Soldiers fought bravely, in cause of a 'mistaken conception'

Winograd Committee says field commanders operated without clear orders from the top IDF command.

2nd  lebanonWar 224.88   (photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski [file])
2nd lebanonWar 224.88
(photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski [file])
The IDF came under fire from the Winograd Committee on Wednesday, which concluded that the military had failed to achieve a substantial victory over Hizbullah during the Second Lebanon War in 2006. "The IDF failed, especially because of the conduct of the high command and the ground forces, to provide an effective military response to the challenge posed to it by the war in Lebanon, and thus failed to provide the political echelon with a military achievement that could have served as the basis for political and diplomatic action," the committee concluded in its final report. Field commanders operated without clear orders from the top IDF command, which persistently failed to compose a strategy for its operations and instead "treaded in place" as opposed to moving forward, the panel concluded. The committee specifically referred to the period between July 18 and July 27, when the IDF conducted small-scale ground forays into Lebanon and relied heavily on the IAF, but refrained from mobilizing reserves and launching a large-scale ground operation. The committee also accused the IDF's top command, including then-chief of General Staff Lt.-Gen. Dan Halutz, of giving exaggerated weight to the fear of Israeli casualties in its decision-making process. "With all the sensitivity that needs to be given when speaking about soldiers' lives, it is difficult to accept the unusual level of influence that this factor played in top commanders' decisions," the report read. While the committee refrained from placing the blame specifically on Halutz, it did rule that the conception that the IAF could obtain a victory on its own, without a ground invasion into Lebanon, "was inapplicable to the circumstances, the enemy and the battlefield." When the IDF command finally realized its mistake, the committee said, it was too late. "This expectation influenced the recommendations provided by the IDF and the assessments made by the political echelon," the report read. "A deeper analysis of the battlefield and a study of the experience foreign air forces have had with similar enemies to Hizbullah would have made clear that 'standoff firepower' would not be enough to defeat Hizbullah." In the report, the committee said that disciplinary problems and the failure to follow set procedures were behind many of the IDF's failures during the war, including the missile strike on the INS Hanit at the beginning of the war. The navy ship's missile defense systems had been deactivated. "The failures were at the operational level, the planning level and the senior command," the report read. Despite the various failures, the committee praised the high level of enlistment among reservists and the courage troops demonstrated on the battlefield. The report harshly criticized brigade and division commanders who preferred to remain inside Israel and exercise "long distance" command over their troops who had ventured into battle in Lebanon. "We have no doubt about the skills of these commanders," the committee members wrote. "Nevertheless, the message transferred to soldiers when their commanders are with them in battle, risking their lives with them and encouraging them, is an integral part of maintaining a determined and quality military." In reference to the missile strike on the Hanit, the committee said that it could have been avoided had the navy followed proper procedure when operating off the Lebanese coast. The series of failures that led to the strike began with the navy underestimating Hizbullah capabilities and the fact that the navy ships operated close to the Lebanese coast as if Israel were not at war. The air force was complimented by the committee for its operations and particularly its successes in eliminating Hizbullah's long-range rocket array in dozens of targeted strikes on the first night of the war. Nevertheless, the committee wrote that the IAF did not succeed in minimizing the short-range Katyusha rocket fire into Israel. Referring to the use of Special Forces during the war - the units participated in some 20 operations - the committee concluded that the top IDF's orders that these operations provide results that would shift the outcome of the war "contributed to the political echelon's indecisiveness." The committee also questioned the minimal use of Special Forces in trying to minimize the Katyusha rocket fire into Israel. The committee dedicated several pages of its report to analyzing the battle over the southern Lebanese town of Bint Jbail during the third week of the campaign. The committee's conclusion was that orders were changed throughout all levels of the chain of command, not only before the operation was launched but even after as troops were in combat against Hizbullah guerrillas. "Disagreements between commanders are legitimate in the planning stages, but in this case they remained throughout the entire battle sequence and during the fighting itself," the committee wrote. "This severely harmed the mission and the field commanders' ability to understand the goals of the operation."