Barak: Onus for Conduct of War Lies With Government

Panel examining 2nd Lebanon War slams army's 'grievous blunders,' said to support Gaza action.

Defense Minister Ehud Barak said Monday that the overall responsibility for the conduct of the Second Lebanon War, including the decision to become involved in it at all, rests on the shoulders of the political echelon, regardless of the fact that the Knesset Foreign Affairs Committee chose not to focus on the government in its report.

The committee, issuing Monday the findings of its investigation into the conduct of the 2006 war in Lebanon, condemned the senior IDF command in unusually severe terms, saying that the army's methods of fighting played into Hezbollah's hands, and calling the Northern Command's lack of a ready plan to attack in south Lebanon a "grievous blunder."

Committee Chair Tzachi Hanegbi wrote in the introduction to the report that "the Knesset Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee knowingly refrained from dealing with the issuess of the personal responsibility at the levels of the military and the government." The Winograd Committee was appointed for this very reason, Hanegbi continued.

"We felt that from the standpoint of the public trust, Knesset members should be wise enough not to place themselves in the position of independent judges."

On Monday, reserve soldiers interrupted Hanegbi as he read from the report. The soldiers voiced anger that the report had concentrated so fully on the military's role, addressing government actions only indirectly.

Hanegbi responded that it would have been hypocritical of politicians to pass judgment on the actions of other politicians.

In failing to mount a broad ground onslaught until the end of the war, the report states, the military "failed to achieve the war's central operative objective, combating Katyusha fire."

While not focusing on the role of the government sector in directing the war, the report levies harsh criticism on its decisions. The policy of restraint which successive governments pursued following the 2000 IDF withdrawal from south Lebanon "brought the army to a state of paralysis and slackness."

The report further strongly criticizes the government for having delayed ordering a ground offensive until the final stages of the war. It states that the offensive should have been set into motion earlier in the conflict, and on a much broader scale.

All 17 members of the Knesset Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee signed their names to the report, although about a third of them appended comments in a minority opinion. The committee began its investigation into the war in September, 2006, a few weeks after the fighting came to an end. Most of the work was done by its classified subcommittees.

The army's methods of fighting the war "played into Hezbollah's hands, were seized by blindness, and lent strength to the enemy's [strategic and tactical] logic," the report concludes.

"The IDF wasted much valuable time in its deployment [and in its entry] of ground forces," the committee found, adding that this bore witness to "freezing of thinking and failure to read the map."

The report is especially critical of the IDF Northern Command, whose sphere of responsibility includes south Lebanon. "The lack of an approved and updated plan of attack was a grievous blunder by the Northern Command," the report states.

The ground offensive was necessary because "locating Katyusha rockets from the air was a nearly impossible mission, and neutralizing them could not be accomplished solely from the air," the investigation concluded.

"Despite this, no comprehensive ground offensive was mounted until the end of the war. The IDF failed to achieve the war's central operative objective, combating Katyusha fire.

Hezbollah gunners launched large numbers of Katushas into northern Israel throughout the war, defying intensive IDF efforts to foil the rocket fire.

Explicit orders to refrain from firing into areas designated as "nature preserves" constituted a major error at the command level, the report continues.

During searches after the war, 33 such areas - which the IDF euhemistically termed "nature reserves" - were located. These included bunkers and underground tunnels built by Hezbollah south of the Litani River during the six years following the IDF withdrawal from southern Lebanon. Most of the rockets fired against Israel during the war last year were launched from the "nature reserves."

Throughout the war the General Staff and the Northern Command restricted offensive operations into these areas, following the initial encounter July 19, 2006, during which two soldiers were killed in a confrontation with Hezbollah in the "nature reserve" code-named Shaked near the town of Maroun al-Ras.

In comments on the report, MKs Silvan Shalom (Likud), Danny Yatom (Labor), and Yuval Steinitz (Likud) said that a full report regarding the lessons of the Second Lebanon War cannot be issued without taking into consideration the interface between the military snd governmental echelons."

In further reservations, MKs Effi Eitam (National Union-National Religious Party) and Israel Hasson (Yisrael Beiteinu) argued that "the lack of focus on the governmenal sector is liable to give the impression that responsibility for the results of the war rests solely on the shoulders of the military echelon, which is not the case."

Most of committee supports Gaza invasion

A majority of the members of the Knesset Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee supports a large-scale ground offense in the Gaza Strip designed to halt Qassam rocket fire, in order to avoid the mistakes made during the Second Lebanon War, Hanegbi and Steinitz said on Monday.

"An absolute majority of the committee members believes that we can't repeat in Gaza the errors made over years in Lebanon, and that there's no escaping head-on action. It is the government's duty is to take the committee's position into account," Hanegbi said.

He added that while the committee has not held an official discussion on the matter, he believed that everyone who signed the document believes that taking a defensive stance only is a mistake.

Steinitz echoed Hanegbi, saying that a clear connection exists between Lebanon and Gaza. "There is almost a consensus in the committee that it is not possible to beat terror only from the air and through pointed means. The government is obligated to protect the citizens of the south."