Three years after the military campaign that effectively ended his career, former IDF Chief of Staff Dan Halutz, who led the Israeli Defense Forces during the 2006 Second Lebanon War, said that his perception of the operation was based on "the need for forceful action."
Speaking at a conference held by Institute for National Security Studies on Sunday, marking the war's third anniversary, Halutz said that "I believed that if we crave life in this Mideast arena, we have to sometimes just 'go crazy'. The government's decision to launch the campaign was right and expressed an understanding of reality."
Halutz added that the decision to launch the Second Lebanon War was not derived directly from the kidnapping of IDF soldiers Eldad Regev and Ehud Goldwasser by Hezbollah: "The idea was to push Hezbollah over the edge. Yes, we could have continued burying our heads in the sand, we could have made do with a surgical action and we could have waited longer and launched an even wider operation.
"Given the same set of circumstances and information today, I still would have recommended the same course of action. The decision to mount the strike was not born out of the abductions."
The strategic goals, he said, "were clearly presented and approved – curbing the terror directed from Lebanon to Israel, incapacitating Hezbollah and pressuring them into returning the abducted soldiers. There was no timeframe.
"I was against operating under a mission statement of getting the men back, because I thought that objective could not be met via military action. It was the purpose, though.
"The expectations for a blitz-style campaign were not created by the IDF. We knew we were fighting the kind of terror that was hiding among civilian population, which was innocent for the most part. Not every Shiite is an enemy of the state.
Halutz at the conference (Photo: Yaron Brener)
"I have no intention of presenting things through rose-colored glasses, he continued. "I will not use the word 'victory' and I will not shy away from the criticism, some of which was justified. But with all due respect – not all of it was professionally motivated."
The former IDF chief also criticized Defense Minister Ehud Barak, who once stated that the courageous acts of the troops on the gourd made up for "the mistakes of their commanders."
"I would like to make a personal observation about the disgraceful exploitation of grief," he said. "The bravery of the troops stands for itself. Tying it with the failures of the commanding echelon – especially when some of those commanders are still are expected to rise up in the ranks – is something that should never be done."
'We failed to define war's goals'
Prior to Halutz, his former deputy, Major-General (Res.) Moshe Kaplinsky, took the podium and told the audience that in his opinion, one of the greatest failures of the Second Lebanon War was the fact that the military campaign lacked any clear operational goals.
The fact that a state of emergency was never called for the home front and that the top commanders chose to "stay glued to their plasma screens" instead of being in the forefront of fighting, he added, also contributed to the situation.
"The first mistake we made, our first failure as commanders, was that we were unable to change the general perception of the government and of the public, but mostly that of the military. We couldn’t properly explain that this was a war – not the continuance of what we'd been doing in the West Bank for the past six years."
The summer of 2006 saw then-IDF Chief of Staff Dan Halutz send Kaplinsky to the northern border as his representative, in an attempt to circumvent then-GOC Northern Command Udi Adam's authority.
"Not calling in the reserves, the operational protocols, the sectoring that was used by the Northern Command and the nature of the orders, which were the same as they were six years prior to the war… We should have made tangible decisions. We didn’t call a state of emergency for the home front until the end of the fighting," he said.
'Stand up to international pressure'
Also taking part in the conference was Giora Eiland, former head of the Israeli National Security Council. Eiland criticized former Prime Minister Ehud Olmert's government, saying that the Second Lebanon War and Operation Cast Lead in the Gaza Strip were two occasions in which the political echelon ordered a military campaign without setting clear operational goals.
"When the Gaza offensive was launched they still didn't know what they were hoping to gain. The definition, as set by the political echelon, was to create better security conditions. But 'we want things to be better' is not something the military can work with. The debate didn’t start until three days into the fighting. I can tell you without a doubt, when they started Operation Cast Lead they had no operational goal."
Eiland believes the Gaza offensive was troubled by the same symptoms which led to the failure of the Second Lebanon War: "That government meeting on July 12 (2006) failed to clearly define the goals," he said.
According to the former National Security Council chief, the best course of action Olmert could have taken at the time was "to order a forceful retaliation. Use the Air Force for two or three days, and make the Hezbollah pay a high price.
"It's safe to assume that the international community would have called for a truce by then, and that kind of action would have restored Israel's deterrence… The achievement might have been limited, but so would the price (Israel paid)."
Eiland used his lecture to give Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu some free advice: "International legitimacy is very important," he said, "but you have to be able to withstand international pressure, even from friends like the United States. In the long run, when you've proved you're successful, you'll gain back any legitimacy lost."