The following is most of Gershon Baskin’s opinion piece – “The war is over, the in-fighting is beginning” – published in the Jerusalem Times, August 20, 2006. The Jerusalem Times is published by Baskin’s partner, Hanna Siniora; both are co-CEOs of IPCRI – the Israel/Palestine Center for Research and Information, P.O. Box 9321, Jerusalem 91092 Tel: 972-2-676-9460 Fax: 972-2-676-8011 http://www.ipcri.org
With the passing of UN Security Council Resolution 1701, the cease fire came into effect and the Israeli troops began heading home. The last 30 hours of the war that the government implemented while the Security Council was already in session brought about no military achievement and only led to more than 30 additional, unnecessary casualties. It has been reported that Prime Minister Ehud Olmert was against launching the expanded ground operation up to the Litani, yet he gave in to the pressure of the military and of Minister of Defense Amir Peretz.. Olmert, as Prime Minister, as he himself stated in his last Knesset address, bears full responsibility for the decisions made by the government. This was one of the most foolish and costly decisions taken by his government.
The investigation committee established by Peretz to assess the operational aspects of the war (headed by former Chief of Staff Amnon Lipkin-Shakhak) has no authority to judge the decisions made by the politicians. Olmert and Peretz should also have to answer to the public for leading the country into a war without achievable goals, with faulty tactical plans, and without taking into account the huge price that the home front would have to pay. Olmert’s taking responsibility has to be more than just words. Peretz must also stand before a real investigation, so that the public can understand how and why he made the decisions that he did that cost so many human lives, so much physical damage in Israel and in Lebanon, and so much suffering.
It is still too early to determine who won and who lost this war. The outcome and the balance of accounts will only come in the aftermath in the months to come. If the Lebanese army is capable of deploying, as it has begun, and if it keeps armed Hizbollah combatants away from the south, then Israel and the Lebanon will have both won, and that is good. Hizbollah will not simply go away, nor will we probably ever know what losses Hizbollah really suffered in the war, because they simply do not publish the truth.
The Government of Fouad Siniora (no relation to Hanna Siniora) seems to be coming out on top fully backed by Saad Hariri and even Walid Jumblat – this is good for Lebanon and good for the region. Israel suffered damages to more than 1,500 apartments and homes with massive damage to the forests and open spaces. Lebanon suffered damage to more than 15,000 apartments (some people are saying up to 30,000). The international community is now directing itself to raise funds for the reconstruction of Lebanon, while the government of Israel and the Jewish agency are doing the same for the north of Israel. Shimon Peres is off to the States on a fund-raising tour. The losses, reconstruction costs and rebuilding the army will probably come to more than $2 billion. There go all of the budgetary reserves that were supposed to be invested in education, health and welfare.
A problem with the concept
Many people are blaming the lack of experience of Olmert, Peretz and Halutz for the less than satisfactory results of the war. The problem is, however, one that developed way before these gentlemen were sitting at the helm. In my assessment, the problem rests with the concept of what the Israeli army is and what kind of wars it was prepared to face. The problem’s roots can be found in the policies that were developed and implemented in the days of Chief of Staff Ehud Barak (1991-1995). Barak’s concept, mirroring what he saw in the United States following the first Gulf war was that Israel needed a small, intelligent and sophisticated fighting force. Translating that concept into policy and planning meant investing huge sums first and foremost in the air force, in modern technologies, and in scaling down the reserve forces, depending on elite units of the regular army. Since 1991, Israel invested the major parts of its military budgets into these areas and scaled down the dependence on ground infantry units. The overall dependence of Israel on the air force during the beginning of this war was not because the Chief of Staff came from the air force, but because that was the entire military concept of the IDF since Barak’s time. This concept is good perhaps for the United States when it attacked Kosovo, or even when they launched the attack against the Saddam Hussein regime, but is it the right concept for Israel? Perhaps, if Israel had to go to war against another army it would be right, but it appeared to the quite wrong regarding a war against a guerilla fighting force. Now, in the aftermath of the war, the army needs to be re-equipped and serious re-evaluation of the future needs of the army must be undertaken. The IDF needs to be prepared for a war against another army, but it also needs to be prepared for a possible second round.
