The war of 2006: Report of the commission of inquiry
By Ari Shavit
As will be recalled, the Barak Commission was established in September 2006, immediately after the retirement of Aharon Barak as president of the Supreme Court and immediately after the scale of the political-security blunder of 2006 became apparent. The commission's mandate was unlimited. The amount of work the commission had to do was immense. As is known, Aharon Barak's approach is that everything is investigatable. However, already at this early stage the commission feels the need to present main preliminary findings to the country's citizens. The members of the commission believe that because the situation on the northern border has not yet stabilized completely, the exposure of the conceptual and organizational flaws that brought us to this state of affairs is essential.
At the outset, the commission wishes to praise the prime minister for the sangfroid he displayed during the confrontation in the north, the Israel Defense Forces for its ability to recover and achieve impressive results toward the end of the fighting and the Israeli public, whose staying power made it possible for Israel to cope with the challenge and vanquish the enemy. However, the commission finds that the damage the 2006 war caused Israel is deep and bears long-range, far-reaching implications.
The fact that Israel emerged as a country that a small terrorist organization was capable of hitting significantly in conventional warfare is drawing the next conventional war very close, and it is liable to be far graver than the present one. The fact that Israel was revealed as a country that has no genuine response to steep-trajectory weapons renders such weapons a paramount strategic threat, which cast a dark shadow over the country's future. The fact that some 2 million Israelis lived in dread during the summer or were compelled to become voluntary refugees in their own country, has cracked the self-image and the external image of Israel as the safe haven of the Jewish people.
In the summer of 2006, before crushing Hezbollah, Israel was humiliated. In the Middle East, the implication of humiliation is not just emotional but strategic. When the ocean is seething with sharks, the dolphin must not bleed or project weakness. In the past few months, the Hezbollah offensive led to the Israeli dolphin bleeding and projecting weakness. The bleeding and weakness will haunt us in the years ahead and tempt various sharks to attack us again and again. Therefore, despite the successful conclusion of the IDF operation in Lebanon, the commission has no choice but to state that the events of the past summer were indeed a blunder.
Underlying the blunder of 1973 was the political conception of the status quo. The baseless belief that Israel's power allowed it to ignore its surroundings and shape its destiny as it wished. In contrast, underlying the blunder of 2006 was the political conception of unilateralism. The baseless belief that Israel's power enables it to ignore its surroundings and shape its destiny as it wishes. Seemingly, the blunder of 2006 was the opposite of the blunder of 1973, because it stemmed from a blind belief in withdrawal and not from a blind belief in occupation.
In fact, though, the blunder of 2006 entailed an arrogance similar to that of 1973. This time, too, an exaggerated sense of strength led to the basic facts of the conflict being ignored. This time, too, political blindness induced Israel to take hasty steps whose implications were not weighed and whose consequences were not anticipated. The data that were presented to the commission prove unequivocally that the Israeli-Palestinian conflict contains a solid law of nature: Every Israeli withdrawal brings in its wake an outbreak of violence. This was the case in 1994, in 1996 and again in 2000. Accordingly, it should have been clear from the outset that the unilateral Israeli withdrawal from Gaza would bring in its wake an outbreak of war. In fact, there was a vicious circle here that was foreseeable: The unilateral withdrawal from Lebanon led to the Al-Aqsa Intifada, which led to the unilateral withdrawal from Gaza, which led to the collapse of the arrangement that was forged in the wake of the unilateral withdrawal from Lebanon. The commission is not out to determine whether the disengagement was justified or not. That is a moral and ideological matter. However, the commission asserts unequivocally that whose who advocated the disengagement and led it should have been aware that it would lead to the renewal of hostilities on a broad scale. The fact that the country's leaders were not aware of the unavoidable consequence of the unilateral move they initiated, makes them the bearers of the overall responsibility for the blunder of the political-policy conception of 2006.
The blunder of 1973 was also based on a mistaken military conception - the supercilious evaluation that Israel's air superiority and its advantage in the armored sphere accorded it the capability to crush any adversary and eradicate any threat within a short time and without any real difficulty. The blunder of 2006 was also based on a mistaken military conception - the supercilious evaluation that Israel's air superiority and its advantage in the sphere of precision weapons accord it the capability to crush any adversary and eradicate any threat within a short time and without any real difficulty.
In the Yom Kippur War, the failure stemmed from not understanding that the SAM-2 and SAM-3 and Sagger missiles were striking at Israel's Achilles heel and largely neutralizing the sources of its might. In the war of 2006, the bewilderment stemmed from not understanding that the Katyushas, the Qassam rockets, the Al-Fajr rockets and the Zelzal missiles were striking at Israel's Achilles heel and bringing into being an alternative field of battle that largely neutralized the scope of its might.
As in 1973, in 2006, too, the writing was on the wall. The potential threat was known but not internalized. Thus, following the unilateral withdrawal from Gaza it turned out that the defense establishment had not formulated a security doctrine that would provide an answer to the challenge of the Qassams. In contrast, the blue army developed a magical and dangerous belief in the omnipotence of the Air Force and in the marvels of precision weapons. As a result, a mistaken military strategy was created, based entirely on fighting from the air. The hope of achieving an elegant victory without human contact was a spurious hope that frivolously ignored the experience accumulated in Kosovo, Afghanistan and even in the Gulf War. In the commission's estimation, the deterrent failure after the disengagement stems in part from the mistaken military conception of 2006. This mistaken conception also involves the force structure of the IDF, which must be changed immediately before another and far more serious strategic surprise is inflicted on us.
