When Israeli chief of staff Lt. Gen. Dan Halutz came to Jerusalem to brief the parliamentary foreign affairs and security committee on Wednesday, Aug. 16, some of the officers with him termed the outcome of the Israel-Hizballah war: An achievement – but not a clear one.
Neither the lawmakers nor anyone else was sure what they meant.
The Israeli home front finds equally incomprehensible everything they learn of the war effort, which was justified by a broad consensus and has disintegrated in a welter of bitterness, recriminations and buck-passing.
Day after day, army reservists, who formed some 40 percent of the 30,000 troops committed to Lebanon in the final stage of the war, return home with hair-raising accounts for television audiences of confusion and incompetence. According to some accounts, soldiers were given muddled or contradictory orders; when they asked for clarifications, they were referred by their officers to the next level of command, only to come up against battalion and brigade commanders who shrugged and admitted their own orders were unclear.
Others reported they were sent to the front without essential equipment or spent days without food rations or water.
No one understands how Israel came to be catapulted overnight into a war it did not seek, its army fighting in Lebanon and a million Israelis cowering in bomb shelters or put to flight as refugees by Hizballah’s daily barrage of more than 4,000 rockets.
According to opinion polls conducted since the August 14 ceasefire, 70-80% of all Israelis are certain of three things:
1. The war failed to achieve Israel’s goals: recovering the two soldiers Hizballah kidnapped, disarming the terror group and pushing it far from Israel’s border.
2. The Israeli Defense Forces, cherished by all as the most effective body in the country, was revealed dismayingly as outdated, ungainly, inefficient and for the first time in Israel’s 58-year long independent existence, unable to vanquish an Arab army. This has been a severe shock to a nation, almost every individual of which has done his or her stint of compulsory army and reserve service, and toppled a cornerstone of the national ethos.
3. The three war leaders, prime minister Ehud Olmert, defense minister Amir Peretz and the chief of staff, were not up to their mission. They are obliged to face their day of reckoning and step down.
A disintegrating political set-up
The Israeli army collapsed at the start of the 1973 Yom Kippur, which is constantly invoked as an analogy for the present debacle, but it recovered sufficiently to turn the tide and defeat the Arab aggressors amid crippling casualties.
It took four years and a political earthquake for the heads of the government responsible to be swept away by the disillusioned electorate. Labor, which had ruled Israel without interruption, and its leaders Golda Meir and Moshe Dayan, the most brilliant general Israel has ever had, were replaced by the Likud party under the leadership of Menahem Begin. The chief of staff, Lt. Gen David Elazar, was sacked earlier by a judicial inquiry panel.
Thirty-three years on, no one doubts that Israel is in for another earthquake to sweep the board of the political and military incumbents. These days, such processes move much more swiftly than thirty years ago. Most of DEBKA-Net-Weekly‘s political sources estimate that within four to six months all the familiar faces will be gone – and not only because of the war.
First: The war was in fact only the catalyst. The general election held six months ago found Israel’s political set-up in a state of advanced disintegration from which it has not recovered. Sleaze has bitten deep into the prime minister Ehud Olmert’s Kadima party: several of its notables, including justice minister Haim Ramon and chairman of the Knesset foreign affairs and security panel Tzahi Hanegbi have been indicted, respectively, for sexual harassment and corruption.
Olmert himself may face the firing line of a police probe.
Second: The Hizballah kidnapping attack of July 12 has retroactively discredited the unilateralist policies to which the ruling Kadima party is committed, first under the former prime minister Ariel Sharon, who carried out Israel’s withdrawal from the Gaza Strip, and now under his successor Olmert, who proposes partial evacuation of Israeli communities from the West Bank.
Today, more than 75% of the public hold that the past unilateral handover of land laid the groundwork that encouraged Hizballah’s aggression and produced the Lebanon War. More than 80% of the 120 members of Knesset view the Olmert plan as impracticable and, worse, as placing national security at unacceptable risk.
Third: The conventional wisdom is that the Lebanon war is not over and more fighting lies ahead against Hizballah, Syria and Iran’s Revolutionary Guards – together or one by one. The Israeli trio which conducted the first round is popularly judged unfit to carry on. They are regarded as incapable of correcting the mistakes they made, too inexperienced to rehabilitate the armed forces and too incompetent to properly prepare the sadly neglected home front for another round of hostilities.
One way or another, the day of reckoning awaits all three.