Rattling the Cage: The anti-war message of Winograd

Winograd's point goes in one ear of the Israeli majority and out the other.

larry derfner 88 (photo credit: )
larry derfner 88
(photo credit: )
You wouldn't know it from the tsunami of commentary, but the Winograd Committee's report takes a decidedly dovish position on the Second Lebanon War. It criticizes the Israeli leadership for overreacting militarily to the Hizbullah attack. It also criticizes the leadership for setting war goals - the ruination of Hizbullah and the return of the two kidnapped IDF soldiers - that were "over-ambitious and not feasible." Despite the impression given by the media, the Winograd report is no vindication of the hawkishness that has informed the Israeli public's post-war backlash against Ehud Olmert, Amir Peretz and Dan Halutz. The thrust of the public's criticism of the handling of the war has been that the leaders didn't fight hard enough, that they should have launched a major ground invasion early on, instead of depending mainly on air power to wipe out Hizbullah and its rockets.
Winograd Fallout: In-Depth
Not only does the Winograd Report dismiss this militant view, it takes an even more dovish position than was taken during the war by Tzipi Livni, by Meretz, by Amos Oz, David Grossman and A.B. Yehoshua, and by a handful of journalists (myself included). The doves' argument was that while Israel was right to counterrattack heavily because it was necessary to make Hizbullah pay a high price for its aggression, this goal was achieved early on and Israel should have stopped fighting within a week, or two weeks at most, because the government's stated war goals were grandiose and unachievable, so fighting on was just causing needless death and destruction in Israel and Lebanon. The Winograd Report, though, goes even further. It says that even the initial Israeli counterattack, those first few days of fighting, were reckless and overly aggressive. Read the summary. It's also in English, published Tuesday in The Jerusalem Post, and it is still on the Web site. THE SUMMARY contains 21 clauses. The first eight are introductory remarks laying out the commission's terms of reference; then clause nine puts the blame on Olmert, Peretz and Halutz; then clause 10, the crucial one, sums up their failures. While much is made of their simple, non-ideological incompetence, even more is made of their ideological determination to shoot first and ask questions later: • The decision-makers failed to recognize that "the ability to achieve military gains having significant political-international weight was limited." (All emphases are mine - L.D.) • Although an Israeli military campaign was sure to result in Hizbullah firing missiles on the North, "there was no effective military response to such missile attacks other than an extensive and prolonged ground operation... which would have a high cost and which did not enjoy broad support." • The leadership didn't consider alternative responses to Hizbullah's aggression, "including that of continuing the policy of containment, of combining political and diplomatic moves with military strikes below the escalation level, or military preparations without immediate military action...." Note that the three alternatives suggested by the Winograd commission all involve greater use of restraint, not greater use of force. THIS KIND of approach, however, is not what the Israeli public wanted from its leaders after Hizbullah kidnapped two soldiers and killed eight others on July 12, 2006. The public did not want to be told that it was "over-ambitious and not feasible" to force Hizbullah to give up Ehud Goldwasser and Eldad Regev, or that it was "over-ambitious and not feasible" to destroy Hizbullah's ability to go on threatening the North. The public didn't want to hear about limits, or containment, or anything "below the escalation level." From July 12 on, Israelis demanded that their leaders get the hostages back and vanquish the enemy, and that's what Olmert, Peretz and Halutz promised to do. So when the Winograd Report concludes that this was mission impossible, the 80% of the public that supported the war and its goals should not be pointing fingers. But they are. Because Israelis still don't accept that it was mission impossible. They still think that if there had been a more diligent chief of staff, and a defense minister who knew his job, and a prime minister who understood how to run a war, such a leadership would have sent an army of well-trained, well-equipped, well-commanded ground troops into Lebanon to mop up the guerillas, the bunkers and the missiles. Hizbullah would have been finished. Hassan Nasrallah would have been dead or, better yet, on his knees begging Israel to take the two soldiers and spare his life. The IDF would have come home victorious, and shalom al Yisrael. This is the lesson most Israelis take from the Second Lebanon War. This is the belief that drove the public's dramatic shift to the right as soon as the war ended. This is the message of the protest movement led by reserve soldiers and several bereaved parents. This is the reason the Likud instantly came back in from the cold, and why Binyamin Netanyahu is no longer the has-been of Israeli politics but, once again, the rising power. THE ISRAELI "street" thinks the Winograd Report confirmed its judgment that Israel's only problem in the war was that it was led by a bunch of screw-ups; the media, inevitably, echo this consensus. The idea that Olmert, Peretz and Halutz screwed up, to a large extent, because they would not recognize the limits of force, because they went to war for goals that were "over-ambitious and not feasible" - this is a point made by the Winograd Committee that goes in one ear of the Israeli majority and out the other. Most Israelis don't want to hear it because during the war they, like their leaders, had blind faith in military power, and that blind faith remains at the core of most Israelis' political worldview today. And why, finally, would it have been impossible last summer for Israeli military might to bring back the hostages and cripple Hizbullah for good - impossible no matter how well-prepared the soldiers, how smart the battle plan, how efficient the management style, and no matter who was leading the country? One reason is that Israel has fought many wars and defeated many enemies in its history, but has never once gotten hostages back by means of "victory" - only by trading prisoners, or in rescue operations. The other reason is that the IDF fought Hizbullah inside Lebanon for 18 unbroken years, under prime ministers Begin, Shamir, Rabin, Peres, Netanyahu and Barak, and under a succession of defense ministers and chiefs of staff, and did not succeed in defeating Hizbullah. What made anybody in 2006 think the IDF could now do it in a few months? Amnesia, denial, a need for scapegoats, a desperate belief in military force - all of this will be on display tonight in Rabin Square as masses of Israelis chant for Olmert's resignation. Luckily for them, the influence of Israeli public opinion on wartime decision-making will never be the subject of a committee of inquiry.