barak gantz - Ministry of Defense - October 23 2011
Defense Minister Barak (right) and IDF Chief of Staff Benny Gantz monitoring the progress of Tuesday’s prisoner exchange. Photo by Ministry of Defense
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The old adage about armies always preparing to fight the last war, while true, does them an injustice. The recent past is the foundation of data and of thinking. If the most recent significant event was considered a failure and ended in a commission of inquiry that analyzed its circumstances and wrote up recommendations, then the accountable figures - the successors to the previous lot of accountable figures, who were forced out - will eat, drink and sleep with the inquiry panel's report. The organization is conservative by definition, and can only be changed from outside.

All three members of the Shamgar Commission, appointed in 2008 to draw up new policy guidelines for responding to future kidnapping attempts, are civilians, albeit two of them, the retired Supreme Court Justice Brig. Gen. Meir Shamgar and Maj. Gen. Amos Yaron, are retired generals. Nevertheless, the panel exemplifies the idea of planning for the last abduction. Hezbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah and Hamas military commander Ahmed Ja'abari did not testify before it.

At the time of the 1973 Yom Kippur War, Shamgar was Israel's attorney general. Back then, he was critical of the conclusions of the Agranat Commission and supported the objections raised by Chief of Staff David "Dado" Elazar, who was forced to resign, but the Agranat report became the standards manual for relations between Elazar's successor and the civilian leadership.

The commission headed by Shamgar that investigated the 1994 massacre at the Tomb of the Patriarchs in Hebron examined the failure of the Shin Bet security service to warn of Baruch Goldstein's plans. In light of the difficulty of tracking down a lone terrorist, the (first ) Shamgar Commission approved a Shin Bet proposal for the agency to operate "magnet organizations" to attract future Goldsteins, headed by agents such as Avishai Raviv (who was recruited by the security service to monitor right wing extremists and befriended Yigal Amir, assassin of Yitzhak Rabin ). The (second ) Shamgar Commission, established after the assassination of Rabin, was forced to deal with the new situation created with the blessing of the first Shamgar Commission.

The current Shamgar Commission is trying to cook up a legal (Shamgar ), military (Yaron ) and ethical (Prof. Asa Kasher, the third member of the team ) formula that would place Israel in verbal wrist restraints. The measure is typical for a chief - in this case, Defense Minister Ehud Barak - with no real chance of influencing the other side, in this case Hamas, Hezbollah, Iran and the like. They know that one who forbids something can also allow it.

The day after the Israel Defense Forces withdrew from Lebanon, in May of 2000, then-Prime Minister and Defense Minister Ehud Barak threatened a massive retaliation against anyone who dared to hurt Israel. Nasrallah heard, laughed and ordered the abduction of the three soldiers at Har Dov. Barak bit his lip and held back, offering well-reasoned explanations for failing to keep his word. The kidnappings continued, reaching their peak in both the north and south in June and July of 2006.

The abductors' main accomplishment was forcing Israel and the IDF to change operational procedures. After Israel Air Force navigator Ron Arad was captured, restrictions were imposed on IAF reconnaissance flights over Lebanon for fear that more air crews would be lost. Securing the forces, customarily at the bottom of the IDF's ladder of combat doctrine, effectively climbed to the top rung, even before "the mission is everything" - an absurdity that turns self-preservation into every soldier's main job. "Contact-hide," or "contact-take cover" (had Gilad Shalit and his comrades taken cover in the tank, the abduction and casualties would have been prevented ), instead of "contact-charge."

Shin Bet chief Yoram Cohen's arrogance in promising the cabinet "to contain the terror" that could increase as a result of the prisoner releases in the deal to free Shalit is puzzling. He cannot possibly foresee the abductions or terror attacks that will stem from the newly enhanced feelings of pride and daring of Israel's enemies. It is equally odd that our High Court of Justice has underestimated the danger posed by murderers who have announced their intention to return to murder if freed. Magistrate's court judges have kept suspects in detention for less. If the murderers keep their promises who will bear the responsibility, and who will be absolved? The prime minister? The head of the Shin Bet? The Supreme Court justices?

There is no credence to the implied assumption that the parties to the negotiations are similar and seek results that are measured by the same terms - the release of prisoners - and that the only difference is quantitative. The real battle is between different desires, different hopes. The next abductor is liable to remain silent, to refrain from making ransom demands and to instead let the families of the captives and Israeli society as a whole go mad with the uncertainty. His next objective could be to sow desperation, to erode Israel's determination. Judging by the last kidnapping, he will succeed.