The Lebanon War of 1982 was founded upon a ruse: the defense minister and the chief of staff had a covert plan that they concealed from the government. In the Lebanon War of 2006, all the cards are on the table. But in this instance, as well, there is a lurking danger of the political leadership being dragged into events by authorizing the plans proposed by the military leadership.
Twenty-four years ago, Ariel Sharon and Rafael Eitan had a dream, which was not shared by all of the decision-makers: sending the IDF all the way into Beirut and beyond. Ehud Olmert, Amir Peretz and Dan Halutz have an identical goal in the current war: striking a mortal blow to the Hezbollah organization, and creating a new order along the northern border that will ward off the threat of rockets fired at Israel.
In 1982, the veiled intentions of the defense minister and the chief of staff were exposed in the first days of the war: cabinet ministers and senior army officers spotted them, and the reservations expressed by these individuals were leaked to the press.
In the current war, no significant cracks have been spotted, so far, in the version reported by the political leadership and the senior military leadership in their description of the war and its objectives. This would mean the primary decision-makers do not have a hidden agenda in this war. Nevertheless, two weeks into the war, it is coming across as a runaway train over which the government's control is growing increasingly tenuous.
The decision to send large ground forces into southern Lebanon and to assign them targets further and further from the border is looking more of a derivative of the military dynamic than the outcome of any well-thought-out political consideration. When the hope of eliminating Hezbollah's rocket-launching capability by means of the Israel Air Force alone proved vain, the supreme command of the Israeli army found itself even more determined to fulfill the expectations placed in it, and to that end, is now calling up reserve units and moving infantry and armored brigades into Lebanon.
Based on this logic, it might even reach the conclusion that without an attack on Syria, there is no possibility of paralyzing Hezbollah firepower. Which is not say that this is indeed the intention of the General Staff, or that the prime minister is not sure he would know how to put on the brakes in time. What it does mean is that war has an inner logic of its own, and has the power to drag decision-makers into places they did not initially intend to go.
When the big guns are booming and the soldiers and pilots are risking their lives and falling in battles that are conceived as a war over one's own home, it is inappropriate to talk about the political dimension of events. But in a developed society, there is no other choice. This war is heading toward a situation in which a question mark is forming over the public futures of the prime minister, the defense minister, the chief of staff and evidently, several generals, as well. It would be naive to assume this prospect is not affecting the considerations weighed by the decision-makers as they ponder Israel's next moves in this war.
Olmert and Peretz have pinned their hopes on the professional diagnoses of Dan Halutz and his description of the outcome of the war. The chief of staff now finds himself in the situation of someone who must meet expectations, or bear the responsibility for the leadership failures of the prime minister and defense minister. For it is obvious that the public will settle accounts with these two leaders if the war does not end in a convincing victory, as they promised when it began.
Olmert may have made it clear at the outset that the war is liable to be protracted, and that we could expect painful attacks against Israel - seemingly confirming that its architects had already taken into account the missile attacks on the home front and the need to send ground forces into Lebanon - but he will ultimately be judged by the cruel test of results: the ratio between the war's costs and the war's accomplishments. If it ends in disappointment, Ehud Olmert will pay the public price.
The situation could have been different from the outset, had Olmert been an experienced statesman or had he had at his side a team of advisers well versed in the ways of the political-security world (in the mold of Dan Meridor, Ephraim Halevy or Giora Eiland); but he chose to assemble a government of raw recruits, and he himself, despite being a seasoned politician and an effective manager, has never faced a challenge such as the one that turned up on his doorstep 14 days ago.
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