In retrospect and unsurprisingly, the serving government chose to order the IDF not to complete the mission. Now, this government or its replacement will have to carry out the same mission, yet not under the ideal conditions that emerged in the first days of Cast Lead.
As time passes, we can also see that the operation in Gaza was not meant to be something beyond a show of force aimed at Hamas and its partners. It appears that those who managed the operation wanted, again, to do the impossible – create deterrence without the risk of casualties.
However, shows are just shows, and because of it they cannot convince the enemy to change its ways. Changing the enemy's ways can only take place if an immediate and tangible threat is created against the decision-makers on the other side. An examination of Cast Lead's objective and the way it was managed shows that even before it started, it was destined to not only fail to secure the objectives that could have been reached had it been managed properly, but also to miss its original goal – "changing security realities." What does that mean exactly?
Those who thought that any kind of substantive achievement could be secured by merely demonstrating military capabilities show identical thinking to those who attempted to defeat Hizbullah via "effects" alone. With the exception of the highly improved performance of IDF ground forces, Cast Lead suffered from the exact same flaws of "Lebanon Two." In both cases we saw blatant disregard to the basic rules of the military profession that prompted an inability to meet any reasonable target.
Just like in Lebanon, in Gaza too those who managed the war attempted to achieve victory by declaring victory, instead of securing a tangible win; they attempted to win without casualties and to fight as though Israel had all the time in the world. Such fundamental strategic mistakes cannot be counterbalanced by proper utilization of tactical forces, as superb as it may be.
A war is not managed in the realm of public relations and imagery, but rather, in the theater of tangible achievements. Therefore, one cannot compensate for the absence of tangible achievements by creating imagery of success. The factor that determines the success of the campaign is the enemy's conduct at the end of it and in its wake for the long run. As immediately after the end of fighting we saw the enemy continue to operate just as it did before, we are talking about a failure that no verbal virtuosity could turn to success.
Operation Cast Lead demonstrated that the tactical military echelon indeed drew the lessons of the Second Lebanon War, yet it is difficult to say the same about the strategic political echelon. At this level, we again saw almost all the failures of the previous war. Again, an abstract objective was set for the operation, allowing us to end the fighting at any moment and not in line with meeting a tangible and clear target. Again we saw disregard to the element of time, which always works against any military force and particularly against the IDF. Again, the achievements of the initial surprise were not exploited. Again, we saw the attempt to create an imagery of success instead of genuine success, and again we saw the failure of an attempt to create deterrence without creating direct contact with the enemy.
From Hamas' point of view, the picture is positive, regardless of the reasons why this is the case. For three weeks the IDF was unable to reach central Gaza City and either banish the organization's leaders or arrange a meeting for them with their "martyr" colleagues. Therefore, Hamas can justifiably boast a strategic success. The shorter this success story is, the better it would be for Israel. The decision is in her hands.
Colonel (Res.) Yehuda Wegman is an instructor and expert on military doctrines and IDF history