MKs highlight IDF's failures in war

Bicker over government's role; Reservists interrupt session to demand prime minister's resignation.

olmert hanegbi 224.88 (photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski [file])
olmert hanegbi 224.88
(photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski [file])
There were "severe failures" on the part of the military during the Second Lebanon War, declared the Knesset's Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee Monday upon their publication of a report on the war. While the committee stopped short of leveling criticism at specific military or political figures, the report pointed to three main failings during the war: reserve units were not called up or organized in due time; the army overestimated the effectiveness of the air force alone; and a ground offensive was not launched quickly enough in the area south of the Litani River. Committee MKs who presented the report said that there had been a variety of opinions over what sort of language should be used to criticize the military. "Ultimately, we are a group of MKs from varying political backgrounds, who each have their own political views, agendas, and ideologies to consider," said Committee Chairman Tzahi Hanegbi (Kadima). "This report represents a middle-of-the-road agreement for us." During the presentation of the report, however, the views of the MKs became readily apparent. While Kadima MKs Hanegbi, Otniel Schneller, and Yochanan Plesner sought to divert blame away from the government and Knesset handling of the Second Lebanon War, opposition MKs highlighted the failings of the political and military echelons. MK Yuval Steinitz (Likud) began his speech with the oft-sounded call for Prime Minister Ehud Olmert's resignation. He added that the any criticism that was leveled at the military should be extended to the politicians, who did not have the foresight or military knowledge to determine a different strategy for the war. MK Ran Cohen (Meretz) also called for Olmert's resignation, but argued that the main failing of the state during the war, lay in its inability to protect both its citizens and its soldiers. A number of reserve soldiers who attended the committee meeting found that they could not contain their anger at the findings of the report, and interrupted the committee hearing to challenge the MKs on their "spineless talk." "I was wounded during this war... where was the government? Why are you passing responsibility to the army?" one reservist shouted during Hanegbi's opening address. "They all went home, the only one who's left is the prime minister," another reservist said. Former defense minister Amir Peretz was removed from his post by the election of Ehud Barak as Labor party chairman, and former IDF chief of General Staff Dan Halutz resigned following the war, while Prime Minister Ehud Olmert has remained in office despite continuous calls for his resignation from opposition MKs and plunging numbers in popularity polls. Following the reservists' outbreak, Steinitz clarified that many of the committee MKs believed that the current leadership should resign. "In the clearest manner possible, and when I say this I think I speak for the entire opposition: The things written in this report, and the conclusions of the Winograd Report, demand not only that the defense minister leave office, but also that the prime minister resign, and I am hoping this will be the result of the final report of Winograd," said Steinitz. Former Mossad chief and current Labor MK Danny Yatom sided with the reservists, saying "the report is flawed in that it doesn't tackle the political echelon, and those who say the report is missing [important conclusions] are right." "One cannot criticize decisions and the decision-making process independently from analyzing the [military's] interfacing with the political echelon... in order to be a prime minister during a time of war, one has to know to ask the right questions," Yatom added. MK Ophir Paz-Pines (Labor) issued a statement echoing members of the Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee (FADC), strongly criticizing the report. "The FADC shouldn't have publicized this report since the Winograd Report is around the corner, and for the fact the FADC itself had a role during the war," he said. The 150-page report examines the military and political decisions that were made from the war's first day, July 12, through the 34 days it lasted. All 17 members of the FADC signed their names to the report, although about a third of them appended comments and objections to various chapters. MKs Steinitz, Yatom, and Silvan Shalom (Likud) said that the report was incomplete because it did not take into consideration the interaction between the military and political echelons during the war. MKs Effi Eitam (NU-NRP) and Israel Hasson (Israel Beiteinu) added that the lack of investigation into the government sector would lead the public to believe that the blame for the war's failings lay solely with the military. In his introduction to the report, Hanegbi wrote that the committee "knowingly refrained" from leveling criticism at individuals in the military or government, and did not delve deeply into the government's actions. The Winograd Committee was appointed for this very reason, Hanegbi continued. Yatom said the decision to embark on a ground operation in the last two days of the war was "wrong... because such a mission cannot be accomplished in two days... 33 soldiers died in those two days and it did not achieve anything, not even amending the UN decision [UN resolution 1701, which brought about the cease-fire on August 14, 2006]."