'The intelligence didn't reach the troops'
Just three pages of the Winograd Committee's interim report are devoted to the functioning of the intelligence community prior to the Second Lebanon War and during its first five days. Therefore it includes an assurance that in the final report there will be a full chapter devoted to intelligence during and before the war, and also to the most searing intelligence failure: the missile strike on the Israel Navy ship, Hanit. In addition, the interim report has a classified section, most of which deals with intelligence gathering methods, the quality of the sources that provided the information and how they were handled and to what extent there were efforts made to transfer the information between Military Intelligence and the Mossad, Air Force Intelligence and Naval Intelligence.
The number of witnesses from the intelligence community who were called to testify is surprisingly small: three Military Intelligence heads (reserve major generals Amos Malka, Aharon Ze'evi-Farkash and the current head of Military Intelligence, Maj. General Amos Yadlin); Mossad chief Meir Dagan; former Mossad deputy chief Ilan Mizrahi, who appeared primarily in his capacity as the head of the National Security Council; the head of the Military Intelligence research unit, Brigadier General Yosef Beiditz, and two other senior intelligence officers.
Conspicuous in their not being called to testify are Brigadier General Yossi Kuperwasser, who was until shortly before the war the head of the Military Intelligence research unit, and intelligence officers of intermediate rank from field units in the ground forces. For the purpose of gathering the information, analyzing it and preparing the report, the committee was assisted by intelligence officer Brigadier General (res.) Meir Elran, who in the late 1980s was the deputy chief of Military Intelligence.
In summarizing the committee impression one can say that that the performance of the intelligence community can be graded between "medium" and "good." "As a rule, Military Intelligence provided its military and intelligence users in the years preceding the war a broad, reliable and correct picture of Hezbollah ... a good and clear picture was created regarding the nature of the organization and its objectives, its policy toward Israel, its increasing assistance to Palestinian terror, its ambitions and methods of operation in the Lebanese arena; understanding from a strategic perspective was good and correct, including its intentions and the perception of its capabilities."
Two organizations are responsible for the strategic intelligence assessment: the IDF Military Intelligence Unit and the Mossad. Since the withdrawal from Lebanon in 2000, five people have headed these organizations: Malka, Ze'evi-Farkash and Yadlin at Military Intelligence and Ephraim Halevy and Meir Dagan at the Mossad.
The committee cited a letter Ze'evi-Farkash wrote to prime minister Ariel Sharon on December 18, 2005, which turned out to be prophetic: "Preparations and arrangements are necessary for the possibility of escalation on the northern border ... while strengthening the deterrent capability in the face of Hezbollah's kidnapping intentions." Yadlin agreed with him later in a security consultation in March 2006, around four months before the war, with the acting prime minister, Ehud Olmert: "Hezbollah is working on something ... kidnapping ... remains legitimate."
According to the report, it seems the committee members had the impression that during the four-year Ze'evi-Farkash era, Military Intelligence did everything that could have been expected of it. This impression is based on hundreds of documents, minutes of classified discussions and an internal Military Intelligence account written by Major General (res.) Yaakov Amidror. However, Ze'evi-Farkash's positions on more than one occasion placed him in confrontation with the former chief of staff, Dan Halutz.
On several occasions before the war, Halutz tried to persuade Ze'evi-Farkash to refrain from being what could be referred to as a "killjoy." So, for example, in October 2003 the cabinet held a session to discuss the IDF's recommendation to use the Air Force to attack structures in a refugee camp in Syria in response to Hezbollah sniper fire that killed a soldier near Metulla. Ze'evi-Farkash presented the Military Intelligence assessment covering all the implications, complexities, possible reactions and risks entailed in the decision. Prime Minister Sharon listened, and ordered the attack, which was intended to caution Damascus over its increasing involvement in Lebanon.
However, Ze'evi-Farkash's remarks did not please Halutz, then the deputy chief of staff (Moshe Ya'alon's deputy). He approached him after the meeting and said to him something along the following lines: When the IDF makes a decision, you have to stand behind it. From Ze'evi-Farkash's answer, it could be understood that he would not agree to square the circle and that his obligation is to present at every meeting the entire truth of the intelligence situation.
The report stated "the achievements of intelligence research in the period before the war are apparent, even if they are not complete." It is clear that it refers first and foremost to the strategic and operative information the intelligence community had obtained about the places where Hezbollah had hidden dozens of medium- and long-range ground-to-ground missiles as well as their launchers.
