The Conspicuously Absent Issue

The Winograd Committee's report does not address the manner in which the Palestinian front affected the Second Lebanon War.

While the Winograd Committee report is only partial, some important issues are missing and others are not dealt with sufficiently. The committee did a thorough job, and poked into hidden corners, but one still gets the feeling that the phrasing of the report was done under pressure. It is good the committee insisted on publishing an interim report first, and left the testimony of the prime minister, defense minister and chief of staff for the next stage. That was the logically correct order, and it is a pity the High Court was dragged into a petty dispute over this.

One issue that is conspicuously absent is the way the conflict on the Palestinian front affected the Second Lebanon War - a subject the committee did not address at all. The confrontation with the Palestinians has been going on for years, and generations of Israel Defense Forces soldiers focused on it, as if it were Israel's major struggle and all future battles would be modeled on it. This kind of thinking negatively affected the army's performance in Lebanon.

The tactical behavior of the combat units was affected by the way battles were fought with terrorists and small guerrilla units. Everything would freeze if a spearhead encountered a terrorist. If anyone was hit, everyone waited for evacuation and new orders. It was clear, after such clashes, and certainly if the IDF suffered casualties, that the whole unit would pull back. The assumption was that the troops would return some other time. This was how several units responded in Lebanon. The IDF once excelled as a regular army. The territories ruined it.

But that is not all. From the report, it emerges that the Palestinian front imposed constraints on the IDF in its battle with Hezbollah. In view of the situation in the territories, the IDF transferred some of its finest infantry units from the North. Little by little, Israel lost its power of deterrence against Hezbollah. Even worse, Hezbollah ended up deterring Israel. A kind of mutual deterrence was created. Israel's warnings to Hezbollah remained empty threats. The skiing and bed and breakfast policy reigned on the northern border. Even today, there are some who say Israel should not have responded when eight soldiers were killed and two kidnapped on July 12, 2006, although it seems obvious that this abduction would have led to others, as well as deeper incursions.

Hassan Nasrallah sized up the situation correctly. He saw the two fronts against Israel - Palestinian and Lebanese - as a single unit. Evidence of this is that the first abduction at Har Dov in October 2000 took place just after the outbreak of the second intifada. The ambush and kidnapping in July 2006 came three weeks after the kidnapping of Gilad Shalit. This important issue of how the territories and the conflict with the Palestinians affected the war should have appeared in the interim report.

The report deals superficially with Israel's power of deterrence against Hezbollah. This is a critical issue that needs to be addressed in the committee's concluding report. After all, the committee undertook to explore the processes that caused the war to develop as it did, and deterrence is one of the chief components of Israeli strategy. We are not talking about ordinary deterrence, of the kind employed vis-a- vis Arab countries or standard armies. We are talking about deterrence of a different kind, against a terrorist and guerrilla organization that has no country. True, Hezbollah built infrastructure in Lebanon, but it is ultimately at odds with the Lebanese government, and represents the interests of another country - Iran.

Therefore, the definition of victory over such an organization differs from the ordinary kind of military victory. What should be considered a victory in a military confrontation with a semi-military organization like Hezbollah? This is an issue that deserves attention in the committee's final report.

With respect to the hasty decision to go to war, the committee says the government did not conduct the kind of thorough deliberation that should have taken place beforehand. According to the report, Israel then found itself in a war that it had no intention of being in. What is not included in the report is a discussion of alternative actions that could have been taken. For example, if the military command knew that most of the field divisions were not properly trained or prepared for battle, and that emergency supplies were low, Israel could have chosen to do what it did before the Six-Day War - issue an ultimatum for the return of the abducted soldiers; embark on a waiting period during which the reserves could be called up, the infantry units trained and the emergency stocks replenished; and then deliver a resounding blow.