It's a pity that the Winograd Committee isn't looking into the political and military steps taken during the six and a half years of the intifada as well. The near-simultaneity of the civil war in the territories and the weakening of the northern neighbor's central government is no coincidence. On the northern border, like in the occupied territories, decision makers in successive Israeli governments were struck by the same fatal eye disease, which prevents them from seeing past their nose. The protocols that were exposed by Amos Harel and Avi Issacharoff last week in Haaretz show that the signs of this development were not missed by the heads of the defense establishment. It is difficult to decide who infected who. No one demonstrates the multi-front defect better than Brigadier General Gal Hirsch, commander of the Galilee Brigade during the second Lebanon war and the Central Command's operations officer during the first years of the intifada. This is what the officer, who was considered to be an excellent strategist, wrote in the collection of articles entitled "Low-Intensity Conflict," published by the Defense Ministry in October 2004: "Operation Defensive Shield removed the official Palestinian security presence from the Palestinian cities, therefore reducing the threats and obstacles to our forces' activities and severely damaging the terror infrastructure."
Hirsch bragged that the operation gave Israel security control "without needing a military administration or any civilian control." According to him, the severe blow to the institutions of the Palestinian Authority, including the isolation of Yasser Arafat, provided the basis for a new and different strategic debate on the character of the PA's institutions and their nature in the future, leading up to any possibility of an agreement. "In this respect Operation Defensive Shield achieved its goal," said the head of the strategic brigade in the General Staff's planning division at the time. "The Palestinian system took a blow, and that is certainly the relevant victory in low-intensity conflict."
In the low-intensity conflict in the Palestinian territories, like in Lebanon, the security establishment (the Israel Defense Forces and the Shin Bet) sought a victory in places in which a military victory wasn't possible. Most of the victories turned out to be Pyrrhic victories. "The harsh blow to the PA's institutions" did not provide the "basis for a new strategic debate" leading up to the possibility of an agreement.
The security leadership joyfully carried out Ariel Sharon's decision to destroy the Palestinian partner. None of them stood up and told the public and its elected officials that the greater the blow to PA institutions, the faster Hamas would take over the territories. They also didn't warn that in the Gaza Strip, like in Lebanon and Iraq, chaos is the most fertile ground for the blossoming of Hamas, Hezbollah, and Al-Qaida.
Hirsch's article, like the General Staff's deliberations, shows that the weak points of war on two fronts aren't limited to failures of timing and of managing ground battles. The most serious failure is going to war without defining its goal. Let's say Hirsch and his friends had succeeded in conquering all the territory from which Katyushas and Qassams are fired. Then what? Have the 18 years in the Lebanese swamp and the 40 years in the Gaza puddle not been enough for us?
Didn't we learn that in guerrilla warfare military superiority doesn't guarantee success? Did our military leaders not read Carl von Clausewitz, who wrote that victory on the battlefield only has value if you are wise enough to use it to increase, and not decrease, your ability to maneuver diplomatically?
In Lebanon and Syria, as in the West Bank and Gaza, the most important question is when the situation was most stable and secure. When were the cannons firing while the statesmen were quiet, or when were the cannons quiet and the statesmen were talking? After trying all approaches covering the entire spectrum - from negotiations with the Palestine Liberation Organization and Hafez Assad to the destruction of the PA and ignoring Bashar Assad; from the Camp David summit and the Shepherdstown talks with Syria to unilateral withdrawals in Lebanon and Gaza - we're back to where we started: Give us a partner. The years that went down the drain and the loss of life and property - for all this responsibility must taken and lessons must be learned.
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