Fixing the system

The Winograd report makes plain that conceptual dysfunction contributed to the war's failures.

May 1, 2007 19:14
4 minute read.
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Apart from essential personnel changes at the national helm, as all but explicitly mandated by the Winograd Report, a no less critical transformation is one of mind-set and organization in the upper echelons, both military and political. Alongside the failures of leadership, the report makes plain that glaring conceptual and organizational dysfunction contributed crucially to what went wrong in the Second Lebanon War. These flaws appear to be endemic to the IDF and the civilian defense establishment. Indeed, they reappear from one inquiry commission's dismal findings to its successor's. Until last summer, Israel managed to prevail despite all that went unfixed within the IDF and the governments that purportedly oversaw its operations, but it was only a matter of time before luck ran out. In some cases over the years, political leaders at times of crisis were veterans of senior military roles, and therefore possessed some of the capabilities required to enable their governments to reach appropriate decisions even in the absence of the proper working relationship with the IDF and the security establishment.

Winograd report: The fallout
Neither of the two senior political figures stewarding last summer's war had such a background, and thus they were unable to provide such a safety net. Yet even after this prime minister and defense minister have gone, an organizational overhaul is imperative to prevent future breakdowns. The Winograd Committee exposed the IDF top command as running with the pack, regardless of any skepticism members of the General Staff might have had about their chief's judgment. Land forces commanders didn't challenge Dan Halutz's contention that the air force alone could take care of the Hizbullah rocket threat. The same is true of the government, where post factum there were dissenting murmurs about misguided tactics, but not in real time, not when it mattered. The ministers preferred to follow the prime minister's lead, and he followed Halutz. This docility is at least partly rooted in the systemic absurdity that sees the government, any government, denied effective tools to evaluate whatever the IDF top brass advocates. The executive branch need not necessarily be composed of ex-generals, although Winograd has some recommendations in this area, too. But it would make a major difference if the premier employed professional staffers to help make sense of what's happening, to explore options, to assess alternatives. This is vital not only when conflict appears imminent, but on a continuing basis. By the time a crisis looms, it may be too late. In Israel's threatened reality, ministers cannot serve the public effectively without educating themselves. The current ministers' failure in this regard is highlighted by Winograd. They, too, share culpability for the war's grave failings, because, in their ignorance and/or temerity, they did not fulfill their responsibilities when it came to the fateful decisions. Among the many consequences of too little proper discussion within the political and military hierarchies, and between them, was that IDF units that had trained precisely to take out Hizbullah Katyusha batteries by conquering the territory from which they barraged Israeli civilians were not deployed. Blueprints drawn up specifically to handle contingencies such as the abductions that triggered hostilities were not employed. And often, underdrilled reservists were sent in and out of locales like Bint Jbail and Maroun-a-Ras, seemingly without rhyme or reason, paying a bloody toll each time. Such failings are not preordained and they are reparable. Neither is the disconnect between our senior military and political hierarchies unavoidable, nor so esoteric that nobody ever identified it previously. Maj.-Gen. (res.) Giora Eiland resigned last fall as head of the National Security Council, apparently because of the complacency at the top, the dependence on improvisation. In an interview with The Jerusalem Post in September he described the government's attitude in response to the abductions last July as one of, "Let's start attacking and see what happens." He added: "That's no way to run things. First they felt they didn't need land forces, then that they needed them but wouldn't use them, then that they'd use them a little." Eiland proposed that the prime minister set up a staff responsible for political-security strategy, which would coordinate with the IDF, Foreign Ministry, etc. Before the last war, such a staff could have clued Olmert into the complexities of dealing with Hizbullah rocket fire and presented him with options, including for management of the shelled hinterland. Regrettably, this function was not established. It must be, as Israel prepares more effectively for emergencies to come.

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