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Moshe Arens: Dogmatic avoidance of ground action is true error of Lebanon war

Missing the forest for the trees
By Moshe Arens Haaretz 20 December 2006

Four months have gone by since the finale of the second Lebanon war: a salvo
of 250 Hezbollah rockets against northern Israel on the last day, signaling
victory by a few thousand Hezbollah fighters against the Israel Defense
Forces. Prime Minister Ehud Olmert’s tactic of stubbornly refusing to set up
a state commission of inquiry to investigate the mistakes that led to this
defeat has so far worked in his favor. We are being swamped by a series of
investigative committee reports, reporting failings during the war at
various levels of the IDF, including inadequate communications between the
General Staff and the front, lack of sufficient training, inadequate
logistic support, mistakes made by individual commanders, and faulty
operational and strategic concepts. But the fundamental error committed by
the men who led Israel to disaster in this war is being obscured.

We run the danger of missing the forest because of the trees.

Throughout the war, Ehud Olmert and Defense Minister Amir Peretz clung to
the dogmatic concept that Israel should not to be dragged into the “Lebanese
quagmire,” and willingly accepted IDF Chief of Staff Dan Halutz’s theory
that the war could be won by air power alone. Their refusal to order a
ground offensive that would suppress Hezbollah’s bombardment of the north
with small short-range rockets left over a million Israeli civilians exposed
to these attacks for over a month. David Ben-Gurion’s doctrine that the IDF
must immediately take war into the enemy’s territory, and that in wartime,
the IDF must assure the safety of the civilian population in the rear, was
turned on its head, and Israeli civilians became the victims in this
unfortunate war.

Although it is argued that Olmert’s and Peretz’s lack of experience in
defense matters was the source of their mistake, no amount of experience
will compensate for dogmatic thinking, and there is little reason to believe
that now, with the experience of the second Lebanon war under their belt,
they would perform better in another crisis. The IDF’s involvement in
Lebanon for many years; the losses suffered during these years; the hysteria
whipped up by the “Four Mothers” organization, which called for the IDF’s
withdrawal from the south Lebanon security zone; and finally, Ehud Barak’s
abandonment of Israel’s ally, the South Lebanon Army, and the hasty
evacuation, followed by the subsequent illusion, despite repeated
provocations by Hezbollah, that permanent quiet had settled on Israel’s
northern border – all these planted in the minds of those given to dogmatic
thinking that the “Lebanese quagmire,” once left behind, was to be avoided
at all costs.

Maybe the Winograd Committee will return the spotlight to where it belongs.
But according to press reports, its initial findings will become public only
in March 2007, and who knows what trials await Israel in the meantime?
Moreover, it would be surprising if its members pointed an accusing finger
against the man who picked them for the committee.

So it looks like few, if any, advances are being made in clearly identifying
the source of the errors that lead to Israel’s defeat in Lebanon and the
politicians and military men responsible for them. And yet time is of the
essence, since Israel’s defeat in Lebanon might very well set into motion
further acts of aggression by Israel’s enemies.

That nothing seems to have been learned from the mistakes committed in the
second Lebanon war is clear from the way the IDF’s confrontation with those
who launch Qassam rockets from the Gaza Strip into Israel has been handled.
In many ways, that situation is a repeat on a smaller scale of the encounter
in the north: Small short-range rockets are being launched against Israel’s
civilian population, and the IDF has not succeeded in suppressing these
attacks for many months. Rather than using ground forces to put Sderot out
of range of the Qassams, the air force has been given the task of hunting
the men who launch the rockets or their commanders. The temporary incursion
into Beit Hanun and the subsequent withdrawal has only caused civilian
casualties among the Palestinian population, as well as property damage,
bringing, as should have been expected, a return of attacks against the
western Negev once the IDF was withdrawn. The same lame excuses are being
offered: It is impossible to stop every last rocket, there are no magic
solutions, there is no “bang and it’s over.” In other words, you just have
to get used to it.

It seems that the very same dogmatic thinking that led to failure in Lebanon
dominates the tactics in the south. We do not want to be seen as “returning
to Gaza.” We do not want to “conquer territory,” and we are prepared to let
our civilian population pay the price of this dogmatic strategy.

The cease-fire that has been established in the south, which is being
honored in the breach by the terrorists, resembles closely the cease-fire in
the north. Hezbollah is rearming and preparing for the next round, and the
terrorists in the Gaza Strip are rearming and preparing for the next round.
Will Israel be prepared when it comes?

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