The duty of honesty
Israel has done one thing we should emulate: frankly investigated its military weaknesses, writes Amin Howeidi*
I don't have a copy of the Winograd report, but I wish I had. I don't have a copy of the report of Judge Agranat, but I should. And I don't have Myth Versus Reality: The Yom Kippur War -- Failures and Lessons, the book written by Eli Zeira, Israel's chief of military intelligence during the 1973 War, but I wish I did. I also wish to have a report by Sheikh Hassan Nasrallah about Hizbullah's recent war against Israel, but he hasn't written one.
The Winograd report was written by a committee formed by the Israeli government to investigate the defeat of the Israeli army at Hizbullah's hands in Lebanon. The Judge Agranat report was written by a committee also formed by the Israeli government to find out the reason why the Israeli army was taken by surprise and thrown into disarray during the first hours of the October 1973 War.
There is something I wish the Israelis would give some thought. The Agranat report researched the reasons the Israeli army was taken by surprise. Twenty years later, the Winograd report looked into the reasons the Israeli army was defeated. What does this tell you? Doesn't this mean that the combat abilities of the Israeli army have dwindled over time? Israel used to get what it wanted through force. Now, this task is getting harder. The stones that Palestinian children once hurled at the Israelis have turned into rockets. And the rockets have increased in range. Hizbullah has fired rockets as far as Haifa, forcing the Israelis in northern settlements to flee south, and prompting others to pack up and leave the country.
The two reports looked into the performance of the Israeli troops in battle, and the performance of the government that conducted the war. I will leave the military aspect to the commanders to discuss. What I wish to discuss here is the political aspect, or the way in which those in power ordered and supervised war. The reports in question gave much thought to the management of the war. It has been argued that wars are too crucial to leave to the military. Likewise, it has been argued that politics is too crucial to leave to the politicians. But we mustn't forget that war is but a form of politics. War starts with a political decision, aims at a political goal, ends with a political decision, and results in a shift of the political situation.
The Winograd report maintains that Ehud Olmert's government acted hastily and gave the military too much leeway. The government authorised a war that was unnecessary and that was conducted with scant preparation, the report concludes. Following the report, Kadima members rebelled against Olmert and asked him to step down.
I would urge our commentators and policy-makers to find the report and read it carefully. I believe that we, too, need to investigate any deficiency that may exist in our military preparedness. To hide our own deficiencies is to do Israel a favour, for the last thing Israel wants is for us to look into our drawbacks and set things right.
It was a brave step of the Israeli government to investigate its own failures, for this is the only way a country can make sure that its military abilities match its political aims. Nothing is more perilous than a disparity between political aims and military capabilities. David Ben Gurion was asked about the most important thing in Israel. He said it was the infantry, because the future of the state was in its hands. Israel couldn't afford to lose one war, because the loss could be its last.
I would like Hizbullah and Nasrallah to write down a detailed account of their last war. It would be interesting to know how they were able to store so many rockets under the nose of Mossad and the CIA, or how they were able to deploy the rocket launchers. Hizbullah should prepare a list of the targets at which it fired the missiles, an account of the weaknesses of the enemy, and of how it was able to capitalise on those weaknesses. The war was costly for the Lebanese in terms of life and property. So we need to learn from what happened.
We need to assess the combat capability of Arab countries. This is a national duty that must be carried out, for our enemy believes in aggression, in the use of force, and in occupying the land of others. Israel is a country that doesn't heed international resolutions or observe humanitarian norms. And that's why we should always be prepared, not only in terms of weaponry, but in terms of training and the political will to act. Aggression will never end through international resolutions. It will end when the enemy knows that the price involved would be too high. Israel was right to commission those reports. We should do the same.
* The writer is former defence minister and chief of General Intelligence.