A Note to the Inquiry Commission

Now that he has resigned over the kiss affair, Haim Ramon will be a former justice minister with the time to prepare answers for the inquiry commission on the failures of the war in Lebanon, if one is established.

In the last government, Ramon served as a minister without portfolio until he abandoned the Labor Party, and headed the ministerial follow-up committee on the implementation of the state comptroller's report. Officials at the Prime Minister's Office yesterday confirmed that Ramon, in this capacity, did not hold even a single discussion on the comptroller's findings concerning the defense establishment.

"He had a different agenda," they explained.

The investigators will no doubt ask Ramon whether he did anything about last August's Annual Report 56-A.

To refresh the memory of Ramon - and other ministers, and senior officials and officers who will no doubt be summoned to explain why the Israel Defense Forces did not have money to buy water and bread for the soldiers - here are selected extracts from that report:

"The Finance Ministry's budgets division did not evaluate the economic and budgetary implications of cuts and the extent of their implementation - the IDF Planning Directorate and the Defense Ministry's budget division, which are responsible for drawing up and pricing the IDF's work plans, did not examine the economic significance of changes to the work plans due to the budget cuts - The defense establishment's multi-year work plan was implemented without the Finance Ministry and the Defense Ministry having coordinated a long-term framework for its implementation."

The price of the budgetary failure, a mixture of plain old carelessness and scorn for the comptroller's grave findings, was paid by the infantry and armored corps soldiers. The comptroller examined the issue of armoring from July 2002 to February 2003 and found "large gaps between the flak-vest and helmet stocks, and the needs the IDF had defined in the case of an all-out war." According to figures he received from the IDF, the issue was primarily the hundreds of thousands of flak vests and helmets "that should be replaced because they do not completely fulfill the IDF's requirements."

When the investigation was completed in March 2003, the Ground Forces Command had not yet prepared a multi-year plan for replacing the flak vests and the helmets (the IDF, incidentally, also did not prepare itself to suit female combat soldiers for battle. The comptroller wrote: "The lack of battle equipment for female combat soldiers endangers them and harms their operational capability").

In any case, the IDF lacked thousands of bullet-proof vests - some 50 percent of what the IDF said it needed at that time. The bodies that handle personal protective gear did not cooperate or coordinate with one another, and their vast knowledge was not put to use - from matters such as defining the operational need through the development of such equipment. The IDF and the police defined differently what kind of flak vests their forces would need. As a result, soldiers and police officers who engaged in identical activities in identical parts of the territories were equipped with flak vests offering different levels of protection.

The comptroller found that the Merkava Tank Administration developed protective devices for the tank before the IDF had examined what threats the tank would need to be prepared for, and the General Staff in essence faced a fait accompli when the time came to approve the project. In the end, after considerable resources had been invested, the project could not be carried out due to a lack of funds.

The comptroller also found the means of protecting armored combat vehicles was flawed. At the start of the war I reported on the comptroller's grave findings concerning the state of shelters in the north and the unpreparedness for a mass evacuation in the case of a missile attack.

If the commission of inquiry also takes an interest in the war's hasbara information campaign, it will only have to dust off the comptroller's report on the hasbara failures in Operation Grapes of Wrath and find out why this time, too, the IDF and the Foreign Ministry worked at cross-purposes rather than in tandem. In addition to everything else, the comptroller has an extensive chapter on the IDF's continued neglect of its internal review mechanism, which was supposed to have intercepted these blunders before soldiers were sent into battle without flak vests or drinking water.

Minister without Portfolio Eitan Cabel, once the leader of the Labor Party's Ramon camp and now Ramon's replacement as head of the follow-up committee, promised yesterday that the committee's first discussion would be dedicated to the defense establishment. Maybe there is still a horse or two in the stable.

The Prime Minister's Office responded that many of the flaws mentioned in the report have been rectified. It is too bad the reserve soldiers who have returned home didn't notice.

11,280 shells

The commission of inquiry ought to take an interest in who really dictated Israel's policy during the war. It will find, for example, that Defense Minister Amir Peretz learned from the American Embassy in Tel Aviv that despite the government's promises, the IDF had bombarded the Christian Quarter of Beirut.

Regarding Gaza too, while Peretz talks about the need for dialogue with the Palestinians, Chief of Staff Dan Halutz is telling government meetings, "We must not let up against the Palestinians as long as they are under Hamas' leadership, increasing in strength and arming themselves."

The IDF also dictated the answers to the parliamentary question submitted in late spring by Meretz faction head MK Zahava Gal-On concerning Operation Summer Rains in the south. Peretz reported in a letter that between April 20 and July 20, 2006, a total of 11,280 shells were fired into "open, uninhabited areas, where cells move toward launch points or fire rockets."

For the sake of comparison, in Operation First Rain - which began on September 25 and continued until April 3, "only" 2,713 shells were fired. The defense minister knew each such shell costs NIS 2,900, "a relatively cheap alternative, for example, to maintaining a constant armed aerial presence in the sector or to guided missiles.

What the defense minister, who calls himself a "man of peace," could not tell Gal-On was the number of innocent ("uninvolved") Palestinian civilians who have been hurt by the thousands of shells. Peretz wrote that the IDF does not have precise figures regarding the number of people killed but he does know that in the south, as in the north, "Terror activists do not refrain from firing rockets and mortar shells from within or near the yards of private homes. However, in light of the artillery shells' precision and in order to prevent insofar as possible harm to innocent people, the IDF has set relatively large safety ranges from residential buildings and in urban areas."

If "harm to innocent people" disturbs Peretz, and not only for reasons of "dialogue" with the Palestinians, B'Tselem, The Israeli Information Center for Human Rights in the Territories, will certainly be very glad to provide him with the data. The organization has a list of 163 Palestinians who were killed by the security forces in the Gaza Strip during the month of July, 78 of whom - 48 percent - were not participating in fighting at the time they were killed. Sixty-three of those killed were minors and 20 were women. During that same month, 15 Palestinians were killed in the West Bank. According to B'Tselem's records, the number of people killed in the territories was the highest number in any single month since April 2002. Who said Transportation Minister Shaul Mofaz should be brought back to the Defense Ministry?