Israel Resource Review 11th August, 2006


Middle East News Line

The government of Prime Minister Ehud Olmert has blocked Israel's military from conducting a ground war in Lebanon.

Officials as well as several Cabinet ministers have acknowledged that Olmert and his allies prevented the General Staff from conducting a rapid conquest of southern Lebanon in an attempt to destroy Hizbullah and halt its rocket fire. They said the government -- fearing both international condemnation as well as a domestic backlash -- pursued a policy of announcing major military operations and then suspending them because of international efforts to reach a ceasefire.

"We shouldn't rush to war when we see the heavy price it is costing, whether it is soldiers in the rear or citizens sitting in shelters for a month," Vice Premier Shimon Peres, who opposed or abstained in the Cabinet decisions, said.

The Cabinet approved several resolutions that called for an expansion of the war. On August 9, a ministerial committee voted 9-0 with three abstentions for a military advance to the Litani River, about 20 kilometers north of the Israeli border. The operation was designed to include 40,000 reserve soldiers.

Officials said that within hours of the advance, entitled Operation Change of Direction, Defense Minister Amir Peretz telephoned Chief of Staff Lt. Gen. Dan Halutz and ordered a withdrawal of a division that was within sight of the Litani. Peretz cited U.S. pressure.

"In war, there is a price," Halutz said on Thursday. "We have to clarify in no uncertain manner that when Israel defends its house, it defends its house -- that we don't go backwards, but forward."

Still, by Friday, the government appeared to have abandoned the offensive and instead waited for the United Nations Security Council to pass a ceasefire resolution. The proposed French-U.S. resolution, despite Israeli objections, was said to retain Hizbullah's military capability and maintain UN responsibility for the Israeli-Lebanese border.

"Today, it is perfectly clear that the [August 9] Cabinet decision was not meant for one second for a military operation, rather to create pressure to achieve a better [ceasefire] draft," former Foreign Minister Silvan Shalom, a member of the opposition Likud Party, said. "This is one of the worst ceasefire drafts ever accepted by Israel and will be mourned by generations."

Officials and military sources agreed that from the start Olmert, Peretz and most of the Cabinet relied on the international community rather than the military to halt Hizbullah rocket fire. They said the prime minister and defense minister dismissed Northern Command's plan for a rapid ground advance to the Litani, sealing of enemy supply routes and destruction of Hizbullah strongholds.

Instead, Olmert and Peretz ordered air strikes against suspected Hizbullah targets. Two weeks later, Hizbullah continued to fire rockets from Shi'ite villages within a kilometer of Israel.

"There is no mistake Ehud Olmert did not make this past month," Ari Shavit, a leading columnist, wrote in a front page analysis in the Israeli daily Haaretz on Friday. "He went to war hastily, without properly gauging the outcome. He blindly followed the military without asking the necessary questions. He mistakenly gambled on air operations, was strangely late with the ground operation, and failed to implement the army's original plan, much more daring and sophisticated than that which was implemented."

At the same time, senior ministers bickered over tactics and strategy. Cabinet sources reported disputes between Olmert and Peretz, Olmert and Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni, and Peretz and his predecessor, Transportation Minister Shaul Mofaz.

During the six-hour Cabinet meeting on August 9, Mofaz presented a plan to capture the Litani River. From the Litani, Israeli ground forces would then surround and destroy Hizbullah strongholds.

"You can get there in 48 hours and say we won, and south Lebanon is surrounded," Mofaz, a former military chief of staff, was quoted by the Israeli media as saying. "If you want, clean the area from south to north."

Peretz, who entered his post without military or Cabinet experience, responded angrily. "Why didn't you do anything when you were chief of staff and defense minister?" Peretz asked. "Where were you when Hizbullah created this deployment?"

During the same meeting, Halutz, himself under severe criticism for the heavy casualties sustained by the military, proposed air strikes against Lebanese power stations and other civilian infrastructure. Peretz cut him off, saying this was not included in the defense minister's plan.

During a recess, Cabinet sources said, Olmert discussed the prospect of a ceasefire with U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice. Later, the prime minister met Peretz and Ms. Livni and pledged to suspend any Cabinet decision to expand the ground war in Lebanon. The sources said virtually every minister in attendance knew the war proposal up for a vote would not be implemented.

"I don't think you can stop the firing of rockets," Housing Minister Meir Shetreet said. "You can't win this war by a knockout, only through points. The diplomatic clock is ticking and there's no point in putting in so many troops when we can't finish the operation."

Officials also reported disputes within the military and intelligence community. They included Halutz and Northern Command head Maj. Gen. Udi Adam, as well as military intelligence chief Maj. Gen. Amos Yadlin and Mossad director Meir Amit.

On August 9, Halutz ordered his deputy, Maj. Gen. Moshe Kaplinski, to move to Northern Command to oversee the war in Lebanon. Halutz's order came amid increasing tension between the chief of staff and Adam, whose appeals to widen the ground assault were dismissed.

Military sources report widespread equipment shortages as well as the deployment of untrained reservists in Lebanon. They said reserve units have been operating without armored or air support and came under numerous instances of friendly fire.

"Commanders do not have clear orders of the operation and lack situational awareness," a military source said. "Instead, they have specific missions. They go from one place to another, leaving villages and areas to be reoccupied by Hizbullah."

Cabinet sources said Olmert and most of his ministers -- many of them in power for the first time -- have been haunted by the prospect that the war would damage their political careers. They said these ministers, elected on a platform of unilateral Israeli withdrawal from the West Bank, regard the ground operation as a sop to the 1.5 million Israelis who have come under daily rocket fire since the war began on July 12.

