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Tuesday, May 01, 2007

Last summer's war the culmination of years of appeasement

Reading the Winograd Commission's interim report, it becomes clear that last summer's war in Lebanon cannot be seen in isolation. Rather, it has to be seen as the culmination of years of appeasement by Israel of anyone and everyone who threatens us.

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.
The same appeasing political echelon is running the show in Gaza and in Judea and Samaria and in the Golan Heights. They must go. The only question is whether it is already too late and whether the next war is on our doorstep.

As I noted two months before the war, the fact that no Israeli had been killed in Lebanon since 2000 did not mean that we were not liable to face another war from there that would have much more serious consequences. The same is true of Gaza, and of Judea and Samaria (and the Golan) too. We need new elections and a new leadership - and we need them now.


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