As soon as the UN-brokered cease-fire went into effect in southern Lebanon on August 14, it was abundantly clear that the month-long military campaign had failed to achieve the decisive victory over Hizbullah that our leaders had promised at the outset of hostilities. Since then, it has also become clear that failures somewhere in the senior levels of command - and possibly in the political echelon - contributed to the disappointing results. Now, more than a week into an uncertain quiet, the citizens of Israel deserve to see that their leaders are responsible enough to carry out a thorough, yet expeditious and transparent investigation of what went wrong. Despite the announcements of Defense Minister Amir Peretz and Prime Minister Ehud Olmert, who each said they would establish committees to do just this, it is not yet safe to assume that a commission of satisfactory stature and sufficiently powerful mandate will be convened, or that it will act in a timely manner. At first, Peretz appointed former chief of General Staff Amnon Lipkin-Shahak to head a committee to investigate the IDF's management of the war. But the fact that Lipkin-Shahak is one of the defense minister's personal advisers was not an encouraging sign for those who hoped to see an unbiased probe. Likewise, it was disconcerting to see one of the original committee members back out of the proceedings, and to hear Lipkin-Shahak announce that it would take "many months" for the committee to carry out its rather limited investigation of a conflict that, after all, continued for a mere 35 days. Appropriately, the Lipkin-Shahak committee has folded, in part so as to make way for a state commission of inquiry announced by Olmert. One must hope that this new commission meets the following criteria:
that it take shape as soon as possible;
that it have the power to subpoena relevant officials - including, if necessary, Chief of General Staff Lt.-Gen. Dan Halutz, Peretz and even Olmert;
that it conclude its work quickly so that those being investigated - we must remember they are still entrusted with the security of this country - can carry out their duties to the fullest possible degree; and finally
that it endeavor to reach unambiguous and practical conclusions, so as to provide leaders with concrete lessons that they can implement, hopefully to prevent such failures from occurring again.
It is significant that support for a powerful committee comes from both sides of the political divide. Likud MK Yuval Steinitz and Labor MK Matan Vilna'i, commenting in the Knesset Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee on Monday, both called for a committee with "more teeth" and a "strong mandate," and one which would report its findings to the public.
In addition, National Infrastructure Minister Binyamin Ben-Eliezer said separately, the commission must not dally. "We need to draw conclusions now," he said, "not in another three years."
It is also imperative that the commission focus on the events immediately preceding the July 12 Hizbullah attack on an IDF border patrol that ignited the conflict and on the management of the ensuing fighting. But it must also examine the attitudes, priorities and assessments of previous governments and chiefs of General Staff that allowed Hizbullah to cement itself in southern Lebanon to the degree that rendered it so hard to remove.
Among the numerous questions that the public deserves to have answered regarding this war, perhaps the most important is: Does the IDF have the capability to protect the North - indeed, potentially, the entire country - from further rocket attacks? And if not, how must this vulnerability be overcome?
Following the Yom Kippur War in 1973 and the war in Lebanon in 1982, respectively, the Agranat Commission and the Kahan Commission dealt with issues at least as difficult as these. Both led to the dismissals or resignations of the country's top defense and political leaders.
Recent days have seen calls from some quarters for similar measures now, but the rush to judgment is misguided. Conclusions of such dramatic import can only be justified, if necessary, on the basis of calm and independent investigation with the overriding aim of ensuring the future well-being of the country.