"Look, there is a very complex reality now," Science Minister Opher Pinas said. "On one hand, there is a risk, and there is a fear of a massive broad incursion into Lebanon. We have been through things of this sort. We have paid the price in the past

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Israeli Army Reservists Commission Poll: Should the IDF bomb from the air before a ground assault?
Yuval Karni
Yediot Ahronot, August 11th

In the midst of the tough battles, some Israeli Army reservists fighting on the front decided to commission a public opinion poll on the IDF's activity in southern Lebanon.

In wake of the IDF's many losses, the combatants and their relatives approached the Dahaf Polling Institute under the management of Dr. Mina Tzemah and asked to hold a poll that examines only one question: should the IDF strike Hizbullah infrastructure in southern Lebanon from the air before it brings in more ground forces-or should the ground operation be expanded without a preliminary aerial attack. "We are a battalion that has suffered quite a few losses in the fighting," one soldier told Yedioth Ahronoth. "We asked ourselves a number of times, why bring in infantry soldiers instead of flattening the area from the air. We prefer for empty houses to be taken out from the air instead of we being the ones who are taken out. Among the fighters in Lebanon there is a consensus on this and this could spare many lives, without harming our purity of arms and morals. These are abandoned villages and, therefore, these houses should be demolished and the infrastructure of the Hizbullah terrorists should be struck. This is not a question of morality. The Lebanese civilians were given warnings, flyers were dropped and they know this is a firing zone."

He said that the soldiers at the front feel great frustration over how the war is being managed: "We asked our commanders several times why were are going on foot into an area teeming with terrorists. They replied that world public opinion would not tolerate demolishing the houses from the air. We have nothing against the fighting. We are motivated and we do whatever missions are given us, but the mood is that we could be doing it differently. The families of those killed asked us why their sons died, but I have no answer to give them."

Attorney Shmulik Yanai, a reserve officer in IDF Intelligence, was one of those who commissioned the poll. A few days ago, he received an emergency call-up order and is serving in Lebanon. "I don't understand the considerations of the decision-makers," said Yanai. "It is a disgrace that these villages are not bombed from the air. Do we have to continue to pay the price every day in people's lives just so it will be said of us that we are moral? If we put soldiers into the area, then first the area should be pounded or weakened from the air." One of poll's organizers said that the idea came up after the reservists reached the conclusion that the cabinet ministers are influenced by polls on the war. "A few days before the security cabinet decision, there was a poll that examined the percentage of support for expanding the ground operation in Lebanon. 80% of the public supported expanding the military activity and immediately afterwards, the security cabinet decided to go into Lebanon. Polls have enormous power."

Last night, when the poll's results were released, it became evident that the majority of the public shares the feelings of these soldiers. Among the Jewish respondents, 91% supported demolishing the Lebanese villages from the air -and 8% preferred for the ground operation to continue.

POLL Question: How should the IDF act against Hizbullah infrastructures in southern Lebanon? Destroy the villages from the air: 91% Send in ground forces: 8% The poll was held last night and questioned 506 people. The margin of error is 4.4% .

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Why we should be Optimistic
Dr. Joel Fishman
Fellow of the Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs

By the time of this article is published, Israel will have been engaged in hot war with the Hezbollah and Lebanon for nearly a month. The media have been covering the military story from hour to hour and in our democracy certain types of information have been reached the public at an unprecedented rate. We received detailed reports of cabinet discussions; one commentator announced in the pages of Ha'aretz that the troops were demoralized, and Zev Schiff reported that in his view the war had been badly managed. More recently, the Chief of Staff appointed Major General Moshe Kaplinsky as his personal representative on the Northern Front, which meant effectively that he had relieved Major General Udi Adam of his command. This means not only that the Chief of Staff was unhappy with the conduct of the war, but also the government of Israel failed to achieve the political military goals it had designated. Instead, a torrent of missiles has killed civilians and disrupted the life and economy in the North. Thus, we are now engaged a conflict in which we have been unable so far to disarm the enemy and force it to do our will. Our leaders have greatly misjudged the enemy and its military capabilities. But there is more to the story.

A democracy, after a long period of relative peace, namely not being involved in a major "hot" war, must undergo serious changes in order to wage war effectively. It is also known that at the beginning of a war a democracy which has been at peace for a long period of time experiences a temporary disadvantage. This interpretation applied to the situation of England and the United States at the beginning of the Second World War.

The person who made those observations was none other than the French historian and thinker Alexis de Tocqueville, author of Democracy in America whose second volume was published in 1838 [Vol. II, Part 3, Chap. 24]. He wrote:

I think that a democratic people that undertakes a war after a long peace risks being defeated much more than any other; but it ought not to allow itself to be easily beaten down by setbacks, for the chances of its army are increased by the very duration of the war.

When prolonged, war finally tears all citizens away from their peaceful work and makes their small enterprises fail; and the same passions that made them attach such a price to peace turn them toward arms. After having destroyed all industries, war itself becomes the great and sole industry, and then the ardent and ambitious desires that equality has given birth to are directed on all sides toward it alone. That is why the same democratic nations that are so difficult to get into the battlefield sometimes do prodigious things when one has finally succeeded in putting arms in their hands.

Tocqueville also described another transition of a democracy at peace to a state of war. Younger, more capable, and more ambitious men begin to replace the older officers who during peacetime had become inflexible and unimaginative. According to Tocqueville's interpretation, the new appointment of Moshe Kaplinsky should represent the beginning of this healthy process in the Israel Defense Forces. For the same matter, a good shake-up of Israel's political echelon would definitely produce fine results.

War is not only a contest of armies; it is a contest between societies. Basically, Israel has a healthier and stronger society than the enemy but it responds slowly because it is a democracy. Of Israel's many advantages its main strength is the democratic society which stands behind its army.

Published in Makor Rishon on August 11th, 2006

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