Investigating the war

The realization that our most basic institutions need of self-examination should not be squandered.

By
August 17, 2006 21:33
3 minute read.
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Defense Minister Amir Peretz's external investigatory committee, to be headed by former IDF chief of General Staff Lt.-Gen. (res.) Amnon Lipkin-Shahak, might provide some useful information regarding the narrow question of military decision-making during the war. It will not be sufficient to determine the broader lessons of the war in the military sphere, let alone for the political echelon and our society as a whole. The public, according to polls, wants a commission of inquiry. Such commissions, with the power to recommend legal sanctions against individual officials, were created in the wake of the Yom Kippur War, the killings at Sabra and Shatilla, and the deaths of Israeli Arabs at the hands of police during the riots in October 2000. The record of such commissions is not a promising one. They tend to create an intense focus on only one question: who will pay with their job, or even be put on trial. Though some legal experts are proud of the strength of the law providing for such commissions, others, such as former foreign minister Shlomo Ben-Ami, think they go too far, in that they do not even provide a right of appeal. We tend to agree that such commissions are problematic, and that the best option would be an investigation that combines some of their advantages without adopting their shortcomings. The way to do this is to maximize independence, scope, and investigative tools without providing the power to impose legal sanctions. Sanctions, in such a situation, should be imposed by the voters. An imperfect model for this is the 9/11 Commission that was appointed by the US Congress. Its membership was split equally between Democrats and Republicans, including its co-chairmen. It could subpoena documents and question witnesses under oath, but it had no power to impose legal sanctions on individual officials. The disadvantage of the 9/11 Commission was that it was limited to what could be said by consensus, and ended up making organizational recommendations for the intelligence system, rather than drawing more pointed and useful conclusions for American foreign policy. Though the 9/11 Commission produced a gripping account of the events and forces immediately surrounding those attacks, one would be hard-pressed to say that implications were drawn that made America much safer. Our country needs an investigation that is both broad and deep. The Lipkin-Shahak committee cannot do this for a number of reasons. First, its mandate is reportedly limited to the IDF's prosecution of the war itself. We need a wider probe that examines how the IDF became unprepared for this war - from the lack of measures to protect tanks from anti-tank missiles, to the lack of food and proper equipment for our soldiers going into battle. As a recent chief of staff, Lipkin-Shahak is himself partly responsible for the state in which the IDF reached this war, not to mention his role in advising Peretz during the war. Secondly, the Lipkin-Shahak committee obviously cannot fully examine how the war was handled from a political and diplomatic perspective. Third, it cannot delve into deeper societal questions, such as whether our educational system needs to be reexamined in light of the growing gap between the attitudes of different sectors of our society toward the need to defend the country. There is a widespread perception that this war, by not producing a definitive outcome, has certainly not prevented the next war, and may have even laid the groundwork for it. This should not be regarded as a foregone conclusion, but much needs to be done to build on the military and diplomatic accomplishments of this war - which should not be dismissed - to prevent a return to the status quo ante, or worse. In addition, there is much to be done to prepare for the next war in case, despite our best efforts, we are unable to prevent it. The widespread realization that our most basic institutions are in need of self-examination should not be squandered, or allowed to dissipate in a spasm of recriminations. These justifiably strong emotions should be channeled into constructive changes that will make us stronger and safer, not weaker and more divided.

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