Tossing the Ball Around

The recent war in Lebanon was a strategic failure, and the collective failure of those who planned it and led it. The major flaw was not shortage of equipment, faulty logistics or depleted emergency supplies. What Israel lacks is a grand strategy.

From the moment the investigative committee headed by retired judge Eliyahu Winograd began its work, many of the prospective witnesses have been singing the same tune - namely, that if anything went wrong in the war, it was because of negligence in previous years. The same argument is used to explain why the reserve units' emergency storerooms were not stocked or the combat units not sufficiently trained. It was this negligence, they say, that was the root cause of the army's lack of preparedness last July.

The office of Defense Minister Amir Peretz says that all major complaints should be addressed to Israel's previous defense ministers, Shaul Mofaz, Benjamin Ben-Eliezer and also Ehud Barak, who was prime minister and defense minister when three Israeli soldiers were taken captive by Hezbollah at Har Dov in 2000.

Prime Minister Ehud Olmert is not saying this, but he apparently thinks his predecessor, Ariel Sharon, could answer the question of whether Israel was ready for an all-out war with Hezbollah better than he can. Of course, that is no longer possible. According to recent disclosures, when Sharon's son, Omri, was a member of the Knesset Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee, he submitted a grim report, along with MKs Ephraim Sneh and Yuval Steinitz, to the effect that Israel had no answer to the rocket threat. This is a document that should have landed on the desk of then prime minister Ariel Sharon in 2004, and presumably it did.

Statements along these lines have also emanated from the office of the chief of staff, Dan Halutz, over the past few months. Halutz and his men say that any questions should be addressed to the previous chief of staff, Moshe Ya'alon, and his predecessor, Mofaz. The Northern Command tossed the ball to Major General Udi Adam and Major General Benny Gantz, who headed this command before Adam. From there, it rolled back as far as Gabi Ashkenazi, who was Ya'alon's deputy, and before that, head of the Northern Command. This week, some people quipped that this was a way to block Ashkenazi's appointment as the next chief of staff.

That gambit has failed, and it is good that it has. The petition to the High Court of Justice filed in this matter was also rejected. The media has had a hand in much of this. On the day the chief of staff testified before the Winograd Committee, one of the newspapers ran a headline that said: "Halutz blames political echelon for screw-up." It then elaborated: "The government decided to go to war without understanding its own decision." The chief of staff, it turns out, never said any such thing in his testimony. The IDF Spokesman's Office had no choice but to publish a sweeping denial, but hardly anyone noticed.

The only one who can claim to be totally ignorant and uninformed on the subject of defense and the army is the defense minister, Amir Peretz. He should have had second thoughts before accepting the job, and when the war broke out, he should have asked someone more professional and experienced to take over. That is what happened on the eve of the Six-Day War, when Moshe Dayan replaced Levi Eshkol as defense minister.

All those who are accusing their predecessors are ultimately drawing attention to their own personal responsibility. The changing of the guard in the Israel Defense Forces and the defense establishment took place many months before the war. Why did those who are complaining about their predecessors not make haste to rectify these problems when they took charge? If they did nothing, the failure is theirs. And if they failed to detect the problems in time, before the war, then they are also at fault.

Instead of shifting the blame onto someone else, Israel's commanding officers must take a hard look at whether they did anything to correct the mistakes of their predecessors before the war, and whether they adequately prepared their soldiers for combat.

The recent war in Lebanon was a strategic failure, and the collective failure of those who planned it and led it. The major flaw was not shortage of equipment, faulty logistics or depleted emergency supplies. While all these matters need to be investigated, they will not provide the answer to the pivotal question, which has to do with Israeli strategy. Professor Yehezkel Dror, a member of the Winograd Committee, has been arguing this point for years: What Israel lacks is a grand strategy.