Gaza Tunnels Highlight Decision-makers' Failure in Setting the IDF's Goals

It's lamentable that in the intense arguments revolving around the 'IDF spirit,' the chief of staff supports those who cast doubt on the righteousness of the Zionist path and the necessity to vanquish the enemy decisively.

Israel Harel
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IDF Chief of Staff Gadi Eisenkot, addressing the Home Front Command during an exercise in 2015.
IDF Chief Gadi Eisenkot addressing his troops during a Home Front Command exercise in 2015. Credit: IDF Spokesman's Office
Israel Harel

This week, basing himself on minutes of cabinet meetings, Benjamin Netanyahu definitively proved that Naftali Bennett and Yair Lapid spoke inaccurately in their claims: The Hamas tunnels were indeed discussed, not once but seven times. The prime minister may have shot them down, but for us citizens this disclosure only intensifies our disappointment over the blindness of the political and military leadership together.

If there were indeed frequent discussions and if military plans were in place, how do Netanyahu and the IDF explain the Hamas fighters’ incursion through these tunnels? How do they explain Hamas’ success in killing soldiers and civilians while causing the flight of panic-stricken residents from communities along the Gaza border, and raising anxiety levels throughout the country? The serious damage caused by the enemy highlights the failure of decision makers – certainly of Netanyahu, who constantly reminds everyone that he decides – in setting goals for the army.

Previous governments also scornfully dismissed the tunnels. They could have dealt with them during Operation Cast Lead in 2008-2009 or Operation Pillar of Defense in 2012, as well as during the course of border incidents between the two larger campaigns. If those governments took no action, why didn’t this change during Netanyahu’s term in office? Why did the destruction of these tunnels only start after they had wrought so much damage, and only at the end of the fighting? One should remember that senior commanders and top brass started giving this problem their full attention only when faced with public anger.

These days also mark the 10th anniversary of the Second Lebanon War. In that campaign the army, including its field units, failed due to lack of motivation. In Operation Protective Edge, in contrast, combat units, including officers and foot soldiers, demonstrated a willingness to attack. The absence of a decisive outcome can be chalked up to failures by military and political leaders and their reluctance to bring about some resolution.

The chief of staff appeared before the Knesset Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee this week. According to information leaked from that meeting he skirted – or, in military parlance, evaded contact with – the failures in Lebanon, even though in that case, as head of operations, he bears direct responsibility for steps taken (or not taken).

His view of the measures he’s taking (if any) to prevent such failures in future wars is much more important than his self-exculpatory, “emotional” remarks about the “shooting soldier” in Hebron, or about the (grave) statements by Rabbi Yigal Levinstein. Since the Yom Kippur War in 1973, it’s important to remind him, the IDF has not defeated the enemy in even one decisive battle. This is the main reason for the chronically unstable defense situation on all fronts.

It’s lamentable that in the intense arguments revolving around the “IDF spirit,” the chief of staff supports those who cast doubt on the righteousness of the Zionist path and the necessity to vanquish the enemy decisively. His duty is to bring his full weight to bear on behalf of those forces – whose silencing he assists – who can ensure that the IDF emerges from the crisis of identity and motivation that has beleaguered it for four decades.

This is the place to apologize for using the term “enemy.” It’s an anachronistic term that has no place in Israeli terminology. The main body that is is fighting us, the Palestinians, are not an enemy but a conquered people. Indeed, the IDF, led by civilian institutions that are intensely involved with re-educating mid-level and senior officers, is slowly removing this term, as well as similar ones, from the vocabulary of ideas it is instilling in its soldiers. The results, as we learn from campaigns waged by the IDF ever since it became a world leader in political correctness – including the Second Lebanon War and Operation Protective Edge – are in keeping with this process.