Three Terrible Days

It appears that one of the illnesses caused by this war has been a loss of a sense of proportion. Were this not the case, it would be difficult to understand how the public debate in recent days is revolving around money and not blood.

It appears that one of the illnesses caused by this war has been a loss of a sense of proportion. Were this not the case, it would be difficult to understand how the public debate in recent days is revolving around money and not blood. It appears that the public is more interested in the money that the chief of staff earned (or lost) when he sold his stock portfolio than in the 33 dead and the dozens of wounded that the Israel Defense Forces sustained in the three days of intense fighting a week ago, shortly before the cease-fire went into effect.

The affair began on Wednesday, 10 days ago, while discussions on a cease-fire agreement were taking place at United Nations. Public sentiment was gloomy in the wake of the continued firing of Katyushas on the north, and the military and political leadership lacked "an image of victory," a kind of impressive final note. As a result, that day, the cabinet took a decision that authorized the IDF to advance as far as the Litani River "in order to cleanse the area."

We thought at the time that the decision was designed to pressure France and the United States into improving the cease-fire agreement. To this end, it was worthwhile threatening, it was worthwhile calling up reserve soldiers, to prepare the means and also to get close to the border. It turned out, however, it this was not merely a threat.

Two days later, on Friday evening, a draft proposal for cease-fire was formulated at the UN. But then, instead of making do with political pressure and refraining from going deeper into the Lebanese quagmire, Chief of Staff Dan Halutz and Defense Minister Amir Peretz persuaded Prime Minister Ehud Olmert that the time had come to continue the war. While the UN Security Council was busy passing the cease-fire resolution, four divisions were advancing toward the Litani. They came up against fierce resistance from Hezbollah, which had been preparing for just a battle, with hundreds of anti-tank missiles - and the IDF walked into the trap.

The first Lebanon War had already clearly shown that it is hard to deploy armored divisions in mountainous terrain. However, because the IDF wanted to achieve "an image of victory" on the Litani, there was a need to act quickly, and the results were grave - 33 killed in three days.

The most bitter and costliest battle of all was waged in the central sector, at Wadi Salouki. There, the tanks encountered Hezbollah squads that waited for them in ambush, above the wadi, with heavy anti-tank fire. The area in question is a particularly steep slope where there is only one route of passage, and IDF forces were thus hit hard. Tanks were struck by anti-tank missiles and 12 soldiers were killed, among them two company commanders.

The soldiers were told that this was the final note of the war and was "a battle for the mind" - to prove to Hezbollah that the IDF is determined. These are particularly cruel words, for what did the IDF want to etch into the minds of the Hezbollah fighters - that an IDF tank can go up in flames?

During those three days (60 hours in fact) of fighting, Hezbollah notched up another achievement - the bringing down of a helicopter, and killing its five crew members. A short while before it was hit, the helicopter had been carrying 30 fighters; one can only imagine what would have happened had the helicopter been taken down then.

The territory that was occupied during those 60 hours of bitter and costly fighting is now being evacuated hastily because it is of no use. The IDF did not reach the Litani. The idea, ridiculous from the outset, that entering deep into the territory would allow the IDF, after the cease-fire, to sweep the villages that had been encircled and thus capture Hezbollah fighters and disarm them is no longer being heard; that has been utterly forgotten.

The IDF is now trying to retreat quickly from the positions it captured, fearing that its soldiers will become sitting ducks for guerrilla actions. It wants to withdraw to the ridge of hills that overlooks the northern border, at a distance of two kilometers from it, no more. It is just waiting for the Lebanese Army to say that it is ready to take responsibility.

If this is the case, why did the army embark on this unnecessary battle? Why were so many soldiers sacrificed and so many wounded?

One of the cruelest laws of war says that when the top brass make an erroneous and cynical decision, the rank-and-file soldiers become heroes because they have to correct things. And indeed, there are many stories of heroism from those final 60 hours.

It turns out, meanwhile, that Hezbollah is not disarming, that it is remaining in southern Lebanon and that it is already receiving new arms from Syria. And the Middle East hasn't been impressed by the Israeli plan to restore the IDF's deterrent power. The Syrian president came out with an aggressive speech against Israel: "We will liberate the Golan Heights with our own hands and with our own determination;" and in Iran, they are threatening to fire missiles on Tel Aviv.

Dan Halutz, therefore, does not have to step down because of the affair of his stocks. That is too small and trivial a matter. He has to go, along with Ehud Olmert and Amir Peretz, because of the last three days of fighting, which were so unnecessary and so painful.