Text size

There is one document whose significance was missed by the Winograd Committee, as well as by almost every other study of the Second Lebanon War: the minutes of the inner cabinet meeting on July 19, 2006, the eighth day of the war. They are signed by cabinet secretary Yisrael Maimon. The quoted participants: the prime, defense and foreign ministers.

On a day when two fighters of the Maglan unit were killed in a Hezbollah "nature reserve" near Maroun al-Ras, in the first ground battle on Lebanese territory, the inner cabinet defined the goals of the fighting on two fronts: Lebanon and the Gaza Strip. On the Lebanese front, the ministers decided to continue "intensive fighting against the Hezbollah organization, including strikes at the organization's infrastructure ... its armaments and leaders, with the goal of bringing the kidnapped soldiers back to Israel, stopping the missile fire on Israeli towns and targets and removing this threat."

The document also outlines the principles of a diplomatic solution to the crisis. Alongside returning the kidnapped soldiers to Israel unconditionally and stopping the rocket fire, these include "full implementation of UN [Security Council] Resolution 1559, including disarmament of all the armed militias, application of sovereignty by the Lebanese government to all its territory and deployment of the Lebanese Army along the border with Israel."

The Winograd Committee's final report does mention this inner cabinet meeting, in the course of a long and monotonous description of the war, but the committee does not linger over its implications. The only body that did so was an investigatory panel appointed by the army, comprised of former Israel Defense Forces chief of staff Dan Shomron and Dr. Hanan Schwartz, which examined the General Staff's functioning during the war. The two found no connection between the goals set by the government on July 19 and the ensuing steps taken by the Israel Defense Forces. The net result: The forces in South Lebanon were not deployed in a way that would significantly reduce the Katyusha rocket fire on the home front.

On July 13, the General Staff's Operations Directorate formulated the war's "strategic aim" as the IDF saw it. This is a far more restrained document than the Maimon minutes. The army sought to "deepen Israeli deterrence ... stop the terror from Lebanese territory, push the Lebanese government to carry out its political responsibilities in accordance with Resolution 1559, exert pressure for the return of the kidnapped soldiers, deal a significant blow to Hezbollah."

It is frequently claimed that in the complex relationship between the government and the army in Israel, explicit orders are rarely given to the General Staff. Instead, officers are compelled to divine their directives from the public declarations and private hints of the politicians. But in the case of the war in Lebanon, the directives appeared in the inner cabinet's decision - clear, explicit and far-reaching.

In effect, there were two separate sets of orders, on two different levels that never intersected: The army was focused on fairly modest goals; the cabinet was more ambitious. While the generals saw a conflict that resembled Ping-Pong, the ministers sought a knock-out victory, as in a boxing match.

In a meeting with journalists after the war, a senior officer presented the July 13 document and claimed: We achieved most of the goals, other than genuine presure to return the kidnapped soldiers. And by the standard of July 13, it is indeed possible to claim that Israel's achievements were not that bad. But by the standard of July 19, the failure is far greater. The problem is that the IDF never measured itself against the goals set by the government. And, even worse, General Staff officers discovered the existence of the Maimon document only two months after the war ended.

Both of the Winograd Committee's reports devote many pages to the need for greater coordination between the government and the army and greater supervision of the latter by the former. It is thus a bit surprising to discover that such an extreme example of this "interface," to use Prof. Yehezkel Dror's term, was overlooked.

The Winograd Committee's conclusions have been cited repeatedly against the background of the debate over whether to launch a major offensive in the Gaza Strip. The inner cabinet meeting that Maimon summarized also dealt with the southern front. What goals did the ministers set for the IDF there?

"Ending the terrorist activity and the Qassam rocket fire ... freeing the kidnapped soldier [Gilad Shalit] unconditionally." The document added that there would be no negotiations on releasing Palestinian prisoners in exchange for Shalit. A year and seven months later, the Gaza goals are as far from being achieved as they were during that meeting. By the July 19 standard, Israel is failing in Gaza just as it failed in Lebanon. And on both fronts, the responsibility rests with the government no less than with the army.