The Next Improvisation

The IDF actions are not sufficiently weighed and lack insight into their outcome. This war was set in motion by a thought process that lasted barely 24 hours.

The name Defense Minister Amir Peretz chose for this war, "Bein HaMetzarim," is justified; the question remains whether it is also appropriate. The name is justified because the war broke out on the eve of the 17th of the month of Tamuz, which, according to Jewish tradition, marks the start of a three-week period known as "Bein HaMetzarim" commemorating the days between the siege of the Temple and its destruction on the 9th of the month of Av. The name is not so appropriate because it is linked in memory with a national disaster of enormous proportions - a 2,000-year exile from the Land of Israel - and the question is whether Peretz took into account all its meanings when he chose it.

The choice of the name for the war reflects one of its most prominent characteristics: the Israeli actions are just, their motives are known and they are being carried out through deep internal conviction, enormous sacrifice and a feeling that this is a war for the home.

Still, the actions are not sufficiently weighed and lack insight into their outcome. This war was set in motion by a thought process that lasted barely 24 hours. By comparison, the deliberations for Operation Defensive Shield in April 2002 lasted three months.

The area in which the war is taking place was known to the IDF and perhaps to a few members of the current government, but the practical conditions and characteristics of the battlefield are foreign to them. On the war's eve the IDF had pretty good intelligence on the deployment of the enemy forces, but not so at high command, and surely not at the political levels, where they had not internalized the meaning of an armed confrontation with Hezbollah.

Only three months ago former defense minister Shaul Mofaz was presented with a report by a panel of experts (headed by Dan Meridor) which laid out an updated defensive concept. At its crux lay the need to prepare appropriately to deal with the nuclear threat and for a guerrilla war. It is doubtful Prime Minister Ehud Olmert and Peretz had the time to study the report; they certainly did not implement one of its pressing recommendations - including the National Security Council in the security-related decision-making process.

Had they been more involved in security matters, they would have surely been more calculated in the authorizations they gave to IDF operational proposals for this war. The anger over the abduction of the soldiers on the border was justified and the feeling that Hezbollah's Hassan Nasrallah had crossed all red lines was prevalent among the public, but in such moments of crisis haste is of the devil. Whoever decides to put the wheels of war in motion against a guerrilla organization in a manner that exposes the home front, must make sure the army and the civilians are ready. The results, as they appear at this time, are indicative of a bad bargain.

Now, the government and the General Staff are pondering how to bring an end to this campaign. The diplomatic formula currently on the table is for the deployment of a multinational force along the border with Lebanon. The way Olmert is responding to this plan encapsulates his behavior throughout the war: more improvisation than deep thought. Initially, the prime minister scornfully rejected the idea, a week later he took it back, and is now very much interested in it. Israel appears to be increasingly wishing for the placement of a multinational force along the northern border. Such a deployment is being presented as a desired achievement of the war.

There is doubt about whether this wish - whose actual implementation is a question in and of itself - is another shot from the hip or the result of an orderly thought process. Since its establishment, Israel's defense doctrine has been based on the concept of self-defense. Prime ministers, from David Ben-Gurion to Ariel Sharon, refused to place the safeguarding of Israel's security in the hands of foreigners. Israel's wish to protect itself with its own forces and its willingness to do so at any cost is what clearly identifies it and secures it. Now comes Olmert with a new approach. Perhaps it is wiser, perhaps it is more reflective of the reality, but it is inconceivable that it will become the main diplomatic effort without a thorough discussion, while taking into account, among all else, its implications on the Israeli-Palestinian front.