Analysis: A year after the war: The more things change...

Little has been done since last summer to rebuild confidence in Israel's strategic capabilities.

idf tank lebanon 298.88 (photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski [file])
idf tank lebanon 298.88
(photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski [file])
A senior Bush administration official, when asked a couple of weeks ago about the prospects of a Syria-Israel war this summer, responded, "How can we be sure that Israel will win this time - they didn't do so well last summer against Hizbullah." Such a query would be shocking to most Israeli ears, as the accepted view is that the dilapidated Syrian army would be no match for the IDF, but it goes to show how little has been done over the last year to rebuild confidence in Israel's strategic capabilities. Of course, much has been achieved over the past 10 months, ever since the IDF's internal investigations started in earnest and a comprehensive program of retraining regular and reserve units, most of whom had not taken part in a major exercise for years, got under way. The military mind-set has undergone a significant change since down-to-earth new Chief of General Staff Lt.-Gen. Gabi Ashkenazi replaced the more flamboyant Dan Halutz. Ashkenazi has been on the job for four and a half months and still hasn't given a single interview. This isn't just an exercise in media control. Ashkenazi is sending a signal to all levels of the army and the public that the IDF is about business, not PR. As tens of thousands of reservists have learned by sweating through drills in the past few months, the new chief is determined to meet ambitious targets of battle-readiness before the next serious confrontation breaks out. Can the same be said for the civilian leadership? The 171 pages of the public version of the Winograd Committee's preliminary report can be boiled down to a one-sentence conclusion: The government's decision-making process is a shambles. The whole system by which Israel's civilian leadership receives information and advice from the military and intelligence establishments has to be overhauled, and the traditionally disregarded National Security Council must be allowed to play a central role. But three months have passed since the report's publication, the shock wave has rolled over us, a committee has been set up to implement the recommendations, and that's the last we've heard of it. Meanwhile, switches have been made on the government's security team. Ehud Barak has taken over at the Defense Ministry. While a week and a half isn't enough time to judge his performance, there are a number of disquieting signs. Prime Minister Ehud Olmert and Barak go back almost 20 years, to the time when the junior minister backed the high-flying general to become chief of staff. Now Barak is politically committed to forcing Olmert out of office as soon as possible. How are they expected to work harmoniously and face security challenges together when Barak is openly using his new position to set himself up as an alternative to the prime minister - sooner than later? The imminent appointment of Barak's old rival, Haim Ramon, as the new vice premier, security cabinet member and minister in charge of diplomatic affairs in the Prime Minister's Office can also be seen as a counterweight to Barak. So we have a prime minister, a defense minister who has sworn to unseat him, a counterweight, and another potential rival, Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni, whose testimony before the committee shows she hadn't been in the loop. This, even before she said that Olmert should resign. Ramon's new, as-yet undefined brief should further diminish her standing. Added to the mixture are Strategic Affairs Minister Avigdor Lieberman, who still has no real responsibilities or powers and - for good measure - another challenger to Olmert, Shaul Mofaz, whose day job might be running the Transportation Ministry but who is also in charge of "strategic dialogue" with the US. Traditionally, this was part of the defense minister's portfolio, but since Peretz wasn't deemed up to it, Mofaz was allowed to keep the position as a small consolation for being forced out of his beloved defense job for Peretz. Just try and suggest to Mofaz that he return the brief to Barak. And don't forget the globetrotting opposition head, Binyamin Netanyahu. He's carrying out - with the government's tacit blessing - his own diplomatic campaign, urging governments and international corporations to cut all business ties with Iran. Wouldn't it be wonderful to believe that this group was capable of overcoming its political rivalries and personal differences to formulate effective policy? Matters at the next level are no better. The National Security Council, which should be arbitrating between army intelligence and the Mossad in their dispute over Syrian President Bashar Assad's real intentions, is as maligned as ever. The Foreign Ministry's take on this is totally disregarded. The situation is similar regarding Iran. Despite the campaign against the Persian nuclear program being, as yet, mainly a diplomatic one, it's being headed by Mossad Chief Meir Dagan, whose appointment was extended not long ago by another year. Dagan is frustrating attempts by other senior officials, such as National Security Council head Ilan Mizrahi, and the Defense Ministry's special Iran adviser, Uri Lubrani, to explore alternative policies. On the first anniversary of the Second Lebanon War, most of the discussion has been over whether or not Olmert and Peretz were present at the state memorial service. Serious discussion of how another such disaster can be averted is sorely lacking.