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Friday, February 01, 2008

Comrade Peretz smears the IDF

In light of the Winograd Commission Report's publication former 'defense minister' Amir Comrade Peretz (pictured, top left, with his binoculars covered) held a press conference yesterday in which he told the world that the Second Lebanon War wasn't his fault, and smeared the IDF for being unprepared.
Peretz - who had refused for many months to speak about his role during the war - said at a Tel Aviv press conference Thursday morning that the committee's findings showed the "absurdity" that "I bore the brunt of the public outcry and I was the convenient target of the public's frustration at the missed opportunity and at everything that had been going wrong in the defense establishment for years."

In fact, he said, "I had been on the job for just two months and was not a military man."
Let's stop right there. While it's true that Comrade Peretz had only been on the job for a few months before the war started, it's unlikely that he would have performed any better had he been on the job for two years. And let's recall how Peretz got the job of Defense Minister in the first place: He was the leader of the Labor party and insisted as a condition for entering the coalition that he - personally - receive one of the three top ministries in the government (Foreign, Defense or Finance). Olmert could not allow a Labor party minister to run foreign affairs and the 'peace process,' so it was a question of whether the economy (which Peretz would have destroyed by taking us back to the early '80's when we had 400% inflation) or the military would be sacrificed. What should have been sacrificed was Peretz. If he were a statesman and not a cheap two-bit politician, he would have swallowed the pill and designated Ephraim Sneh - a former member of the IDF high command from his own party whom he eventually (too late) took as his deputy - to be Defense Minister. But like every other politician in this country, Peretz put his own personal interests ahead of the country's. That's what the failure in the war in Lebanon was all about. And that's what the Winograd Commission largely missed. Peretz is not a statesman: He's a cheap, two-bit labor leader. He's guilty of putting his own interests ahead of the country's even if much of the rest of his criticism is - unfortunately - largely correct.
"The tough questions [about the IDF's condition on the eve of war] should be placed at the feet of those who decided the IDF should be a 'small and smart' army," Peretz said. "They initiated the failure."

Specific criticism was reserved by Peretz for three of the most senior defense planners of the past decade: Defense Minister Ehud Barak, a former prime minister and chief of staff of the IDF; Transportation Minister Shaul Mofaz, a former defense minister and chief of staff; and former chief of staff Moshe Ya'alon.

"We were all soldiers once," Peretz said to the roomful of journalists. "In our day, you were on duty for six months and then you were demobilized and went to training for six months."

But in the years preceding the war, Peretz said, "a tankman would finish his initial training of a few months, and be deployed to the territories for the rest of his [three-year] service, never seeing the tank again. How can you ask him to drive that tank into a war? What are you supposed to say to a reservist artillery gunner during the war who says he's never seen the type of shell he's firing because he wasn't called up for six years?"
Peretz was right to criticize Barak and Mofaz. He was wrong to criticize Yaalon. Yaalon warned against the Gaza expulsion - one of the reasons why the IDF had insufficient training - and was forced out because of his criticism and warnings. Peretz's harsh words for Barak and Mofaz are spot-on since they were responsible for the flight from Lebanon. But there's only one catch: So was Peretz's Labor party. Here's what he said:
Peretz lambasted Mofaz for being "silent and not warning ahead of time about the problems" within the IDF that became evident during the war. Mofaz "was defense minister, chief of staff and deputy chief of staff, and in fact accompanied the process of deterioration without saying a word."

While Peretz criticized Barak as the prime minister during the unilateral withdrawal from Lebanon in 2000 - "which left a vacuum for Hizbullah to fill and abandoned our Christian allies" - he said Barak must not leave the government, but should remain to continue advancing "the important things Israel is dealing with."
Of course, Peretz himself favored the flight from Lebanon. But more interesting, let's look at what the Winograd Commission said about the flight from Lebanon in its initial report:
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.
It was the political echelon - the same people taken off the hook by Winograd - and their predecessors who were responsible for the situation in Lebanon on July 12, 2006 when the war broke out. Peretz, as a member of that echelon, should be taking responsibility rather than seeking to exonerate himself. As even his own party admits:
Following the press conference, various Labor MKs who are opposed to Peretz commented that it was "ridiculous" that he felt vindicated, since, they said, the Winograd Report found he had performed abysmally during the war.
Yes, but that was in the initial report, which is largely being ignored now that the final report is out.

Finally, some entertainment for those of you who have forgotten just what a buffoon Peretz was as 'defense minister.' This is the binoculars incident:

Instead of smearing the IDF, Peretz should keep his mouth shut and go quietly into the night. He's done more than enough damage to this country already. If this post has an angry tone, it's because I really am angry. I find Peretz's arrogance even more infuriating than Olmert's.


At 4:42 PM, Blogger NormanF said...

In Israel, the people responsible for endangering Israel are absolved of their shortcomings and the army is blamed for not winning the war. When the truth of course is the politicians not only did not want Israel win the war, they made the sure the army couldn't complete the mission it was given. And to make it even more surreal, Amir Peretz and Ehud Olmert complain they're being attacked over their blunders even while the Winograd Report left them off the hook. Now Olmert - like Peretz, is counting upon public silence to help him keep being in office he should have had the decency to quit in the summer of 2006.


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