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Ron Ben-Yishai
Halutz failed to deliver
IDF chief of staff's performance main reason for Lebanon failure

The Winograd Commission testimonies cleared for publication Thursday require us to take another look at the interim report. The commission indeed places most of the responsibility for the war's failures on three figures: Olmert, Peretz and Halutz - while taking a particularly harsh attitude with regards to the prime minister. Yet those who carefully read and compare the censored testimonies should conclude that out of the three, the former IDF chief of staff is the main culprit, along with the army's top brass.

 

The political leadership's responsibility for the war's failures is manifested through what can be characterized as "contributing negligence"
in the decision-making process: The government and prime minister failed to properly handle the bombarded home front and took a step back in the face of a dominant and overly assertive army chief. Those are serious flaws in and of themselves, yet their severity pales in comparison to the army's failures in all the critical areas: Thinking, planning, and operational performance.

 

The one person who blames the army and himself, possibly without realizing he is doing so, is actually Dan Halutz. His testimony reveals that his flawed campaign plan did not stem from over-confidence in the ability to defeat Hizbullah through the use of aerial force only, but rather, from the fact that to begin with he never thought of winning in military terms such as victory and defeat. He aspired to create a new order in south Lebanon through a combined diplomatic-military move, with the diplomatic component being the essence.

 

According to Halutz, the military move only aimed to assist in shaping the diplomatic move in the international arena in line with the spirit of the agreements Israel was interested in. In order to achieve this objective, at least initially, the utilization of aerial force was sufficient. In this regard, Halutz was no different than his predecessors Barak and Shahak, who embarked on previous large-scale operations in order to achieve similar objectives. Yet Halutz is guilty because he already knew the lessons of those operations, which failed to achieve their goals. He also didn't even think that he should be providing a response to the home front bombardment - which he knew will be coming.

 

By the way, when it comes to assessing the Air Force's capabilities, despite Halutz's complex explanations, his testimony reveals that he correctly assessed what can and cannot be achieved. As a stimulant for diplomatic activity, in Halutz's opinion aerial force was sufficient. At the end of the war, when he realized he was wrong about the ability to reach a proper arrangement through a Security Council resolution, he proposed the controversial "Change of Direction 11" ground incursion to Peretz and Olmert. Both Olmert and Peretz, as always, accepted his view.

 

Instead of serving as the army's top commander, who translates the political leadership's instructions into objectives and missions, Halutz shaped the political leadership's instructions and formulated a flexible military plan that would realize the diplomatic plan he shaped. The essence of the political leadership's responsibility for the failure is that it allowed Halutz to do whatever he wished.

 

Military screwed up

Another surprising revelation is that all three top figures agree that the war would have ended with a clear achievement for Israel had the initial limited ground operations in Maroun al-Ras and Bint Jbeil been successful. Olmert almost says explicitly that the army failed to deliver the goods; Peretz only hints this - and Halutz agrees with both of them, but places the responsibility for the failure on lower ranks.

 

He did not specifically point a finger at the IDF Northern Command chief, or division and brigade commanders, but he did say that field commanders failed to show "determination, initiative, and responsibility" in those early ground battles, which in fact marked the beginning of the Israeli failure in the Second Lebanon War.

 

Another finding worthy of attention is the fact that immediately after the abduction of IDF soldier Gilad Shalit in Gaza, Olmert explicitly asked the army chief whether the IDF is ready and deployed in order to thwart abduction attempts in the north, and whether Halutz issued a warning. Halutz replied positively to both questions.

 

Today we know the prime minister received inaccurate information, to say the least, regarding this critical matter. Moreover, the information was conveyed to him in the presence of senior officers who knew the situation as it was, yet none of them bothered to correct the mistake. The prime minister had no means of looking into the information provided by the army chief; Halutz could have looked into it, but he failed to do that.

 

The bottom line emerging from the testimonies is that the military screwed up, and particularly failed to deliver the goods, while Olmert, Peretz and the entire government all followed Halutz like a flock of sheep following a shepherd (and again Halutz was right when he said one need not be a sheep in order to serve as a shepherd.)

 

So why did the Winograd Commission's interim report create the impression that Olmert is the main party responsible for the failures? The main reason is the commission's system-wide, legal approach: Olmert is the one who heads the government that took the decisions, and therefore he is the main party accountable to the public for the failures and flaws.

 

If he did not possess the skills and knowledge needed to criticize and examine the army, he should not have become prime minister. If the decisions he took were wrong and hasty, he is the sole party responsible for them, and it does not even matter whether the army chief led him by the nose. The same is true for Peretz.

 

From the point of view of proper government procedures, this is a legitimate approach. Its flaw is that it distorts the picture and creates the impression that everything would have looked different had we seen a more talented and experienced political leadership. This presents the military as a junior contractors and implicitly gives it a dangerous exemption from the crucial role it plays, and will always play, when it comes to shaping and carrying out national security decisions.

 

The Winograd Commission testimonies reveal that if we had a prepared and qualified ground force headed by an army chief that once was a sheep on the hills of southern Lebanon, before he became the shepherd of a flock of yes-men generals, the Second Lebanon War would have ended differently, even with the kind of prime minister and defense minister we have. 

 

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