategy of any sort are clear evidence that there was no pre-planning.

    So yes, there was a plan, but this was not a pre-planned war.

  • You are most certainly correct that the Israeli military constantly prepares contingency plans about likely or less likely future scenarios.

    But, if I understand you correctly, up to the time of the capture of the two soldiers, you say that there had been no decision made to implement any one or another of these plan/scenarios? If so, then we do disagree with how to understand what occurred.

    Again, whether you think he was lying to the commission or not, what was reported of Olmert’s testimony was that he had made a POLITICAL DECISION months before the abduction, that in the event of abductions there should be air attacks, accompanied by a limited ground operation. He testified that he had meetings on this subject in January and then March, April, May and July. According to the Haaretz report on his testimony: “Olmert stated that he had decided in earlier meetings that Israel’s goal in an operation would be the implementation of Security Council Resolution 1559, which calls for the deployment of the Lebanese army along the Israeli border and the disarmament of Hezbollah.”

    This was still based on the likely contingency that the Hizbullah will succeed in pulling off a significant attack or abduction. The future is open ended until it is the present. Are you saying that this element of contingency is what made the decision not pre-planned?

    You state: “The fact that the goals were so puffed up and impossible, the haste of launching the war and most of all, the absence of an exit strategy of any sort are clear evidence that there was no pre-planning.”

    There could very well have been a previous decision to implement what was implemented. There is no necessary logical progression to your argument. First, I surmise that Occam’s Razor may go to my side that the haste of launching the war could clearly point to a previous decision having been made, and, also, all one needs to do is look at Lebanon War I or the American forces in Iraq to see that planning a war and having no exit strategy are not mutually exclusive.

    Plus, you sadly over judge the competence of our military and political ruling class in Israel. And, actually, it is the failure of us to face up to this larger problem, that makes me so depressed.

    This is not a problem of planning or no-planning, but a problem that goes to the core of our deep social and political myopia, which just pushes us down the road to more likely disasters.

    I am sure this discussion could go on and on, and hopefully, in 30 or so years when/if the archives open, we can research what really happened (preferably sooner, but I am not holding my breath). Thanks for an interesting discussion.