Finally, after what seems to be the end of this war or at least the end of the latest round, the country's leaders seemed to acknowledge that some kind of accounting is called for. Defense Minister Amir Peretz announced on Monday morning that he intended to "appoint a team that will conduct an intensive, comprehensive investigation of all the events leading up to the war and during the war." But he failed to say who will lead the team or even what its precise mandate would be.
In his Knesset speech, Prime Minister Ehud Olmert also admitted that "there were mistakes made," and promised that "we will examine everything that needs examination." But he added the caveat that "we won't sink into blame and guilt. We don't have that luxury. We must assure that next time - and there may be a next time - things will be done better."
Obviously, there are limits to self-examination.
The demands by opposition politicians for a full-blown commission of inquiry, headed - as the law mandates - by a Supreme Court justice were a Pavlovian reaction. Olmert will obviously take no heed and make do with whatever ad hoc committees are set up by various government departments.
The kind of commission set up after national traumas such as the Yom Kippur War and Yitzhak Rabin's assassination are loose cannons. Their members are of such a caliber that political or personal considerations rarely affect their conclusions and recommendations, and no senior minister or general wants that kind of scrutiny. Only a truly national disaster can create the kind of public pressure needed for the formation of such a commission and, as things stand now, the public is deeply disappointed but not in that kind of self-destructive mood.
There are all manner of other committees, commissions and task forces analyzing, investigating and probing into various failings and screw-ups, but their recommendations usefully find their way into desk drawers.
Nothing in the personalities of the trio leading the war effort - Olmert, Peretz and Chief of General Staff Lt.-Gen. Dan Halutz - suggests a propensity for self-flagellation, and their speeches and interviews over recent weeks made clear that they haven't changed. All three are convinced they made no major mistakes in conducting the campaign, and nothing their critics in the military, media and Knesset will say can convince them otherwise.
There are already two teams investigating the operational circumstances of the attacks by Hamas and Hizbullah in which Gilad Shalit, Ehud Goldwasser and Eldad Regev were captured. Neither has yet to deliver its final result, and it is expected that, ultimately, heads will roll, most likely up to the division commander level. Also OC Northern Command Maj.-Gen. Udi Adam will most likely resign, sooner rather than later, after having been ignominiously demoted from his post of senior commander of the ground campaign. That should fill the quota of ritual bloodletting; it's unrealistic - and perhaps also unjust - to demand any more.
Don't hold your breath, we're not about to get any official answers on the series of difficult operational and personal questions arising from this strange war. Almost every Israeli is a military expert and his or her own conclusions - the media's armchair generals have had theirs for weeks already - will probably have to suffice.
Since everyone knows what went wrong, the best thing would be to try to look forward and think how we're going to fix things without wasting time looking for scapegoats. Olmert and Peretz aren't leaving in the near future; the political process takes time. Meanwhile, there's crucial work to be done.
If this war proves anything, it's that any future conflict will also involve the civilian population. The disorderly evacuation of hundreds of thousands from northern towns revealed that there are no effective contingency plans for such an eventuality. Israelis stoically accepted their dire situation, but the next time, there will be no excuses. War could lay waste to any region of this small country; alternative housing, transportation and social support systems have to be in place in advance. A task force should be formed immediately to draw up a national emergency plan, followed by the appropriate legislation passed and the necessary funds allocated.
The next immediate conclusion is that the IDF's much vaunted five-year plans and rationalizations of the fighting force have to be reexamined. The utopian era of quiet borders and far-away strategic war waged by air power and submarines is still a thing of the distant future. The necessity of a large reserve corps, based on experienced and loyal part-time soldiers, is clear again.
Reservists have lost their confidence in their long-range training plans and the system of emergency storage. Many were flung into battle without basic equipment or having undergone training for years. This confidence can be returned only by making sure every reserve soldiers over the next 12 months undergoes a serious refresher and visits his emergency base and sees with his own eyes the kit awaiting him in the next war. Returning the reserve force to optimum readiness might cost as much as a squadron of F-16s, but this war proved that it's worth that.
If all we have gained from this war is a serious effort on these two fronts, it might even turn out to our benefit. There's no saying when the next one will come along or how much bigger it might be.
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