Photo: Reuters
In Lebanon
Photo: Reuters

Politicians to blame for Lebanon fiasco

Lebanon war letdown demonstrates need for new decision making process

If Nasrallah takes power in Lebanon as a result of the Siniora government's resignation or following a civil war, he should set up two monuments in central Beirut.


The first, which will feature Begin's and Sharon's statues, will mark the fact that without the Israeli invasion of 1982 it is doubtful whether Hizbullah would have been established. The second one, featuring Olmert's and Peretz's statues, will serve as a reminder that were it not for the rash decision to launch a war in the summer of 2006, it is doubtful whether Hizbullah would have taken power.


The media celebration over the chief of staff's resignations and appointment of his replacement diverts attention from the main failure in the foolish second Lebanon War – the political failure. The fact the war also turned into the grandest military disgrace in the State of Israel's history should not disguise the scope of the political folly.


One does not need to be a political genius to realize that Israel has an interest in seeing a democratic, stable Lebanon where Hizbullah can only express itself through involvement in the political process. It was also rather clear that the hasty decision to go to war will stimulate the opposite process – the main casualty of an assault on civilian targets was Lebanon's moderate government.


The political echelons are responsible for three main flaws: A catastrophic decision-making process on July 12, the failure to monitor the IDF's strategy throughout the war, and the "silence of the lambs" displayed by government ministers who allowed Olmert and Peretz to bring their preferred alternatives up for a vote.


Regrettably, we aren't talking about a one-time problem; the political failures are built-in and repeat themselves. If no action is taken to repair the root of the problem, we should not be surprised if in the next major crisis we find ourselves in the kind of mess that would make last summer look like a picnic in Tel Aviv's HaYarkon Park.


The Olmert government needed less time to decide on embarking on the war than it takes the average person to purchase appliances. No diplomatic alternatives were considered (or a combination of diplomatic alternatives and a military threat,) while the short-term and long-term implications of a clash with Lebanon were not weighed. As a result, we embarked on a needless war that eroded our power of deterrence and undermined vital diplomatic interests.


The government did not define clear objectives for the IDF and failed in understanding the diplomatic and moral implications of the military strategy. The decision-making process was characterized by what political psychologists refer to as "group think" – coming together around the leader and self-censorship of criticism or alternative notions.


Doves such as Yuli Tamir and Ophir Pines backed a needless, immoral war of deception, and even if they expressed their reservation regarding one aspect of the war or another, they did not find the courage to resign and criticize their colleagues.  


The similarity to the decision-making process on the eve of and during the first Lebanon War is outrageous. And now the political myopia of the last war continues with the refusal to negotiate with Syria following the war. The State of Israel has no peace policy: It only has a military strategy filled with holes.


Where's Tzipi?

Much has been said already about the need to set up a body that will deal with long-term political planning and crisis management. The National Security Council is an appropriate framework in terms of structure, yet it must be granted government backing and resources, as well as complete access to the prime minister and ministers.


However, giving the Council more power is only one component in the decision-making support system. If it is not backed by additional reforms, this move would not suffice to bring about a fundamental change in the policy-making process.


Just like all her predecessors, the currently popular foreign minister failed in establishing a policy staff that has the tools and abilities to develop, analyze, and propose political alternatives and diplomatic strategies as a counterweight to the defense establishment's absolute dominance. The diplomatic planning department in the Foreign Ministry, despite the many talented people working there, lacks any influence in formulating foreign policy both during routine and crisis times.


Tzipi Livni's Foreign Ministry is still focusing on defending and promoting Israel's defense policy rather than formulating and managing foreign policy.


The Knesset's Defense and Foreign Affairs Committee should also start fulfilling its legal mandate. It must turn into a body that monitors and criticizes the defense establishment. This necessitates the establishment of a team that would have the tools and information in order to enable Knesset members to monitor the system effectively. The Committee must force top defense officials to appear before it and testify under oath, just as is the case in the American Congress.


The main change required in all the decision-making support systems has to do with organizational culture and manpower. Most of these systems are manned by former security and intelligence officials. We are talking about human capital that is institutional, dead set on one way of thinking, and holds on to uncreative, linear thinking patterns. A large part of this manpower lacks the proper training.


The system must be opened up to intellectual creativity and "out of the box" thinking by bringing in people from civilian bodies – the world of academia, business, or science (including "soft" sciences such as philosophy, math, psychology, and political science.) The makeup of these bodies must be diverse and pluralistic.


The justified criticism currently being leveled at the IDF should not take away from the political echelon's responsibility for the folly of July-August 2006. All the reforms proposed here do not guarantee that all future decisions will be optimal, but they enhance the chances of a significant improvement in decision-making processes. Considering the currently grim reality, this will constitute a quantum leap.


The writer is a political science professor at Tel Aviv University and heads the international relations program at the University of California, Davis


פרסום ראשון: 01.29.07, 23:50
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