Today two groups of protesters are gathered outside the Prime Minister's
Office. The Movement for Quality Government is demanding the establishment
of an official commission of inquiry, headed by a Supreme Court justice to
investigate the handling of the war in Lebanon. Down the road, IDF
reservists are demanding that Prime Minister Ehud Olmert, Defense Minister
Amir Peretz and IDF Chief of General Staff Lt. Gen. Dan Halutz resign.
The critical question that arises from the separate protests is whether or
not the current political and military leadership of the country is capable
of drawing the proper lessons from the war. If Israel's national and
military leaders are incapable of drawing the appropriate lessons, then
there is an urgent need to embrace the reservists' demand that both the
political and military leaders of the country resign.
Currently, the Israeli public is referring to the latest war as the Second
Lebanon War. Yet this is a misnomer. The latest war was fought on two
fronts - Lebanon and Gaza. It was precipitated by Palestinian aggression
against Israel from Gaza. By referring to the war as the Lebanon War, the
regional nature of the war is ignored. The name does more to confuse than to
clarify what just befell us.
In many respects, the ability of the Olmert government and the IDF to learn
from their experience can be assessed by how they are reacting to events in
the Palestinian Authority as they have unfolded against the backdrop of
Hizbullah's perceived victory in Lebanon. Specifically, their refusal to
acknowledge the role Fatah and PA Chairman Mahmoud Abbas are playing in the
current situation is a cause for alarm. This refusal manifests itself in
Israel's reaction to both the abduction of Fox News journalists Steve
Centanni and Olaf Wiig a week and a half ago in Gaza and the continued
captivity of IDF Cpl. Gilad Shalit.
Centanni and Wiig were kidnapped by PA security forces associated with
Fatah. When their demand that Abbas pay them money in exchange for Centanni
and Wiig was refused, the kidnappers sold their hostages to a Fatah terror
cell that currently holds them. That is, Abbas's security forces and his
Fatah movement rather than Hamas are responsible for the two men's fate.
Moreover, knowledgeable Palestinian sources state with certainty that Shalit
has been held since his abduction in June in Khan Yunis by Fatah and Hamas
terrorists. Khan Yunis is controlled by forces loyal to Fatah strongman
If Abbas were interested in seeing Shalit released, his forces would be able
to free Shalit at any time. But Abbas is not interested in releasing Shalit.
Rather, Abbas is demanding that the Hamas government order Shalit be
transferred to his control in order to enable him to negotiate his exchange
for hundreds of terrorists imprisoned in Israel. Abbas's dispute with Hamas
is over who will get the credit for springing Palestinian terrorists from
prison. Hamas is unwilling to give up the glory, and so is Abbas. So Shalit
remains in captivity.
Abbas's handling of both hostage situations leads to one conclusion: He is
part of the problem. If the government wanted to bring about Shalit's
release, it would be placing all the responsibility for his capture and
captivity on Abbas. It would have isolated Abbas in the infamous Muqata in
Ramallah, just as it isolated Yassir Arafat there during Operation Defensive
Shield in 2002. But the government is doing none of these things.
The government is not acting against Abbas and Fatah because it is
ideologically unable to define Abbas or Fatah or the Palestinian Authority
as Israel's enemy. Olmert and his colleagues require the fiction of Abbas as
a moderate leader and the fiction of Fatah as a moderate counterweight to
Hamas to justify their planned policy of retreating from Judea and Samaria
and their current policy of continuing construction of the security fence
and removing scattered outpost communities. Both these policies involve
Israeli relinquishment of control over the territorial expanse of Judea and
The strategic logic that stands at the core of the government's policies is
that territory is a liability, that static defenses like the security fence,
augmented by the air force and commando units will be able to defend Israel's
cities and towns from attack.
Unfortunately, the IDF shares this strategic logic. This fact was made clear
Monday by Division Commander Brig. Gen. Guy Tzur in remarks before reserve
officers about the results of the war in Lebanon. According to officers who
participated in the closed meeting, Tzur told them that Israel was better
off for not achieving its strategic objective of dismantling Hizbullah in
We won the war in 1967 and since then we have been paying the price of that
victory, he said. We won the war in 1982 and for 18 years we were forced to
remain in the Lebanese quagmire, he continued. That is, according to Tzur,
who claimed that he was repeating a statement made by OC Central Command
Maj. Gen. Yair Naveh, it is not in Israel's interest to conquer and control
territory used by its enemies to attack it. Victory, which requires us to
hold territory, is by this reasoning, not in Israel's interest.
