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Now we've definitely heard it all. A senior air force commander actually admitting that the pilots had more up-to-date maps and aerial photographs of Southern Lebanon and better intelligence aids than the ground forces had. What a surprise.
Seriously now, that the air force has better everything, from meals to good-looking gym instructors, than Golani and Givati, is a fact of life in the IDF. No one even considers it worth complaining about.
Obviously, it would have been much better, from an operational point of view, if the battalion commanders on the ground had updated maps, instead of those of 2000 vintage, but as scandals and screw ups go, this doesn't even get into the top-ten of the latest war.
Turn over a stone on the General Staff parade ground and you'll find a fresh bungle. Reporters don't have enough room to list them all.
Here's another map story for you. One of the Golani battalions that was summoned north after the capture of Eldad Regev and Ehud Goldwasser had been in the midst of operations within the Gaza Strip following the capture of Gilad Shalit. The boxes containing the "emergency" maps of Lebanon that every combat unit has were somehow left down south. The soldiers had to go into combat with whatever maps could be found on short notice at the Galilee Division, which had the border on them but precious little north of that.
The discrepancies between the various maps obviously hampered coordination between ground forces and air support, but this was far from the worst instance of difficulty in communication between various parts of the IDF during the war.
Other examples led to tragic cases of "friendly fire." One, in which multiple casualties were prevented at the last moment, involved a unit of young paratroopers who were lying in ambush. In the middle of the night, they radioed headquarters and requested authorization to fire on a group of Hizbullah fighters moving near them. An officer asked how they were certain they were Hizbullah and the young paratrooper answered "they've got RPGs." He didn't know that until a few years ago, the Soviet light antitank rocket was standard equipment of every IDF infantry platoon and is still used by many reserve units. Someone at headquarters was wary enough to order the paratroopers to check again, and thus disaster was averted.
There are hundreds of stories like these from the war, and while some thankfully ended without casualties, others ended lives and happy families.
Should they be investigated, and by whom? The Winograd Committee was finally appointed by the cabinet on Sunday and held its first meeting under strict secrecy on Monday. The first item on the agenda: locating suitable office space and hiring a secretary and spokesperson. Besides from that their remit is still hazy. Their official mandate is to investigate as far back as the pullback from Lebanon in 2000, but many of the problems seen in the war, especially the woeful conditions of the emergency stores, are decades-old, and besides, how deep will they delve?
Obviously, the committee won't have the time and resources to investigate every one of the hundreds of operational foul-ups. So who will? Besides Winograd, there are currently three other ongoing investigation efforts. A pair of teams set up by the General Staff, directed by Deputy Chief of Staff Moshe Kaplinsky, which are supposed to draw lessons from the conduct of every branch of the IDF; half a dozen subcommittees set up by the Knesset Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee with a very unclear level of responsibility; and, of course, the national loose cannon, State Comptroller Micha Lindenstrauss, who has already made clear that he feels free to investigate whatever he likes, from the conduct of the prime minister to the tank maneuvers up the Saluki River.
In a democracy, everyone should, of course, be accountable, but the underlying problem is that there is no benchmark standard of success and safety during wars. The hundreds of mistakes made at all levels are par for the course in any military conflict, and were present in any war fought by the IDF, including those that seemed, at the time, as resounding victories. War is hell and armies are notoriously disaster-prone organizations, that's what happens when thousands of human beings handle lethal weapons at the same time. Soldiers in the field make mistakes as do the politicians back home giving the orders, and, guess what, their motives aren't always 100 percent pure. When did carelessness and political considerations become criminal offenses?
The various protest groups are still incensed by Ehud Olmert's refusal to convene a state commission of inquiry over the war, but they haven't stopped to consider that perhaps you can have too much of a good thing. As it is, the entire officer corps is going to spend the next six months looking over its shoulder, wondering who is waiting with a round of uncomfortable questions. Mudslinging and scapegoating is just around the corner.
Any investigation should bear in mind that the IDF will still be needed for the next war and if its commanders first instinct will be self-preservation, the outcome will be even worse than the last round. And as for the elected politicians, ultimately they will be judged by the voters, not by any committee.
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