After a missile bent the wing of a plane in the Yom Kippur War, as Ezer Weizman inimitably put it, a senior air force officer was appointed to develop a new combat doctrine to restore deterrence to Israel's air force. The result was evident in the first Lebanese war: The IAF destroyed the Syrian missile array, and downed 80 Syrian jets that tried to intervene in the war. All our planes returned home safely.
That did not happen after the IDF withdrew from Lebanon in 2000. The mistake that Ehud Barak and Ariel Sharon made as prime ministers was not that they refrained from responding with military force to the abduction and killing of our soldiers by Hezbollah, but that they did not prepare the IDF and the entire country to contend with Nasrallah's rocket array. After all, it is not a given that a country goes out to war after every single individual provocation, no matter how brazen and lethal.
Those now settling accounts with Barak and Sharon for not launching a preemptive war against Hezbollah's missiles can be compared to those who would blame all of Israel's governments since 1974 for putting up with the potential danger embodied in the arming of the Syrian army. On the other hand, the unforgivable dereliction of Barak and Sharon lies in the fact that they did not urge the IDF and governmental authorities in charge of protecting the home front to prepare for a war of the type currently being waged.
The failure in the confrontation with Hezbollah that appears to be taking shape is not the result of a lack of motivation, willingness to sacrifice, or doubts at the war's justice. On the contrary, these elements, which are a necessary condition for a country that wants to defend itself, are clearly evident in the behavior of the soldiers and fuel their fighting spirit. Moreover, the impression is that the dominant atmosphere in the command centers running the war is businesslike, and that they are devoted to the task at hand free of any extrinsic considerations.
The IDF, which set out three weeks ago to tackle Hezbollah, is deeply imbued with the belief that it is fighting for its home; it did not cross the border to serve political interests or satisfy megalomaniac urges. The IDF raided Hezbollah fighter concentrations in order to remove a genuine threat to Israel, teach those that threaten Israel a lesson, and restore Israel's deterrence, a highly needed commodity in the neighborhood in which it lives. The IDF is also a properly equipped army, and has a professional chain of command, and the balance of the forces are clearly in its favor.
Nevertheless, the expected results have not been attained. The expectations are not being realized because Israel's leadership did not prepare the country properly for the moment of truth. Although Sharon was aware of the strength Hezbollah was amassing and the threat it embodied, he apparently did not internalize its full significance. Here and there he received assessments warning of the need to develop new means of defense and attack in the war against Hezbollah, which are attainable if the required resources are allocated; but the required preparation did not come.
The government and IDF had six years to prepare the home front for the rocket threat, to obtain detailed and precise intelligence on Hezbollah's missile arrays and fortifications, to develop, or acquire, arms that are able to neutralize high-trajectory fire, to formulate a comprehensive combat doctrine that includes the terror threat, and, no less important, to get ready on the media front for the war on public opinion.
Ehud Olmert's fatal error occurred when he pushed the all-out war button without being fully cognizant of the IDF's ability to realize its goals. Olmert crashed through the gate that Barak and Sharon refrained from opening. Now he is being dragged after an army that wants to improve its results by means of a major ground offensive. Even if the balance of this effort is positive, on the day after the war, the government and IDF chief of staff will have to start preparing - this time seriously - for the terror (and nuclear) threats on the horizon.
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