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(photo credit: GPO)
Last night in Haifa, Prime Minister Ehud Olmert made his case for the successes of the war, his own decision-making, and for a three-part mechanism to investigate and correct mistakes. He argued that we as a nation do not have the "luxury" of launching a drawn out commission of inquiry that will force generals and ministers to defend themselves from legal sanction.
We also, however, do not have the luxury of an investigation that does not cast its net deep and wide, and call into question entrenched ideas and deficiencies in our military politics and society.
Olmert announced that former Mossad chief Nahum Admoni will chair a committee investigating the political echelon. Its other members will be former Israel Navy commander Maj.-Gen. (res) Yedidya Ya'ari, Professor Ruth Gavison and Professor Yehezkel Dror. It is unclear whether the second committee, to investigate the military, will be the one created by Defense Minister Amir Peretz, led by former IDF Chief of Staff Amnon Lipkin-Shahak.
The prime minister asked the state comptroller to launch a third investigation, into the readiness of the home front during the war.
Critical aspects of these investigations remain unresolved. Their full scope and mandate has not been defined. The powers of the first two ad-hoc committees to summon witnesses and procure documents have also not been announced.
In short, Olmert has unveiled the skeleton of an investigation, which he claims will be the quickest, most efficient and effective way to learn lessons and correct mistakes.
We agree wholeheartedly with the goals of this process as Olmert has described them. But the investigators, particularly on the committees probing the political and military spheres, will start their jobs with a considerable burden affecting their credibility: they were nominated by leaders whose role they must closely and honestly scrutinize.
Will Lipkin-Shahak, if he continues to head the investigation of the military, be able to fully critique preparedness issues that stretched over years, including to his own watch as chief of General Staff? On the political side as well, will the investigation consider only decision making during the war, or will it go back to 2000, when Israel withdrew from Lebanon and Hizbullah began building up and digging in throughout southern Lebanon?
Last night, Olmert quoted what he called Hassan Nasrallah's "regret" speech, in which Hizbullah's leader said he would not have launched the attack if he had known how Israel would react, and that he did not believe that there was a "one percent chance" that Israel would respond to his aggression as we did.
If this is true, and there is reason to believe that on this point Nasrallah has been forced to admit a gross miscalculation, this raises a question for our leadership as well: How did it come to pass that an enemy on our border could attack us with such confidence that we would not deliver a punishing blow in response? What messages were we sending to our enemies with our previous actions? How could we have let such a basic element of our deterrence collapse, where else has it eroded, and what are the implications of this looking forward? These are all larger questions that the political and military investigations, while they examine the many details of the recent conflict, do not have the luxury to ignore. Nor do we have the luxury of vastly increasing the defense budget without finally shedding more light on how the IDF is spending its money and whether its priorities must be changed.
Olmert made an important point when he suggested that the current war did not create the threats that we face in the wars we must prepare for, it simply exposed them. It revealed the wider dangers we face that had receded into the background, obscured by the struggle with Palestinian terrorism.
During this war, we exhibited a determination and understanding of the conflict we face that many, Nasrallah perhaps among them, thought had disappeared. But in many quarters that understanding had been allowed to erode.
Are younger Israelis, born since the last war 24 years ago, being taught that the freedoms they might take for granted should not be, and why, despite our yearnings for peace, they might be called upon to fight for them? Any investigation worth its salt must ask such broad and difficult questions as well.