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(photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski [file])
The leadership of the defense establishment just prior to his taking office was to blame for the IDF's deteriorated capabilities on the eve of the Second Lebanon War, former defense minister Amir Peretz charged Thursday.
Following Wednesday's presentation of the Final Winograd Report, Peretz - who had refused for many months to speak about his role during the war - said at a Tel Aviv press conference Thursday morning that the committee's findings showed the "absurdity" that "I bore the brunt of the public outcry and I was the convenient target of the public's frustration at the missed opportunity and at everything that had been going wrong in the defense establishment for years."
In fact, he said, "I had been on the job for just two months and was not a military man."
"The tough questions [about the IDF's condition on the eve of war] should be placed at the feet of those who decided the IDF should be a 'small and smart' army," Peretz said. "They initiated the failure."
Specific criticism was reserved by Peretz for three of the most senior defense planners of the past decade: Defense Minister Ehud Barak, a former prime minister and chief of staff of the IDF; Transportation Minister Shaul Mofaz, a former defense minister and chief of staff; and former chief of staff Moshe Ya'alon.
"We were all soldiers once," Peretz said to the roomful of journalists. "In our day, you were on duty for six months and then you were demobilized and went to training for six months."
But in the years preceding the war, Peretz said, "a tankman would finish his initial training of a few months, and be deployed to the territories for the rest of his [three-year] service, never seeing the tank again. How can you ask him to drive that tank into a war? What are you supposed to say to a reservist artillery gunner during the war who says he's never seen the type of shell he's firing because he wasn't called up for six years?"
The former defense minister took care to note that he was not criticizing the soldiers themselves - "who do their best within the limitations of the resources they are given" - but the planners who, he said, allowed the ground forces to go untrained.
Peretz lambasted Mofaz for being "silent and not warning ahead of time about the problems" within the IDF that became evident during the war. Mofaz "was defense minister, chief of staff and deputy chief of staff, and in fact accompanied the process of deterioration without saying a word."
While Peretz criticized Barak as the prime minister during the unilateral withdrawal from Lebanon in 2000 - "which left a vacuum for Hizbullah to fill and abandoned our Christian allies" - he said Barak must not leave the government, but should remain to continue advancing "the important things Israel is dealing with."
Though he supported staying in the coalition, Peretz could not resist the opportunity to criticize Barak's demand during last year's Labor primaries to leave the government. "He knows how to 'flip-flop,'" Peretz said, "and he'll succeed in 'flip-flopping' his way into staying in the government." Peretz also took issue with those who criticized the initial decision to go to war. The Winograd Committee found that the decision, in the context of the military and diplomatic situation at the time, was "reasonable."
"Let me express amazement at the many people who commended and complimented the decision to go to war during the first two weeks [of fighting], until the Kfar Kana incident," he said. "They all concurred the decision was wise and brave, and everyone fought to take some credit for it. Then, suddenly, voices arose saying the decision to go to war was hurried and unplanned."
While Peretz agreed that the war was "a missed opportunity," he said "there is no doubt that the decision to go to war was correct."
Following the press conference, various Labor MKs who are opposed to Peretz commented that it was "ridiculous" that he felt vindicated, since, they said, the Winograd Report found he had performed abysmally during the war.
Gil Hoffman contributed to this report.
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