Analysis: In Winograd's shadow

The government after Winograd is cautious, hesitant and afraid of another war inquiry.

eliahu winograd 88 (photo credit: )
eliahu winograd 88
(photo credit: )
After close to four hours of briefings and discussions, the security cabinet on Sunday "decided not to decide" about the growing Palestinian terror threat in the Gaza Strip. The 13 ministers - including Prime Minister Ehud Olmert - who participated in the meeting heard presentations from a number of IDF generals from the Southern Command, Military Intelligence and the Operations Directorate. Representatives of the National Security Council, the Foreign Ministry and the Shin Bet (Israel Security Agency) also attended. Despite all of the presentations and briefings, no practical decisions were made except for one: to wait until next week to continue the hearings and then decide on whether to invade Gaza. The long cabinet meeting that ended without decisions can be attributed to retired judge Eliyahu Winograd and his four committee members, who charged two weeks ago that the government went to war against Hizbullah last summer without proper deliberations, briefings and judgment. Olmert and his cabinet are not planning to make that same mistake again. This is the government after Winograd: cautious, hesitant and afraid of another war inquiry. The IDF is not much different. Unlike the Second Lebanon War, during which then-chief of staff Lt.-Gen. (ret.) Dan Halutz presented the cabinet with a single recommendation for operations, on Sunday the ministers heard a wide range of possibilities, starting with a ground invasion to a renewal of targeted killings and from the creation of a buffer zone. But while they postponed their decision, the ministers cannot postpone the inevitable, and decisions will eventually have to be made. Inside Gaza, Hamas has built up a well-trained military and with weapons and explosives flowing freely across the Philadelphi Corridor, it is also better armed than ever before. The ministers heard from the intelligence officials about the military buildup in Gaza and from OC Southern Command Maj.-Gen. Yoav Galant about the need for a ground invasion to stop smuggling and the Kassam rockets. From the Shin Bet they heard the opposite and were told how while a ground operation might one day be needed, now was not the time. A ground invasion is not immediately needed. The IDF is still far away from exhausting a wide-range of operational capabilities before it is left with no other alternative. Since calling off the cease-fire in March, the IDF has renewed strikes on Kassam launchers and periodically on a cell. But it has yet to bomb Kassam manufacturing plants, weapons warehouses or terror chiefs' cars as they drive throughout Gaza. While these steps will not completely stop the Kassam fire, it will have an impact and make it a little more difficult for the Kassam cells to operate like they do, practically undisturbed, today. There are consequences, however, for waiting with the ground invasion. While the Kassam rockets now reach the southern outskirts of Ashkelon, the defense establishment believes that it is only a matter of time before the Palestinians succeed in extending the range to Ashdod and Kiryat Gat. Intelligence has also recently been obtained regarding the growing relationship between Global Jihad elements in the Sinai and Hamas affiliates in Gaza. This is a particularly sensitive point of concern. Global Jihad cells could be in the midst of planning 9/11-style terror attacks and are believed to have the knowhow and the means to execute them. It is not enough to know about the relationships. Something will eventually need to be done to stop them. On Monday, another lesson of Winograd will be implemented as Olmert and Defense Minister Amir Peretz participate - for the first time - in the largest IDF exercise in the past two years which will include all of the various military commands, branches and units. While Olmert and Peretz put off their decision on Gaza until next week, on Monday they will need to simulate real decision making.