The Government in shambles
Unconnected to the war, but in addition to it, the government seems to be coming apart. Olmert is under investigation for an alleged bribe concerning real estate; the Minister of Justice Haim Ramon is resigning over an alleged sexual abuse charge, the Chief of Staff was accused of selling his stock portfolio on the day the war began (although not illegal – it stinks), Shimon Peres is under investigation for illegal campaign funds, and the cherry on the cake concerns the sexual harassment charges against the President, Moshe Katzav who will probably have to resign before his term of office ends.
It has also been reported that since the beginning of the war, the Prime Minister and the Minister of Foreign Affairs were hardly speaking with each other. According to the reports, Tzipi Livni was opposed to many of the government decisions concerning the war and chose to take a low profile. When the diplomatic efforts were launched and negotiations were underway on the text of the UN Resolution, Livni wanted to go to NY to be there, but Olmert prevented her from going. Olmert controlled all of the negotiations on the UN text by himself with his top advisors, leaving Livni out of the loop.
Today it was reported that Livni appointed her chief political advisor, Yaki Dayan, to begin investigating and assessing the possibilities for opening up the Israeli-Syrian track. It is not clear if she made that decision with the agreement of the Prime Minister or perhaps despite his possible disagreement.
Today even Olmert is admitting that his realignment plan is off the agenda. The main aim of the government for the coming year will be the rebuilding of the north of the country. If it wasn’t so sad, it might be funny. Olmert, who came into office with his great promises of reshaping the country and setting Israel’s final boundaries, is now busy rebuilding what should not have been destroyed from the first place. The reason for going to war was the Hizbollah unprovoked attack against Israel, the killing of eight soldiers and the kidnapping of two others. Israel certainly had a causus belli – the question is whether or not it was wise to launch such a massive attack in order to achieve what has been achieved. Perhaps a more tempered response and a massive diplomatic offensive could have achieved the same or better results, and with a lot less damage?
New elections? – not now
The Government has a lot to answer for and the loss of support for the leaders in the public opinion polls is completely understandable (Olmert and Peretz are both in the mid to low 20’s approval rating after reaching the 70’s at the beginning of the war a few weeks ago). If the government wasn’t so young and if there weren’t so many new MKs, the talk about early elections might have to be taken more seriously. But other than a few of the parties in the opposition, no one wants to go to new elections – they haven’t yet heated up their new seats and they are not get ready to take the risk of not returning to them. Olmert will probably try to expand his government, but it doesn’t seem that there are too many parties or opposition MKs who are running to step on what now appears to be a sinking ship….
I visited Gaza last week. Many people there believe that Israel will take its Lebanese frustrations out on Gaza. Already severely hit and suffering, Gaza is mentally preparing itself for a new Israeli onslaught. There has been no real progress in freeing the kidnapped soldier Gilead Shalit. Israel is still looking for the address that is in charge of the soldier. The assessments from senior Hamas personalities in Gaza and from senior Israeli officials are that Gilead Shalit is alive and well. But in both camps, no one is sure who and where the decisions are being made about his future. In the meantime, it can be expected that Israel will prepare for a massive ground offensive in the coming weeks if the soldier is not returned to Israel. The Government needs an achievement and needs to rebuild the morale of the country. Finding the soldier and punishing the Palestinians at the same time would boost support for the government which only gives more reason to believe that this is in the plans. If this is the path taken, the chances of survival for Shalit are probably less than 50:50, there will most likely be Israeli casualties and there will certainly be massive Palestinian casualties. This is not the path that should be taken, but if there will be no progress on the issue of Shalit, it seems that it is inevitable, unfortunately.
Baskin gives the US too much credit for its own reliance on air power. In Kosova, the US military had a guerrilla army on the ground on its side (and was indeed fighting an adversary that was a state). And in Iraq, the strategy was woefully unprepared for dealing with the inevitable emergence of the post-Hussein resistance. We could probably tell a similar story of strategy unprepared for the situation encountered in Afghanistan.