Of the four Israel Defense Forces divisions that fought in this summer's Lebanon war and which are the subjects of military inquiries whose findings will be presented to top IDF leaders this week, three were exempted from responsibility for both holding the line and being ready to fight Hezbollah.
The three - an elite reserve division headed by Brigadier General Eyal Eisenberg and a division in the regular army headed by Brigadier General Guy Tzur, both from the Central Command, and a Northern Command reserve division headed by Brigadier General Erez Zuckerman - were also not brought into combat in the first days after Hezbollah abducted reservists Ehud Goldwasser and Eldad Regev on July 12.
Instead, a double burden was placed on the regular division in the Galilee, Division 91, headed by Brigadier General Gal Hirsch. That division was saddled with both the day-to-day responsibility of defending the north as well as of engaging in non-stop combat from the moment of the abduction until the last IDF soldier left Lebanon two weeks ago. An investigation of Division 91 that will be presented to the top brass today focuses on the combat following the kidnapping. An inquiry of the abduction itself is slated to be completed in two weeks.
Until July 12, Division 91 was forced to carry out its mission while its hands were tied by government policy and military orders. The division was sentenced to wait passively for Hezbollah aggression - whether on Har Dov, in Ghajar or anywhere else along the 120-kilometer-long border. It was not permitted any preemptive moves that involved opening fire or crossing the border. The contradiction-laden policy set at the top was to protect the cities and towns of the north (including leaving the roads open so as to safeguard economic and social life there), to foil abduction attempts, and to suffice with a response to any Hezbollah initiatives that were not delayed - there was no illusion that they would be called off - by the stratagems employed by the division.
In light of warnings that stemmed from intelligence information, albeit vague and ambiguous ones, Hirsch put his troops on alert - and they foiled four of Hezbollah's abduction attempts. The division's success put the politicians and top military leaders at ease; they wanted quiet, and didn't act to change the volatile reality along the Lebanese border.
Division 91 was like an abused wife who manages to hold back her violent husband time and again, until one day he manages to carry out his plans. Each time, he is arrested, given a warning and released, leaving him free to plan the next assault. And when he succeeds, people wonder how it is that the victim did not learn her lesson from the previous incidents.
The abduction itself was first investigated by a task force appointed by outgoing GOC Northern Command Udi Adam, and those findings are among the information being collected by another task force, headed by Major General (Res.) Doron Almog. The task force is expected to assign responsibility for the abduction to five military ranks - the general staff, the Northern Command, the division, Brigade 300 and the reserve battalion - as well as to the government. It is also expected to determine whether it was an intelligence failure or an operational failure that bears most of the responsibility for not preventing the kidnapping. Interim findings indicate that many people share the blame.
The questions that continue to disturb the investigators have to do with the conduct of troops along the border in the hours preceding the abduction. At 2 A.M. the troops received an unusual warning: The border fence had been cut. A commander in the division said before the patrol went out that he thought 20 Hezbollah militants had infiltrated overnight. The two vehicles on patrol were less than 200 meters apart, instead of a kilometer, as the rules require, to prevent a simultaneous attack on both of them. The abduction became known when the driver of one of the vehicles found a hiding place in a nearby ditch, called his brother, who also serves in the standing army, and asked him to report the incident to the war room.
The Almog task force is expected to submit half a dozen systemic recommendations, including a call for a mobile deployment in place of a stationary one, and the return of the field intelligence corps to Military Intelligence. That unit would be responsible for collecting all combat information and for maintaining contact with the commanders responsible for this intelligence collection in their respective sectors.
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