IDF brass criticized for role in years before war

Report might clear Hirsh of direct responsibility for kidnapping.

ashkenazi flag 298.88 (photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski)
ashkenazi flag 298.88
(photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski)
Tensions ran high at the Kirya military headquarters in Tel Aviv on Sunday, a day ahead of publication of the Winograd Report on the failures of the Second Lebanon War. A number of top officers, including Chief of General Staff Lt.-Gen. Gabi Ashkenazi, face the possibility of being condemned for their involvement in the decision-making process that led to the IDF's poor showing during the 34 days of fighting last summer. The Winograd Committee's interim report being released Monday will focus on the first few days of the war as well as the six years that led to it, starting with the IDF's withdrawal from southern Lebanon in 2000. Ashkenazi was OC Northern Command in October 2000 when three Israeli soldiers were kidnapped by Hizbullah - six months after the withdrawal - and was a partner to the IDF's and government's policy of "containment" along the border with Lebanon, according to which war with the guerrilla group was to be avoided. Defense officials said Sunday it was possible Ashkenazi would come under criticism in the report due to his part in formulating military policies in the aftermath of the 2000 withdrawal. Two other officers who are anxiously waiting for the report are Deputy Chief of General Staff Maj.-Gen. Moshe Kaplinsky and OC Northern Command Maj.-Gen. Gadi Eizenkot, who was head of the IDF Operations Directorate during the war. Kaplinsky and Eizenkot could be criticized for not applying enough pressure on then-chief of General Staff Lt.-Gen. Dan Halutz to launch a ground operation in southern Lebanon early in the war. At the time, Kaplinsky and Eizenkot were the IDF's most senior officers with a ground forces background and according to defense officials, they could be blamed for not doing enough to make their opinions known to Defense Minister Amir Peretz or Prime Minister Ehud Olmert. One officer who might actually be cleared from the report is Brig.-Gen. Gal Hirsh, who commanded Division 91 during the war and stepped down from his post after he was blamed by an internal military probe for the abduction of reservists Eldad Regev and Ehud Goldwasser. According to information leaked from the Winograd Report, Hirsh might be cleared of direct responsibility for the kidnappings. Also on Sunday, senior IDF officials pointed to the ongoing processes within the military aimed at returning the army to its former glory. A majority of infantry and armored brigades have undergone several weeks of training in recent months and most emergency warehouses have been stocked with new equipment and supplies. "While the criticism that comes from the report might be in place it is important to remember that the IDF is in the midst of an unprecedented process of rehabilitation," an IDF source said. Meanwhile, Deputy Defense Minister Ephraim Sneh accused the Treasury of holding up the transfer of funds to the defense establishment needed to prepare the home front for the next war. Speaking at a press conference on changes made to reserve service, Sneh said the Treasury's obstruction might thwart plans to reward reservists. According to a new bill Sneh said he planned to bring to the Knesset in the coming weeks, ministries would be authorized to create lists of benefits for the 90,000 citizens who serve in the reserves.