Barak Sought Wider Op, Olmert Refused

During the second week of the war in Gaza, Defense Minister Ehud Barak gave top political and security officials a document proposing that Israel substantially expand the ground operation during Operation Cast Lead. However, Prime Minister Ehud Olmert ordered Barak to take back all the distributed copies -- not because he objected to the content, but because he was angered by Barak's failure to adhere to protocol.

Olmert told Barak he was not willing to accept documents signed by Barak's chief of staff and said he cannot send such material directly to the heads of the Shin Bet security service and the Mossad, who are subject to the prime minister's authority. Protocol requires that such documents go to the recipients' chiefs of staff rather than directly to ministers or intelligence chiefs.

The same day, Barak had couriers retrieve the copies that had been sent out, and a new document was distributed the next day, in accordance with protocol.

The recipients were the top political and security officials who took part in making the decisions about the war, including Olmert, Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni, Chief of Staff Gabi Ashkenazi, Military Intelligence head Amos Yadlin, Shin Bet director Yuval Diskin and Mossad chief Meir Dagan.

Barak's view, as expressed in his proposal for the third stage of the Israel Defense Forces operation, was that getting the troops ready would take a few days, so it was necessary to make sure Israel's freedom to decide whether to expand the ground incursion was not hampered by diplomatic efforts.

The war advisers debated how extensive the ground incursion should be once Ashkenazi announced that the IDF had met the goals of the second stage of the operation. Diskin and GOC Southern Command Yoav Gallant said it would take about six months for the IDF to clear any territory it took over, and Gallant even asked the government to guarantee him a full year to do the job.

Around the same time, Barak and Livni jointly came out against expanding the ground operation and called for a cease-fire. Olmert wanted to keep the pressure on Hamas, but did not explicitly support expanding the operation. He told the war advisers he was considering the issue and hadn't yet reached a decision.

The directors of the Shin Bet and Mossad agreed with Olmert that the IDF should keep up its pressure on Hamas. Ashkenazi was less assertive and decisive, but by saying the goals had already been met he gave the impression he opposed expanding the operation. The war advisers saw Ashkenazi as tending to agree with Barak. Olmert ended the operation last weekend, after reaching a satisfactory understanding with Cairo on combating the smuggling of weapons.