Focused leadership

A lack of communication and discussion can only breed misunderstanding, flawed assessment and failure.

Olmert happy 298.88 (photo credit: AP [file])
Olmert happy 298.88
(photo credit: AP [file])
Close to 50 internal inquiry teams have investigated the IDF's performance during this summer's war in Lebanon. The committees - some led by former generals - probed every part of the military from the quality of equipment supplied to the thousands of reservists called up to fight, to the overall battle doctrine implemented during the war. By the end of the month, the last of these commissions will submit their findings and most importantly, Chief of Staff Lt.-Gen. Dan Halutz will decide on his future - whether he will remain in his post and "rehabilitate the IDF" as he says he would like to, or take personal responsibility for the failures of the war and step aside to allow someone else to ready the army for the challenges ahead. The probes conducted by Maj.-Gen. (ret.) Amiram Levine and Maj.-Gen. Udi Shani-Shinotar, presented recently to the General Staff, showed that the key concerns are not limited to issues such as the poor quality of the equipment supplied to reservists or logistical difficulties in supplying soldiers in Lebanon with food and water. Failures during the war stemmed in large part from a lack of leadership in the defense establishment and the deficiencies of overall planning and battle doctrine. Levine, who investigated the Northern Command's performance during the war, held Halutz personally responsible for its failures, claiming that the IDF's battle doctrine was flawed. Shani-Shinotar went further and accused Halutz of issuing confusing and contradictory orders that were in some cases changed on an hourly basis. At a conference at Tel Aviv University on Tuesday, the former head of the National Security Council, Maj.-Gen. (ret.) Giora Eiland, said that during asymmetric wars - like the one against Hizbullah - it is necessary to conduct a daily dialogue between the political and military echelons in order to formulate clear and attainable goals. "In a conventional war, there is a clear language - 'conquer that hill' or "destroy that enemy division,'" Eiland said. "But in asymmetric warfare, the language is more complicated and it becomes more difficult to understand what the diplomatic echelon wants." Three weeks into the war against Hizbullah, Prime Minister Ehud Olmert was quoted in the press as claiming that the IDF had not presented him with a clear plan for a massive ground operation in southern Lebanon. Had it done so, he was further reported as saying, the plan would have been seriously considered and possibly implemented. The only explanation for the situation the prime minister described, Eiland argued, is that the political and military echelons - led by Olmert, Defense Minister Amir Peretz and Halutz - were not communicating with each other during the war. Such a lack of communication and discussion can only breed misunderstanding, flawed assessment and failure. Going into 2007, Israel is facing a host of challenges, some of them exacerbated by the combination of heightened expectation and the less-than-definitive outcome of the summer's war. Mossad chief Meir Dagan warned Monday during a meeting of the Knesset's Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee that Syria was "more prepared than ever before" to take military action against Israel. Hizbullah is rebuilding its military capabilities and preparing for further conflict. Yellow Hizbullah flags are already back on hilltops just a few dozen meters from the border. This week's marked escalation of infighting on the streets of Gaza underlines the deteriorating situation in the Palestinian areas and the diminishing prospects of any diplomatic progress. Hamas, defense officials have warned, has used the past month of cease-fire with Israel to continue weapons smuggling into the Gaza Strip and boost its wider military prowess. The IDF needs to be prepared for the possibility that the cease-fire will crumble, Kassam rocket attacks will escalate and military action will be required. And then there is Iran which, according to Dagan, will have a nuclear weapon by the end of the decade. The defense establishment is tending increasingly to the assessment that international diplomacy will fail to thwart Teheran's race for nuclear capability. Competent military strategy is urgently required. At so critical a juncture, the issue of Halutz's future must be quickly resolved. At so critical a juncture, furthermore, it is extremely troubling to recognize that the minister of defense will, of political necessity, have to expend a great deal of time and attention over the next five months not on his ministerial responsibilities but on his fight for survival as Labor leader ahead of that party's primaries in May. More than ever, Israel needs mature, responsible and focused leadership.