Now Is the Time to Investigate

The IDF has been plagued by a series of failures, such as the kidnapping of its soldiers. It must investigate the causes for these before its enemies do.

Right now, when the fighting is at its peak, it is necessary to deal with the series of failures that have afflicted the Israel Defense Forces. These failings have not only exposed poor soldiering skills, flawed intelligence and officers' arrogance - but may also affect the way the IDF's enemies come to view it, and influence their decision on whether to embark on war in the future, or to launch their missiles against Israel's home front.

The IDF will not be defeated in war against the Hezbollah because of the failures in recent weeks, but their shadow will loom large over the results of the ongoing military campaign in Lebanon. And because this is a war that is being fought not only by killing enemy fighters and destroying their arms, but is also over impressions and symbols - it is all the more important to make perfectly clear that the IDF is not ignoring the shortcomings, is handling them and learning its lessons. In the meantime, it appears, this is not being done.

It is puzzling that, after an in-depth examination of the events surrounding the abduction of Cpl. Gilad Shalit produced a grave report by Maj. Gen. (res.) Giora Eiland - which concluded that the whole affair was an "operational failure" - no one was found responsible for it. Eiland's hint that he "does not think any of the commanders needs to be dismissed, especially since these officers are now participating in fighting in the Gaza Strip," only deepens the sense of unease. After all, once the fighting is over, no one will deal with the failures of the past, and it will be argued that the focus must now be on the future.

An even more troubling message was sent when the army appointed Brig. Gen. Avi Ashkenazi, who commands a reserve division in the Northern Command, to examine the ambush of an IDF patrol was ambushed by a Hezbollah force, in which two soldiers were abducted and a tank that subsequently entered Lebanon was destroyed by a large mine, killing its crew of four. One cannot expect an officer whose troops serve in the north and who is partly responsible for that front, to be able to carry out an objective and comprehensive examination of the functioning of his fellow officers, or that of his immediate superiors.

Ashkenazi's appointment is reminiscent to large extent of that of an investigative officer in the Kafr Kana affair - in which an IDF shell, during Operation Grapes of Wrath in 1996, killed more than 100 Lebanese civilians. Who was then appointed to examine that operational failure? Brig. Gen.Dan Harel, head of the Artillery Corps, commander of the soldiers who fired the deadly shell.

Senior IDF officers are not accustomed to criticism originating outside the army's ranks, and normally enjoy great immunity from having to take responsibility for their failings. But there have been too many shortcomings and failures in recent weeks for them to be ignored. It is possible that this has been a matter of bad luck, but until the incidents are examined seriously by elements external to the IDF, there is an unpleasant feeling of a whitewash operation going on - and concern that something fundamentally bad is going on in the army.

Because what began at Kerem Shalom repeated itself on the Lebanese border: The IDF was again caught off guard, this time in a well-planned Hezbollah ambush. The intelligence failure and the complacency of the men in the patrol and of their officers had grave results. The entry of the tank into Lebanon, in an attempt to delay the escape of the kidnappers of the two soldiers, was also flawed. It is unclear why, at command levels, they did not anticipate that Hezbollah had laid mines to delay the advance of tanks. It also turned out that the tank in question lacked sufficient protection.

In the navy, too, the case of the destroyer struck by a Hezbollah missile is being investigated by naval officers. In this case, it does not matter what the findings will be. It was a very serious failure. The various versions of the incident that have been released by the IDF are puzzling and raise concerns about what is going on in the navy. "We didn't know that the Hezbollah had this Iranian-made missile." Or, "our defense systems were not operating because there were concerns that we would accidentally shoot at IAF aircraft." Intelligence failure? Underestimating the enemy's capabilities? Complacency? It appears to be a combination of all of the above.

Then there is the case of the Hezbollah position near Avivim. It is not clear how the planners of the operation to destroy the outpost lacked basic intelligence on Hezbollah's deployment in the area, even though they had been under observation for a long period. Apparently, it turns out, no one was aware of the tunnels near the outpost, and no one anticipated that the Hezbollah fighters lay in ambush for the IDF force.

After that came the collision of two helicopters over Galilee. It is still unclear what caused it, but the resemblance to the helicopter disaster of February 1997 is overwhelming. An investigation over whether the lessons of that accident were ever adopted is vital.

And it should not be forgotten that all this is taking place when the IDF, the most powerful military force in the Middle East, is fighting against a guerrilla force of only several thousand fighters.

Despite the difficulties involved, we should not wait until the end of the fighting: A serious examination, by external elements, of this chain of failures is urgently needed. Indeed, it is critical, because events of recent weeks suggest a real problem in the ranks of the IDF.