Analysis: War: Theory vs. reality

The two testimonies published by the Winograd Committee on Thursday amount to a study in conflicting mindsets - the comments of witnesses from quite different worlds. In one, Industry, Trade and Labor Minister Eli Yishai gives an account of himself as a member of the seven-member inner cabinet who, during the Second Lebanon War, was supposed to make crucial decisions on the campaign and for his own ministry. It is hard to read the protocol, especially the questions put to Yishai, and not get the impression that the five secular committee members - all veteran members of Israel's old establishment - viewed this young haredi minister, who was privy to state secrets and voted on the crucial stages of the war, with growing incredulity. Yishai said his position had been clear: He opposed a ground offensive and pushed for air strikes against Hizbullah infrastructure in Lebanon. Yishai, who has been a minister for most of the last 12 years, made it quite clear that he was a different kind of politician from his inner cabinet colleagues. Of course, he stressed twice, he consulted with his party's spiritual leader, Rabbi Ovadia Yosef. He accepted Yosef's guidance despite the fact that the rabbi has never served in the IDF. Yishai explained his views using a Talmudic parable and religious ideals such as pikuah nefesh (the need to save human life) and hilul hashem (the desecration of God's name). But the panel wasn't impressed. Both the members' questions and their interim report published on April 30 made it clear they didn't believe that Yishai or his other cabinet colleagues had much influence on the decision-making process. The second testimony released Thursday was that of Prof. Asa Kasher, the author of the IDF's code of ethics. His reception by the committee was friendly and familiar. (While Yishai addressed Prof. Ruth Gavison as "madam," Kasher called her "Ruthie.") The committee allowed him to lecture them at length on his favorite subject, military ethics. Despite the fact that little of his discourse dealt with the Second Lebanon War, Kasher wasn't interrupted or hurried along, as were other witnesses who appeared before the panel. Not even when he praised today's German Bundeswher for being the most ethically progressive army in the world. But Kasher's efforts over the years to inculcate his ethical approach into IDF operations have proven futile - at least, the committee seems to believe so. In its interim report, the panel criticized the way new theory was foisted on officers without anyone making sure the concepts were understood. At least one committee member seemed to think it was a lost cause. "There's no such methodology," Maj.-Gen. (res.) Menahem Einan finally burst out, saying that Kasher's theories of justified warfare didn't apply when an army has to storm a building full of terrorists. Meanwhile, Yishai - who never studied in university a day of his life - spent the war shuttling busily from Jerusalem to the northern border, making sure villages under fire were supplied with baby formula and that senior citizens evacuated out of Katyusha rocket range were allowed to take their caregivers with them.