halutz 88 turning head.
(photo credit: JP)
'In a state willing to release 400 prisoners in return for the bodies of three Israeli soldiers - the abduction of an Israeli soldier would be considered a strategic attack."
This was the very clear warning delivered by Chief of General Staff Dan Halutz to the top brass of the IDF Northern Command less than five months before two Israeli soldiers were abducted, and whose fate remains unknown to this day.
The chief of staff's warning in mid-February of this year was based on two facts: (1) Hizbullah's success in contemptuously duping Israel up until the very last moment until the return of the bodies of the three soldiers it had murdered in October 2000; (2) the warnings and evaluations made in his presence that Hizbullah was planning to once again abduct Israeli soldiers.
It was a special occasion: the first visit to the northern front made by Ehud Olmert after taking over as acting prime minister. Present in the division command post were Commander of the Northern Command Maj.-Gen. Udi Adam, Division Commander Brig.-Gen. Gal Hirsch, along with their assistants and other officers, and they described in minute detail the dangers posed by Hizbullah.
Udi Adam, but not only he, underscored that the most dangerous period when Hizbullah was most likely to attack, including an attempt by them to abduct soldiers, would be in "April to July," because of reasons related to its patrons in Teheran and Damascus.
It was the chief of staff who voiced his warning then. "A thousand Hizbullah militants do not represent a strategic threat to Israel," noted Halutz, but the abduction of a single soldier would represent a "strategic attack."
The acting prime minister was also accompanied by his military secretary Gadi Shamni and defense minister Shaul Mofaz. In the astounding debate that ensued, even the numbers of the rockets and missiles were reported with what would turn out to be stunning precision in light of what the entire nation later learned during the war - that Hizbullah had many thousands of short-range rockets and a small number of long-range missiles (200 to 250 kilometers) "capable of reaching Caesarea and Hadera."
In other words, more than a month before the elections, the commanding officers on the northern front spelled out detailed cautionary scenarios regarding Hizbullah, its intentions and preparations for war.
ANY COMMISSION that sets out to examine or investigate the minutes of that meeting in the division command post will have to deal with some very difficult questions.
How did it happen that despite the fact that Israel knew everything it understood nothing?
Bearing in mind the difference in numbers and dimension, this is exactly what happened when Israel was taken by surprise in the Yom Kippur War in October 1973, despite the intelligence that flowed in regarding the impending war.
At least then, the IDF divisions moved forth in the direction of Damascus and Cairo. In Lebanon, the IDF soldiers fought with almost suicidal devotion on the battlefield. As for their senior officers, however, like division commanders Gal Hirsch and Brig.-Gen. Guy Zur, for example - serious question marks remain regarding their performance in the war.
Those that were superbly prepared for the war were the intelligence community and the members of the air force.
But when attempts are made to put spokes in the IDF wheels - as early as the second or third day of the war the Foreign Ministry comes along and proposes "an exit from the war" that has only just begun and is being fought with full force - there you have a recipe for failure.
Already today, it is clear that bringing in the Lebanese army together with the United Nations forces along the border with Israel is preparing the ground for the development of the next round of hostilities to be launched by Hizbullah.
It must be remembered that at the time that the IDF, as noted, knew about Hizbullah's belligerent intentions in minute detail, it was already facing the incessant terror offensive of the Kassam rockets launched from the Gaza Strip toward Sderot and the other communities near Gaza.
How then did Ehud Olmert dare to appoint the inexperienced and unqualified Amir Peretz as defense minister during the very period when the IDF top brass and intelligence forces were warning against an additional front opening in the north, as they did during that meeting held in mid-February? The minimum would have been to retain Mofaz, who was more experienced in these subjects than anyone else in the Olmert government, in place as defense minister.
The appointment of Peretz proves that despite the warnings of the chief of staff, not only did those directly responsible in the northern command fall asleep on the job, but among the leaders of the new government, no one took the repeated warnings against Hizbullah with due seriousness.
The dangerous hemorrhaging disease among Israel's political and security-military leadership is that everyone knows how to warn and even to make very precise evaluations, but very few know how to handle the situation itself.