War is hell. And the Winograd Committee Report was damnation. Actually, the worst is yet to come as the findings, published amid media overkill on April 30, comprise only an interim report concerning the first few days of the war. Those were the days we were confidently being told by Prime Minister Ehud Olmert that we were winning; the days when there was as much across-the-political spectrum support as is possible in this country. The days when Olmert's "No more" speech, declaring the need to respond to the Hizbullah kidnappings and missiles, resounded louder than the eerie echoes in empty IDF storerooms and woefully unequipped civilian shelters.
That was then. Before we discovered that IDF chief of staff Dan Halutz had, in a vote of no-confidence if ever there was one, somehow found time to sell stocks as the hostilities broke out while the soldiers he was responsible for barely had time to eat and sleep.
It was an age if not of innocence, at least of collective denial - like that joke about the man who is falling from a skyscraper: When asked how he feels, he replies: "All right so far."
We all knew that Defense Minister Amir Peretz was the wrong man for the job - even he knew - but we didn't think he would be put to the test in a war. Even Hizbullah chief Sheikh Hassan Nasrallah didn't think that would happen, if we are to believe his speech on August 26 in which he admitted: "Had we known that the kidnapping of the soldiers would have led to this [war], we would definitely not have done it."
THE SOUND of Olmert stating "No more" is now being echoed not only by political rivals but also by the public - including much of the public that elected him. Although he had enough time to prepare himself for Winograd's findings, it seems he was unprepared for these too. The images of a man who so clearly had not slept the night following the report's publication evoked both pity and ridicule. The pictures of his eyes swollen and half-closed as he miserably failed to demonstrate business as usual at the ceremony for the new police chief will surely haunt him in any future election campaign as clearly as Peretz's rivals have stocked up on the photos of him nodding as he looked through capped binoculars.
Judge Eliahu Winograd's critique is long and damning. Let me sum it up in one word: arrogance.
The oh-so-Israeli smoch alai (trust me) and yihiyeh beseder (it'll be all right) principles again took their toll. It took Winograd to provide the details, but instinctively Israelis knew what lay at the root of the problem.
In his summary Judge Winograd said:
"We impose the primary responsibility for [the] failures on the prime minister, the minister of defense and the (outgoing) chief of staff...
The decision to respond with an immediate, intensive military strike was not based on a detailed, comprehensive and authorized military plan, or on careful study of the complex characteristics of the Lebanon arena...
The government did not consider the whole range of options...
The support in the cabinet for this move was gained in part through ambiguity in the presentation of goals and modes of operation, so that ministers with different or even contradictory attitudes could support it. The ministers voted for a vague decision, without understanding and knowing its nature and implications. They authorized the start of a military campaign without considering how to exit it.
Some of the declared goals of the war were not clear and could not be achieved, and in part were not achievable by the authorized modes of military action.
The IDF did not exhibit creativity in proposing alternative action options...
Even after these facts became known to the political leaders, they failed to adapt the military mode of operation and its goals to the reality on the ground.
The primary responsibility for these serious failings rests with the prime minister, the minister of defense and the (outgoing) chief of staff. We single out these three because it is likely that had any of them acted better - the decisions in the relevant period and the ways they were made, as well as the outcome of the war, would have been significantly better."
THESE LEADERS were guilty of the same sin as their predecessors in 1973: For years Israel stuck to what was known simply as Haconceptzia - "The Concept" - a narrow security rationale that held that the Arabs had no capacity to wage war. This paralyzing belief allowed no room for deviation until it was blown to bits in the 1973 Yom Kippur War and condemned by the Agranat Commission examining that military fiasco. Olmert, a young politician, was among those who demonstrated against the government at the time.
In the summer of 2006 contingency plans existed but were not implemented, and the country went to war led by Olmert, Peretz and Halutz, all trusting Halutz's overriding belief that air power would determine the outcome, what has become known as Haconceptzia ha'avirit - facts on the burning ground be damned.
Winograd categorically gave the triumvirate a "fail" mark. But one wonders what a commission of inquiry would have found regarding David Ben-Gurion's behavior in 1956 in the Sinai Campaign. As "The Old Man" once reportedly quipped: "Anyone who believes you can't change history has never tried to write his memoirs."
Their many faults have proved - and continue to prove - that Olmert, Peretz and Halutz are human. Let it not be forgotten that the evil force is Nasrallah. Israel had to respond to the attacks. The question was how.
THAT IS why it is so critical that the failings uncovered so far by the Winograd Committee be fixed - without waiting for the final report and its inevitable political and media brouhaha.
The country is still praying for peace, but still at war. That Hizbullah or Hamas or any of their ugly partners in crime will try to provoke another round of hostilities is almost inevitable. Winograd has set out a blueprint that needs to be implemented.
At stake is not the personal future of this or that politician. Our enemies know only too well that our strong points as a society are also our weak points: Democracy comes with a price, and the life of every single soldier counts.
Agranat after the Yom Kippur War placed much of the blame on the defense establishment; Winograd has balanced that by faulting the political leaders as well.
The public, too, must learn the lesson to ask the right questions and demand answers. History can't be rewritten, whatever Ben-Gurion joked, but the future can be changed.
The writer is editor of The International Jerusalem Post.
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