In 1973, there was an intelligence blunder. It was the same in 2006. True, intelligence had reported for years that Hezbollah possessed an offensive deployment of some 12,000 rockets. Intelligence also warned that Hezbollah was out to kidnap soldiers. However, intelligence did not expect a war in 2006. It did not warn the Israeli public about what was about to happen. Intelligence did not assess correctly the danger embodied in Hezbollah. It did not prepare the Navy for the missiles that were fired at its vessels. It did not report to the residents of the center of the country that they, too, were within range of Nasrallah's weapons. But above and beyond all this, intelligence did not succeed in penetrating Hezbollah to a point where the IDF could unleash its full strength against the organization. The tremendous advantage of the Israeli army in the sphere of firepower did not find expression against Hezbollah in the first stage of the campaign, because intelligence did not provide the Air Force or the precision artillery with a worthy number of precise and qualitative Hezbollah targets. In the absence of such targets, the IDF was like a giant trying vainly to squash a mosquito. The upshot was that the political echelon found itself in a bind. It did not have a political mandate to do what the IDF knew how to do - smash Lebanon to smithereens - whereas it did have a mandate to do what the IDF did not know how to do: to vanquish Hezbollah utterly. The multidimensional failure of intelligence vis-a-vis Hezbollah must be added to its failures in regard to Libya and Iraq, and necessitates a comprehensive overhaul of the Israeli intelligence community.
The blunder of 1973 began in August 1970, when Israel, worn down by the War of Attrition, showed restraint when Egypt moved up its antiaircraft missiles toward the Suez Canal, contrary to the cease-fire terms. There is no doubt that, similarly, the blunder of 2006 began long before the shooting started, when Israel accepted, at the beginning of the new century, the growth of a cancerous Nasrallah abscess on its northern border.
The blunder of putting up with the advancement of the Egyptian missiles in the 1970s and the blunder of putting up with the creation of the Hezbollah rocket deployment in the 21st century are remarkably similar. In both cases the weariness of Israel society prompted its leaders to ignore a clear danger because dealing with that danger would have entailed a major national effort. However, in both cases, in the final analysis, the national effort that was required to resolve the problem after it reached the critical stage was far greater than it would have been if the problem had been dealt with at the outset. The lesson is clear: In the Middle East the ostrich method does not work.
Repression and denial have intolerable consequences. Therefore, the problem of the steep-trajectory weapons in the Gaza Strip must be solved today and not put off until the day after tomorrow. Therefore the problems entailed in a withdrawal from the West Bank must be solved before the withdrawal and not afterward.
Even after the Nasrallah era, the challenge he posed to us remains intact. Without any doubt, Nasrallah was the great challenger of the Israeli spirit in this period. He knew Israel well and accurately identified its weak points. True, the sheikh was given to boasting and also made a mistake in his calculations when he initiated the July offensive, but he is gifted with a certain type of postmodern military genius that is capable of extracting the maximum impact from limited resources. The disciplined guerrilla army, hidden from the eye and using its own remote-control weapons, is the army of the future. By means of that army, Nasrallah directed a battle film that deserves to be studied.
His thesis about Israel as a society of spider webs must be addressed.
Seemingly, the events of the summer refute the spider-web thesis. As in 2002, the Israeli population demonstrated its resilience in 2006. The Israeli fighters demonstrated sophistication and resourcefulness. Israel emerged from the campaign with the upper hand. However, these achievements cannot blur the fact that at certain moments and in certain spheres Israel's weaknesses as a fighting democracy were revealed. The delay in launching the ground move stemmed from the fear of putting the ground forces to the test. The weeks in which Israel's citizens sat in shelters in order to protect the lives of Israel's soldiers attested to a fundamental anomaly. Throughout the Middle East, the impression was that the civil society in Israel is not mentally or morally prepared to take difficult but necessary military steps. The fact that in the end both the society and the army found in themselves an inner strength as in Operation Defensive Shield came as a surprise to Nasrallah and was his undoing. However, some of the question marks he raised still remain. The war of 2006 did not resemble the 1973 war in its intensity, its scale or in the human losses it caused. It did not endanger Israel's existence and did not inflict a disaster on the country. However, the 2006 war caused a severe blow to the home front such as we have not known since 1973.
The war of 2006 left behind a series of additional precedents that are also worrisome. Precisely because the war was not waged against a sovereign state but against a sub-state organization, its implications could be serious. Accordingly, this war has to be seen as a kind of giant warning sign.
In contrast to the Agranat Commission after the 1973 war, the Barak Commission after the war of 2006 does not see fit to take any measures against senior figures in the Israeli establishment. However, already at this early stage, before the full report is submitted to the government, the commission recommends that conclusions be drawn in the sphere of the political and strategic conception, which will prevent the recurrence of the pattern of unilateral withdrawal, will neutralize the threat of steep-trajectory weapons and will restore Israel's deterrent capability
. Only thus will it be possible to ensure Israel's security and steadfastness in the long term. http://www.haaretz.com/hasen/spages/740948.html