The Testimony / In the Shadow of the Army

The main conclusion emerging from the testimony given to the Winograd Committee by the three most important players - Prime Minister Ehud Olmert, Defense Minister Amir Peretz and former chief of staff Dan Halutz - is that the army dominates in its relationship with the government. This was especially true in view of the political leadership's lack of security-related experience. The conclusion is that the Israel Defense Forces has too big an impact on decision making.

This conclusion arises from all the testimony, including Halutz's admission to the committee that this was his view even before the war, when he first assumed the post of chief of staff. He said that he thought, for example, that it would be better if Military Intelligence were not also the group that makes national intelligence assessments. The war showed that his concerns were valid.

The IDF dominates in part because the political leadership almost entirely lacks the tools for serious staff work. Cabinet meetings were at times lax in their treatment of very serious subjects. All the efforts to establish and operate a National Security Council have, to date, failed; the main reason for this has been the NSC's power struggle with the prime minister's bureau.

The testimonies also provide insight into the methodology of the committee's investigation and the subjects in which it was particularly interested. The way in which the three were questioned does not merit high marks: The committee at times showed a lack of patience with important witnesses.

All the testimonies revealed troubling issues. In Olmert's, one such issue was the following: The prime minister did not know the Northern Command and the IDF had no authorized operational plans. He also said the reason he did not authorize a ground offensive earlier stemmed from the fact "the army did not ask for it." Olmert knew that the home front would be hit with rockets, but he did not know that no preparations had been made to deal with this.

Peretz's testimony offers the following troubling conclusions: The defense minister did not know, and was not told, about the deficient training of standing army units. He did not know, and was not told, about reservist units' equipment shortages and lack of training. His decision to call up the reserves late stemmed from his concern that Syria would be upset. The army and the prime minister were also against it.

From Halutz's testimony, the following emerges: He considers the continued rocket attacks against the home front as the major failure of the war. He pointed to two periods during the war that offered the possibility of a favorable exit: July 18-19 and July 26-30. "So why did you not recommend this?" asked the committee. Answer: Because of the attack on Qana, which killed dozens of Lebanese civilians. That led U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice to cut short her visit to the region and caused the IDF to slow its operations.