Analyze This: The IDF gets a dressing-down

Winograd was devastating on the IDF's failures in the war.

Halutz base 298.88  (photo credit: IDF )
Halutz base 298.88
(photo credit: IDF )
The day before the release of the Final Winograd Report, senior Israel Defense Forces commanders told The Jerusalem Post they were preparing for a "worst-case scenario." At least in this instance, Military Intelligence proved right on target in a way they failed to be during the Second Lebanon War. Worst-case, though, hardly begins to describe it. Though Winograd offered harsh criticism of the political echelon's war leadership, it was absolutely devastating on the military's failure to achieve the strategic goals set for it in the summer of 2006. "A para-military organization withstood the strongest army in the Middle East for weeks," Judge Eliahu Winograd declared with withering clarity. "Hizbullah rocket fire on the Israeli home front continued throughout the war, and the IDF failed to provide an effective response." To make matters worse, while the report seemed to justify the much-criticized decision by Prime Minister Ehud Olmert and his cabinet to approve a ground operation in the war's final days, it specifically singled out failures in the implementation of that strategy by the army. "The ground operation did not reduce the Katyusha fire, nor did it achieve significant accomplishments... There was also a serious delay in preparing for a wide-scale ground operation, reducing Israel's options... The way in which the ground operation was conducted raises the hardest questions," the report said. Although Winograd concluded that "both top military and political leaders share the responsibility," there is an important distinction between them to be noted here. The public already widely accepts the notion that Israel's political system is broken. In the case of the Second Lebanon War, it is already acknowledged that Olmert and then-defense minister Amir Peretz - two men who owed their positions during the war to a chain of circumstances that started with Ariel Sharon's sudden stroke six months earlier - were completely unprepared, if not unqualified, for the tasks thrust upon them when Hizbullah launched its surprise attack across the Lebanon border. But if the IDF senior command - and not just former chief of General Staff Dan Halutz, who was to some degree a political appointee - were also not ready to carry out their missions during the war, that says something about fundamental problems in the military that many Israelis might not be comfortable hearing. Or maybe they are. When the Agranat Commission after the Yom Kippur War decided it would place responsibility for the strategic failings of that conflict primarily on the military leadership, the public rose up in protest and eventually forced the resignation of Golda Meir and Moshe Dayan, not willing to see the beloved IDF bear the brunt of the blame. In 2007 though, the army is far less of a sacred cow, and there is a sense - most of all among the soldiers and reservists who took to the battlefield - that the problems this time ran far deeper that just failed vision at the very top of the political-security establishment. Relying solely on air operations to knock out the Katyushas, or waiting until the war's closing days to start ground operations, may well have been errors of strategic decision-making. But Olmert, Peretz and even Halutz can hardly be blamed for the shortage of sufficient food, water and equipment for reservists heading into combat. Or the failure to provide sufficient shelter for the dozen soldiers killed by a single Katyusha outside Kibbutz Kfar Giladi. Or that the Navy ship Hanit never activated its anti-missile defense before being hit by a Hizbullah missile. Or the lack of adequate field intelligence at Bint Jbeil, among other key locations in south Lebanon. To soften the blow of his committee's report, Winograd made a point of praising the battlefield motivation and courage of IDF troops, especially among reservists, as well as hailing unspecified achievements of the air force and navy. Those latter compliments, though, sounded hollow in the context of the broader criticism that seemed to call into question the IDF's basic preparation, planning and operational procedures all during the war. Current IDF head Gabi Ashkenazi has already instituted reforms in the army recommended by earlier post-war evaluations, especially regarding combat-training procedures. After Winograd, he will be anxious to get across the message that the IDF today is not the same that went to war so unprepared in 2006. And already in the broadcast media discussions following the report's release, there were familiar calls by politicians and former generals (and those who are both) for the public to "rally around" the IDF. Make no mistake: the broad public will continue to support and have faith in the army, if only because the alternative is too grim to contemplate. But after Winograd, the commanders of the IDF can no longer expect to take that respect for granted - and in the near future at least, any decision to take major military actions on the scale of the Second Lebanon War are likely to be met with tougher scrutiny and more hesitation than they have in the past. [email protected]