Jihadists everywhere are celebrating, proclaiming Hitler’s Iranian successor, Hassan Nasrallah, as the new Saladin. Nasrallah describes the war as the first step towards the dismemberment of the “Zionist entity”, the “cobweb” which he predicts will collapse in future, more lethal, rounds of hostilities.
Yet I predict that history will prove the opposite. Despite enormous damage inflicted on Hezbollah by the IDF, Israel unquestionably suffered a major setback failing to achieve its objectives. But we are a strong and resilient nation. Having received the wake-up call of Lebanon 2, we must now reorganize and take the necessary steps to deal with future challenges with greater resilience and foresight.
But first we must absorb the lessons of this disastrous war which inflicted over 150 deaths on the nation, and as thousands of rockets rained down on them, restricted a million citizens to shelters for over a month or transformed them into refugees in their own land. What a bitter price to pay for a campaign which failed to achieve its principal goals.
The lessons to be absorbed are equally as important as those from the Yom Kippur War. In this conflict, as in 1973, the people of Israel united and displayed remarkable fortitude and willingness to sacrifice for the future of the nation. Facing extraordinary fanatical zealots imbedded in civilian infrastructures, armed with sophisticated weapons and trained by Iranians, our young soldiers fought like lions.
The failure must primarily be attributed to an inept and over confident leadership. Of course, the problem predated the government of Ehud Olmert. It originated with the failure by the architects of Oslo to impose reciprocity in return for concessions. It was a by product of the popular but incredibly irresponsible decision by Ehud Barak to hand over Lebanon to Hezbollah without taking account of the ramifications to Israel’s long term security. History will also condemn Ariel Sharon for having embarked on unilateral disengagement instead of displaying deterrence against Hezbollah territorial incursions and confronting the missile build up which took place under our very noses.
Serious questions will also need to be answered concerning what some describe as gross mismanagement by the IDF leadership and various Defense Ministers. Why were there no contingency plans for such inevitable scenarios? How could the Chief of Staff reject an earlier US offer to purchase bunker busting bombs or other weapons to deal with this? Did our intelligence not warn the government of what was in store?
The government disappointed us at every level. When the Prime Minister initially announced his intention to defang Hezbollah, he carried the support of the entire nation. Alas, not only did he totally misread the situation but despite initial Churchillian style speeches, he soon degenerated to shrill sloganeering, pronouncing false victories totally out of synch with reality.
It is an awesome responsibility to make decisions which may lead to heavy casualties. But anyone aspiring to be a Prime Minister in Israel must have the mettle to deal with such situations and recognize that ultimately the primary role of an army is to defend its citizens even if that leads to bloodshed. Despite the best of intentions, Ehud Olmert appears to have failed the litmus test of leadership required for a nation at war.
The perception was that of an indecisive leader zigzagging in all directions. After interminable delays and uncertainty he seemed to choose the worst of all worlds by launching a full fledged land war only after approving the totally unsatisfactory ceasefire agreement which failed to achieve any of the principal objectives in the name of which the war was launched. Some military experts allege that had this offensive been launched earlier, it may have changed the course of the war. Others maintain it was primarily motivated by a desire to “spin” a victory.
The Security Cabinet performed disastrously. Including the Minister of Defense, it comprised of people selected for political considerations rather than a capacity to determine military or diplomatic options. From the outset of hostilities, the Prime Minister should have broadened the body and transformed it into a national War Cabinet incorporating experienced people and Opposition leaders.
The public skirmishes between members of the Security Cabinet combined with the scapegoating of IDF officers reflected adversely on the leadership of a nation at war. Cabinet members leaked details of internal debates and vulgar brawls that should never have been made public. The Prime Minister should have enforced discipline amongst his colleagues, making an example of and dismissing the Chairman of the Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee for leaving a country at war for a family vacation in Florida. In addition, the government’s failure to carry out its responsibilities to alleviate the chaos and suffering of Israelis in the north was unforgivable. Whatever assistance was provided came from voluntary social groups.
When Olmert launched the war he enjoyed the support of the entire nation. Today he is under fire from all political streams. Ari Shavit, one of our most respected and incisive journalists wrote in a front page column in Haaretz, “You cannot lead an entire nation to war promising victory, produce humiliating defeat and remain in power? Post-war battered and bleeding Israel needs a new start and a new leader. It needs a real Prime Minister.”
The UN ceasefire resolution 1701 which Israel signed stunned the nation. It included:
1. The creation of a buffer force comprising of a beefed up UNIFIL and Hezbollah-dominated Lebanese army which no-one believes will disarm Hezbollah.
2. A failure to achieve the repatriation of the kidnapped Israeli soldiers which will ultimately oblige Israel to release the worst Lebanese ghouls in order to obtain their release.
3. A reliance on “our friend” Kofi Annan to “monitor” the cease fire, the disarmament of Hezbollah and determine the future of the Sheba Farms.
4. A Prime Minister who describes such arrangements as “good for Israel” is not reflecting the will of the nation. This is the same man who, prior to the elections, told the Israel Policy Forum, a left wing American Jewish group, “We are tired of fighting, we are tired of being arrogant, we are tired of winning, we are tired of defeating our enemies, we want to be able to live in an entirely different environment of relations with our enemies”.
It may be unprecedented for a Prime Minister holding office for a mere 100 days to relinquish his post. But, at the very least, we must create a broader leadership and ensure that the commissions of inquiry are truly objective and not stacked with people indulging in cover ups.
The days ahead will be painful. But now is the time to remind ourselves that some of our greatest problems over the past decades were primarily self inflicted. We desperately need a leadership which has the capacity of guiding us towards a path which will achieve security, stability and peace based on strength and deterrence.