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Wednesday, May 09, 2007

Barak zig zags again

When he was Prime Minister of Israel several years ago, Labor's Ehud Barak was known as Mr. Zig Zag for the number of times that he changed his views on key policy issues. Having been spared the wrath of the Winograd Commission's interim report only by the fact that his unilateral withdrawal flight from Lebanon was outside its mandate, Barak apparently thinks that Israelis are stupid enough to fall for him again. Let's look at some of Barak's recent actions.

Yesterday, Barak told several Labor supporters in Kibbutz Sdot Yam that he is the candidate who most causes Bibi Netanyahu to lose sleep at night. According to Barak, Bibi doesn't want to run against him. (When I heard that, I could not help thinking of 'defense minister' Amir Comrade Peretz saying that Sheikh Hassan Nasrallah would not forget the name 'Amir Peretz'). The problem is that Barak hasn't even been elected Labor party leader yet and there aren't new elections on the calendar yet. In fact, Barak has said that he would be willing to be defense minister under Ehud K. Olmert, and he and Comrade Peretz are the only candidates for the Labor party leadership who are not signed on the petition demanding that Olmert explain to the Knesset why he won't step down.

(Regarding that petition, it is interesting to note that the Basic Law: The Knesset says that 40 MK's can demand that the Prime Minister address the Knesset - Olmert has not done so since the Winograd Commission interim report was published - and that 46 MK's are signed on the petition including six from the Labor party. Anyone else think that the Labor MK's (Ayalon, Yatom, Paz-Pines, Cabel, Braverman and Yacimovich) want to be able to tell Olmert that it's not their fault because they added their signatures after 40 others had already signed? Or am I just being overly cynical)?

But what really ate me up about Barak's appearance yesterday was his comments about the Lebanon withdrawal flight that he led in 2000.
“It was not entirely unilateral, because it was carried out in accordance with agreements we had reached with the United Nations,” he said.

“The fact that we withdrew to the border gives us the legitimacy to act. This withdrawal ended a 15-year tragedy, and the security zone didn’t really protect the northern communities. [That's funny. I don't ever remember there being rockets fired anywhere except the 'finger' of the Galilee before 2000 - certainly not at Haifa, Hadera and Afula - and I don't ever remember there being so many rockets fired even at Kiryat Shmona or Nahariya. Maybe Barak's memory is better than mine. Right. CiJ].

According to the Labor chairmanship candidate, the pace of Hizbullah’s advancement was at its slowest following the army’s withdrawal from Lebanon, “except from the bunkers that they built.”

“Now, over the past year, they are developing at the fastest pace ever,” he said. “After the withdrawal Hizbullah members sat with their rifles under parasols; with the adequate preparation, the IDF could have crushed 2,000 of them.”
The pace of Hezbullah's advancement was at its slowest? Let's see what the Winograd Commission had to say about that, even though it was outside their mandate (the double indented text below is from the Jerusalem Post's account of the report; the single indented part is from my post linked above):
The story starts with Israel's flight from Lebanon in May 2000, led by current Labor party leadership candidate and then Prime Minister Ehud Barak. At the time, Barak and then IDF Chief of Staff and current Transportation Minister Shaul Mofaz warned that any aggression from Hezbullah would result in "a very painful response." (For those to whom the phrase sounds familiar, it's the same ineffective one that Barak used six months later to threaten the 'Palestinians' who murdered hundreds of Jewish civilians).

Hezbullah quickly took up the challenge. In October 2000, they kidnapped and murdered three IDF soldiers in the Har Dov area with the complicity of UNIFIL troops. The Israeli response was a mild bombardment of Hezbullah positions. Eventually, the bodies of the three soldiers (Adi Avitan, Binyamin Avraham and Omar Sawaid) were exchanged, along with philandering drug dealer Elhanan Tanenbaum (who was an IDF colonel) for four hundred living terrorists. The Winograd Commission refers to this as the beginning of the "age of containment" and notes that Mofaz testified that he urged a stronger - albeit limited - response and was turned down. Sounds like this summer was deja vu all over again.

But the key question here is why: Why didn't the government respond more strongly? And for that matter, why was the government's response to this summer's war so confusing? Some of you may recall that back in July when the government was trying to win the war using only air power I said that the strategy could only work with Dresden-like bombing and I urged the government to do just that. And then when the government sent in the ground troops - and risked their lives rather than those of the Hezbullah sympathizers of Lebanon - it was too little too late. Is the government so incompetent? I believe that the answer lies in the testimony of current Deputy Defense Minister Ephraim Sneh, who was Minister of Health (if I recall correctly) in 2000:
In his testimony before the committee, Deputy Defense Minister Ephraim Sneh said the decision take a measured respond to the October 2000 kidnapping came from the desire to avoid painting a grim picture of the withdrawal from the security zone so soon after it was carried out, and to prevent the opening of a second front after the outbreak of the second intifada a month earlier.

