A Suggestion for Judge Winograd

While one of the most prominent protesters today is a group seeking the conclusion that Israel is a criminal state that uses aggression to defend itself and violates international law, this was not the case in 1973.

Ze'ev Schiff
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Ze'ev Schiff

On November 11, 1973, a conversation took place in the office of then-chief of staff David Elazar regarding the possibility of establishing a state commission of inquiry to investigate the Yom Kippur War. But for the name and date, we could have thought this conversation was taking place now following the war against Hezbollah in the summer of 2006.

But the military background of the 1973 conversation is completely different from the current situation's backdrop. At that time, a war of attrition was continuing on the Syrian front as Israel licked its wounds. The death toll on the Syrian and Egyptian fronts reached 2,569; the Jewish population of Israel was 2.5 million. Hundreds of Israelis were held captive. The public pressure for the establishment of a commission of inquiry was increasing, and some political organizations backed the demand.

While one of the most prominent protesters today is a group seeking the conclusion that Israel is a criminal state that uses aggression to defend itself and violates international law, this was not the case in 1973.

Elazar's recommendations regarding the inquiry committee are instructive. This is what he said: "The question of pre-war preparedness is an Israel Defense Forces matter, and therefore, the IDF alone must investigate it. The IDF must examine for itself what happened on the eve of, and during, the war and learn lessons from it, since it will have to continue fighting. The army will appoint task forces to investigate the relevant issues and draw conclusions. I will present the conclusions to the defense minister and prime minister. If someone wants to establish an inquiry committee to investigate my findings, I will not oppose it. Let's immediately appoint 15-18 inquiry task forces to go out to army units and hospitals. Until the material is collected and processed, there will be no other investigations. It's important that I conduct the initial investigation."

Looking back more than 30 years, it appears that the Agranat Commission, which investigated the Yom Kippur War, was a failure. Not only did it not resolve questions, it actually intensified the national dispute. It's important that the 2006 commission, headed by retired judge Eliyahu Winograd, learn from its mistakes.

The Agranat Commission had a partial and inferior mandate. It investigated barely a third of the war, until October 8. This is a key lesson that the current commission must learn: It's better to "waste" a few days to make sure there is a full and proper mandate. The Agranat Commission avoided drawing conclusions about the political leaders, thereby losing its credibility in the eyes of the public. It also led to the IDF's failure to learn its lesson completely and properly. In retrospect, it's clear that the commission itself did not understand the reasoning that led to Israel's double intelligence error.

From Elazar's comments, it is clear that he did not assess the situation correctly, and did not understand how things would turn out from the moment a state commission of inquiry was appointed. Nine years later, Ariel Sharon, as the defense minister during the Lebanon war, made a similar error when an inquiry committee headed by judge Yitzhak Kahan was appointed to investigate the Sabra and Chatila massacre.

Current IDF Chief of Staff Dan Halutz has also probably not correctly assessed his situation prior to the investigation to be carried out by the Winograd inquiry committee. One can expect at least one thing from Halutz: insistence that alongside the Winograd Committee, the IDF conduct its own internal inquiries and draw the necessary conclusions.

Many questions remain open since the end of the war. The work that is meant to provide some answers has recently begun, but must be accelerated. The IDF must make sure its inquiries are not hijacked by the politicians, who are mainly preoccupied with the next elections and slandering their rivals. As long as the politicians remain in power, the IDF must follow its professional path, and the Winograd Committee must do the same. The committee must also act quickly, partly to prevent witnesses from coordinating their testimony.

Hezbollah is undergoing a similar process of internal inquiries. It is learning its lessons from the war, and has begun the process of rehabilitation. Weapons are still being smuggled from Iran to Syria and from Syria to Lebanon, albeit at a slow pace. Hezbollah's situation, especially in southern Lebanon, has changed. It is now trying to operate amid soldiers from an international force and the Lebanese army. Its secrets have been revealed, and it is preparing for the next phase in its struggle against Israel.



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