The information was forwarded and processed by Air Force Intelligence and enabled the planes to destroy them in less than an hour on the first day of the war.
In that way, the organization's ability to launch missiles at Tel Aviv and southward was neutralized. The strategic intelligence also enabled the Air Force to destroy Hezbollah infrastructure in bunkers, communications bases, command centers, foremost among them the central headquarters in Beirut's Dahiya neighborhood.
The intelligence achievements on the strategic level are further highlighted against the backdrop of the many difficulties encountered by the intelligence gathering units (units of Military Intelligence and the Mossad, which are in charge of "humint," running agents, and of unit 8200, which is in charge of "sigint," gathering information by monitoring communications and analyzing them).
The report stated: "The departure from Lebanon moved the intelligence agency's abilities to gather relevant information about Hezbollah further away." This difficulty was compounded in the wake of additional important obstacles, notable budgetary cuts, "even though Hezbollah remained, in the years prior to the war, an important target for intelligence gathering," the result [of the budget priorities - Y.M.] was that the up-to-date intelligence assessment of Hezbollah was presented as lacking, even when the assessment of military intelligence was that the chances of a confrontation were growing, there was no substantial change in the intelligence gathering effort or its results."
The information did not sink in
Alongside the achievements on the operative-strategic level, the report also indicates shortcomings and failures. These occurred in two areas. One is in "absorbing the intelligence and developing it jointly," referring to the transfer of the information from Military Intelligence units and the Mossad to the military and political consumers. But most of the criticism related to the fact that the intelligence did not reach the ground forces in the field.
The report states that the inculcation of the intelligence on the strategic level (into the General Staff and the political leadership) was as a whole not bad: "Military Intelligence saw fit to establish a fitting and continuous dialogue with its senior political and military users." Conveying the intelligence information on the operative level was also reasonable. The intention is the transfer of the information and the contact between Military Intelligence and intelligence officers in the Northern Command, the Air Force and the Operations branch. This, the report stated, "had positive ramifications on the understanding of the enemy as an organized military guerilla force," and this understanding led to the creation of "shared understandings about the essence of the conflict between Israel and Hezbollah, the limitations of the use of weapons during the war and of the necessity of also relying on ground maneuvers." In other words, Military Intelligence relayed to all the relevant parties its assessment that the Air Force alone could not defeat Hezbollah and that it would be necessary to use ground forces, primarily against the short-range rockets (Katyushas).
Based on military intelligence information, two models of "nature reserves," the term used to refer to areas of dense vegetation where Hezbollah set up bunkers and from where it fired Katyushas, were set up in the Elyakim army base in the Menashe mountains.
Ze'evi-Farkash told Haaretz that he attended the ribbon-cutting ceremony when the facilities were inaugurated together with the OC Northern Command. These facilities were intended for use in training regular and reserve army units in order to practice in situations, which eventually they encountered during the war. However, the units did not train due to budget constraints and the General Staff and the political leadership's working assumption was that the war against Hezbollah would break out only at Israel's initiative.
Most of the criticism relates to incorporating the information on the tactical level. "The intelligence provided to the Air Force as a rule met the rules for doing so for operational purposes," the committee members wrote, but "the situation regarding the ground forces was marked more by missing things and gaps." And a footnote states in unequivocal language: "It may be said that the intelligence did not reach the forces."
Why did this happen? First, as the committee states, "Military Intelligence cannot make do with distributing notices and most methodically engage in instilling the intelligence." And it continues: "There was a conspicuous absence of supervision and monitoring by the Military Intelligence command of what was going on in the tactical field intelligence network."
However, it should be recalled that following the organizational reform of Malka, the chief intelligence officer, responsibility for field intelligence was transfered from the Military Intelligence branch to the Ground Forces command. "The chief intelligence headquarters in the Ground Forces command, which is responsible for spreading awareness of the enemy among the forces did not fulfill its missions," the report stresses.
But above all this, on the tactical level there stands the failure of the Northern Command. This failure was apparent in the fact that right under its nose, Hezbollah set up a fortified network and prepared in the area between the Zaharani River and the border positions for launching Katyushas. In order to obtain information about them, the commanders of the Northern Command and its intelligence officers should have demanded that the Air Force launch reconnaissance missions, set up observation posts and increase the patrols along the border. The Northern Command people did not do so and thereby failed in their mission.
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