This was the strategic logic that directed both the government and the IDF
in the war in Lebanon. This was the logic brought the General Staff, Olmert
and Peretz to believe that it was possible to win the war with the air power
and special forces alone. This was the logic that informed the IDF's
decision to concentrate the belated ground offensive in the condensed
territory of the villages along the northern border and not order the forces
to take over the territorial expanses around the villages which controlled
the villages while quickly advancing to the Litani River. This was the logic
that caused the IDF to fight against Hizbullah as if it were fighting terror
cells in Jenin.
The IDF reservists who have set up camp across from the Prime Minister's
office and demand the resignation of Israel's top political and military
leaders are united in their deep sense of frustration. They share the view
that their fighting methods in Lebanon were unsuited to the enemy they faced
in battle. They are correct.
The IDF's campaign did not permanently diminish Hizbullah's abilities as a
fighting force. It did not stop the missile attacks on northern Israel. It
did not bring IDF hostages Ehud Goldwasser and Eldad Regev home. The
campaign failed to achieve its stated objectives because it lacked a guiding
strategy regarding the control of territory. Olmert, Peretz and Halutz based
the war effort on a view that Israel must not control territory. And so they
adopted the notion that it would be possible to destroy Hizbullah from the
air. When that concept was proven false, it was replaced with the idea that
special forces augmented by small numbers of regular combat forces could
clean out the villages along the border and so deal a heavy blow to
Hizbullah. When that concept proved false in Maroun Aras and Bint Jbeil, it
was replaced first by paralysis and then by an intellectual breakdown.
This breakdown led to the belated decision to send in three divisions. This
was the right decision but rather than let the troops advance as a massed
force and so overrun Hizbullah positions and take control over the heights
surrounding the villages before being sent in to clear out the bunkers, the
massive forces were deployed as if they were a small force.
The men were concentrated in condensed areas of the villages and not fanned
out along the surrounding heights. Their high concentration turned them into
easy targets for Hizbullah's anti-tank missiles. The way the troops were
deployed suited all of Hizbullah's comparative advantages while bringing
neither the IDF's advantage of mass nor its advantage of firepower to bear.
As became clear after the first several days of engagements, Hizbullah
fought neither an offensive nor a defensive war. It did not attack IDF
formations nor did it defend its battle stations. Its doctrine is simple:
bleed Israeli civilians and IDF forces in order to break Israel's will and
Its success in achieving its aim was manifested by the government's decision
to sue for a ceasefire. UN Security Council Resolution 1701 not only
cancelled out any tactical advantage the IDF had managed to gain, it paved
the way for Hizbullah's rearmament and for the deployment of the UNIFIL
force that will act not to dismantle Hizbullah but to prevent Israel from
taking any further action to win the war decisively. Yet, still clinging to
the view that territory is bad, neither the General Staff, which insists
that Israel won, nor the government which is begging anti-Israel governments
in Europe to send their forces to Lebanon, is capable of understanding what
This brings us back to the demand for the formation of a judicial commission
of inquiry. There is no doubt that it is necessary to conduct a serious
review of the war in Lebanon and Gaza. But there is no way that such a
review can be accomplished by a Supreme Court justice. There are two
principal reasons for this. First, an official commission is a legal body
and its proceedings are legal proceedings. But the issue of why Israel
failed to achieve any of its objectives in the war is not an issue of law.
It is an issue of policy and military operations. Judges are no more
qualified than the average citizen to investigate these issues.
Secondly, and more importantly, for the past decade and a half, the Supreme
Court has been leading the offensive against the notion that Israel should
either identify its enemies or defeat them. For the past 15 years the
Supreme Court has been constricting the tactical freedom of the IDF in
Lebanon, Judea, Samaria and Gaza. It has inserted itself into military
planning and political initiatives in a manner that has undermined the IDF's
ability to adequately protect Israeli citizens and territory from assault by
outlawing tactics that contradict the liberal justices' multicultural and
post-nationalist sensibilities. Indeed, it is just these sensibilities, and
the fear of Supreme Court intervention that has tied the hands of successive
governments and General Staffs in attempting to confront the growing
unconventional threats to Israel emanating from Hizbullah and Palestinian
From all this it becomes self evident that both the demand for Olmert,
Peretz and Halutz to resign and the demand that an accounting be made of the
mistakes that led Israel to its strategic defeat in Lebanon are necessary.
It is also clear that the only way that the proper lessons can be drawn is
for the current military and political leadership to be replaced by
alternative leaders who are capable of understanding the nature of the
threats that surround us. For both objectives to be achieved, the only
commission of inquiry that should be established is the inquiry of the
citizens of the state that takes place in general elections.
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