Government, army failed to hold orderly discussions on war issues

This failure came to the fore at the most crucial junction of the month-long war fighting after the government decided to go to war.

diskin, halutz 298.88 (photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski)
diskin, halutz 298.88
(photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski)
The army failed to alert the government to the critical military issues that needed to be determined during the Second Lebanon War and did not offer alternative plans of action, while the government did not take the initiative by insisting on holding such discussions, the Winograd Committee concluded in its Final Report issued on Wednesday. This was one of the main structural and systemic failures in the conduct of the war, according to the committee. This failure came to the fore at the most crucial junction of the month-long war fighting after the government decided to go to war on July 12, 2006, the report maintained. Neither the government nor the army could decide what kind of war to wage - a short, harsh and unexpected bombing attack against Hizbullah targets to be followed by a cease-fire agreement, or an invasion of southern Lebanon by ground troops aimed at defeating Hizbullah and stopping its rocket attacks against the Israeli home front. "What is hard to understand here is why it was that for several long weeks there was not a single orderly discussion and no decision regarding this key question," the committee wrote in the final section of the report. "The prolonged avoidance of a decision is the key to analyzing the events of the Second Lebanon War." The failure to consider and decide on either option also meant that the government did not immediately call up the reserves, a move which would have at least given the troops time to train and equip themselves properly in case the order to enter Lebanon was eventually given. The reason for this failure had to do with the fact that both the senior command and government leaders were concerned about the possibility of heavy casualties in case of an invasion and the trauma of another occupation of southern Lebanon. In the meantime, many of them hoped that the bombing of Lebanese targets and, later, the shallow incursions into south Lebanon, would defeat Hizbullah, even though in reality the Katyusha attacks did not diminish at all, the report found. Whatever the reasons, the committee concluded, "The clear avoidance of a well-considered decision between the options on this vital matter and, even before that, the avoidance of even presenting the subject in a forthright manner, failure to analyze the options in depth and perform the background research and planning from a strategic point of view, and the failure to decide, both within the army and by the political echelon, was a grave failure." The committee added that the belated mobilization of the reserves, which only began on July 27, 2006, was also a "grave failure." "This double failure," the committee continued, "cast a shadow on the entire war. They were the results of actions, and primarily lack of actions, in the political echelon, the military echelon and the meeting point between them...The supreme responsibility lies with the political echelon...Nevertheless, the original responsibility lies with the army and the professional echelon." The committee was also critical of the army's performance during the war. "The army in general, primarily through its senior command and ground forces, failed to give a satisfactory military response to the challenges it faced in conducting the war and did not provide the political echelon with an appropriate military basis for its diplomatic efforts," the committee found. One of the reasons for this failure was the fact that since the outbreak of the second intifada in 2000, the army had put almost all its efforts into policing the West Bank. Its primary function of preparing for and fighting wars in defense of the civilian population had eroded over the years and the army's identity and training goals had changed accordingly. The committee found many problems in the army's performance including a failure to establish a clear plan of action, the resort to small, cross-border incursions which put soldiers at risk without achieving any clear gains, failure to stop the Katyusha attacks and the fact that some of the units who went into Lebanon in the last two days of the war stopped fighting in mid-stream and put their efforts into evacuating their wounded. The committee also found "a worrisome degree of erosion in the fundamental values of the IDF such as perseverance and striving for victory. There were also significant problems regarding military discipline." The committee, however, backed the decision-making process which led to the actual invasion of southern Lebanon in the last two days of the war. This was so even though at the same time Israel striving for a cease-fire agreement, which was signed only a few hours after the order to attack was given and before many of the troops had actually crossed the border. Regarding the cabinet decision of August 9 authorizing Prime Minister Ehud Olmert and Defense Minister Amir Peretz to launch the attack when they saw fit, the committee wrote, "It was the right decision. It is hard to see, under the circumstances, what other decision could have been taken." The committee accepted the government's reasons for deciding to launch the ground attack. These reasons included not only hastening the diplomatic process but also improving the image of the army's overall performance during the war, improving the final outcome of the fighting and placing troops in a better position to continue the war if the diplomatic efforts failed. The committee also justified Olmert's refusal to launch the attack on August 9 and 10, despite the demands of Peretz and Chief-of-Staff Lt.-Gen. Dan Halutz. Furthermore, it justified Olmert's decision to continue fighting after the UN Security Council unanimously passed the cease-fire resolution in the early morning of August 13, Israel time.