Sneh added that another reason for the containment policy was to allow the residents of the North "breathing room" after years of living under Hizbullah bombardment.
I want that to sink in for all the Israelis - especially if any on the left of the political spectrum happen to be reading this: The government lied to us. Because they couldn't admit that the flight from Lebanon was wrong, they pursued a policy of 'containment' that was completely ineffective and led to this summer's war. Because they postponed the day of reckoning, when it came (and I don't believe it's over yet), it was much worse than it would otherwise have been. Sounds just like Gaza doesn't it? Well in fact, it is.

But it gets worse because the IDF knew this was a problem seven years ago and was unable to do anything about it. The politicians forced the policy of appeasement on the IDF:
Ahead of the withdrawal from southern Lebanon in 2000, army chief Mofaz established a team to draft the IDF's posture along the border. The head of that team was then-OC Northern Command and current Chief of General Staff Lt.-Gen. Gabi Ashkenazi. The team's recommendations were brought up for discussion at meetings of the General Staff, and formed the basis for the IDF's operational stance following the withdrawal.

The essence of this stance was to deter Hizbullah by threatening the Lebanese home front in the event of an attack on Israeli civilians or on IDF positions along the border. Soon after the withdrawal, however, it became clear that implementing the plan would be difficult, as Hizbullah continued its provocations, and the IDF refrained from responding.

Ashkenazi warned about this policy as early as August 2000, in a letter to Mofaz. "Since our withdrawal from Lebanon, Hizbullah's provocations are increasing, and this is damaging our security and deterrence, and could eventually lead to a serious deterioration in the situation. There is a need to apply effective pressure on Lebanon or to change the way we react.

"If this doesn't happen the situation will crystallize and turn into a reality we cannot live with," the Winograd Committee quoted Ashkenazi as saying back then.

Former OC Northern Command Maj.-Gen. (res.) Udi Adam, who quit after the war, told the committee, "The containment policy was in effect Israel relinquishing its sovereignty over the border area, while allowing Hizbullah a free hand in the area." [I feel sorry for Udi Adam. I think he was the fall guy for this past summer's foul-ups - and undeservedly so. CiJ]

According to senior IDF officers, the "containment" policy's effects were becoming obvious: The next kidnapping was only a matter of time, and it was doubtful if it could be thwarted.

Northern Command officers tried various creative ways to minimize the threat of kidnapping, mostly by distancing IDF soldiers from border areas that Hizbullah fighters could easily infiltrate.

Brig.-Gen. Gal Hirsch, commander of Division 91, who quit his post after the Almog Committee blamed him for the kidnapping of reservists Ehud Goldwasser and Eldad Regev in July, tried to improve the containment policy by demanding stricter discipline, training and inspections. The Winograd Committee said in its report that Hirsch's reforms were not implemented, leading to a gradual degradation of discipline and alertness among the troops patrolling the border.

In summarizing the IDF's operations along the northern border during the six years between the withdrawal from southern Lebanon and the Second Lebanon War, the Winograd Committee paints a grim picture: The army was constrained by the policy of containment forced upon it by the political echelon; the policy itself was not physically sustainable; a degradation of the IDF's abilities mainly due to budget cuts and manpower shortages - due largely to the deployment of troops not specifically trained for the sensitive mission, and the deployment of better-trained troops to the Palestinian front; and the lack of discipline, training, drilling and frequent inspections that led to a lowering of soldiers' alertness.
Just what we DON'T need - another arrogant 'leader' who is incapable of admitting mistakes. Does Ehud Barak think we are so stupid?


At 11:47 AM, Blogger Batya said...

Lots of Israelis lose sleep over the idea of his being pm, considering the terrorism we suffered from the first time. Let there never be a second!

At 7:42 PM, Blogger Soccer Dad said...

Indeed Nasrallah has not forgotten the name Amir Peretz.

"I stand here today not in order to attack Peretz … Peretz said that 'Nasrallah' will never forget the name Amir Peretz.' I tell him: You are right, I will never forget that name," Nasrallah said.

I'm sure he remembers the name every time he needs a good pick-me-up.


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