Swiss Cheese: Failure of Israel’s
war failure in Lebanon
|Posted By Uri Avnery
THE WINOGRAD committee of inquiry is
not a part of the solution. It is a
part of the problem.
Now, after the first excitement caused
by the publication of the partial
report has died down, it is possible
to evaluate it. The conclusion is that
it has done much more harm than good.
The positive side is well known. The
committee has accused the three
directors of the war - the Prime
Minister, the Minister of Defense and
the Chief-of-Staff - of many faults.
The committee's favorite word is
It is worthwhile to ponder this word.
What does it say? A person
"fails" when he does not
fulfill his task. The nature of the
task itself is not considered, but
only the fact that it has not been
The use of the word
"failure" all over the
report is by itself a failure of the
committee. The new Hebrew word
invented by the protest groups -
something like "ineptocrats"
- fits all of the five committee
IN WHAT did the three musketeers of
the war leadership fail, according to
The decision to go to war was taken in
haste. The war aims proclaimed by the
Prime Minister were unrealistic. There
was no detailed and finalized military
plan. There was no orderly staff-work.
The government adopted the improvised
proposal of the Chief-of-Staff at it
was, without alternatives being
offered or requested. The
Chief-of-Staff thought that he would
win by bombing and shelling alone. No
ground attack was planned. The
reserves were not called up in time.
The ground campaign got off very late.
In the years before the war, the
forces were not properly trained. Much
equipment was missing from the
emergency stores. The big ground
attack, which cost the lives of so
many soldiers, started only when the
terms of the cease-fire were already
agreed upon in the UN.
Strong medicine. What is the
conclusion? That we must learn these
lessons and improve our performance
quickly, before we start the next war.
And indeed, a large part of the public
drew precisely this conclusion: the
three "ineptocrats" have to
be removed, their place has to be
filled by three leaders who are more
"experienced", and we should
then start Lebanon War III, so as to
repair the damage caused by Lebanon
The army has lost its deterrent power?
We shall get it back in the next war.
There was no successful ground attack?
We shall do better next time. In the
next war, we shall penetrate deeper.
The entire problem is technical. New
leaders with military experience,
orderly staff-work, meticulous
preparations, an army chief from the
ranks of the ground forces instead of
a flying commander - and then
everything will be OK.
THE MOST important part of the report
is the one that is not there. The
report is full of holes, like the
proverbial Swiss cheese.
There is no mention of the fact that
this was from the start a superfluous,
senseless and hopeless war.
Such an accusation would be very
serious. A war causes death and
destruction on both sides. It is
immoral to start one unless there is a
clear danger to the very existence of
the state. According to the report,
Lebanon War II had no specific aim.
That means that this war was not
forced on us by any existential
necessity. Such a war is a crime.
What did the trio go to war for? In
theory: in order to free the two
captured soldiers. This week, Ehud
Olmert admitted publicly that he knew
quite well that the soldiers could not
be freed by war. That means that when
he decided to start the war, he
blatantly lied to the people. George
Hizbullah, too, does not present an
existential danger to the State of
Israel. An irritation? Yes. A
provocative enemy? Absolutely. An
existential danger? Surely not.
For these problems, political
solutions could be found. It was clear
then, as it is now, that the prisoners
must be freed through a prisoner
exchange deal. The Hizbullah threat
can be removed only by political
means, since it stems from political
THE COMMITTEE accuses the government
of not examining military alternatives
to the Chief-of-Staff's proposals. By
the same token, the committee itself
can be accused of not examining
political alternatives to the
government's decision to go to war.
Hizbullah is primarily a political
organization, a part of the complex
reality of Lebanon. For centuries, the
Shiites in South Lebanon were
downtrodden by the stronger
communities - the Maronites, the
Sunnis and the Druze. When the Israeli
army invaded Lebanon in 1982, the
Shiites received them as liberators.
After it became apparent that our army
did not intend to go away, the Shiites
started a war of liberation against
them. Only then, in the course of the
long and ultimately successful
guerilla war, did the Shiites emerge
as a major force in Lebanon. If there
were justice in the world, Hizbullah
would erect statues of Ariel Sharon.
In order to strengthen their position,
the Shiites needed help. They got it
from the Islamic Republic of Iran, the
natural patron of all the Shiites in
the region. But even more important
was the help coming from Syria.
And why did Sunnite Syria come to the
aid of the Shiite Hizbullah? Because
it wanted to create a double threat:
against the government in Beirut and
against the government in Jerusalem.
Syria has never given up its foothold
in Lebanon. In the eyes of the
Syrians, Lebanon is an integral part
of their homeland, which was torn from
it by the French colonialists. A look
at the map is sufficient to show why
Lebanon is so important for Syria,
both economically and militarily.
Hizbullah provides Syria with a stake
in the Lebanese arena.
The encouragement and support of
Hizbullah as a threat against Israel
is even more important for Syria.
Damascus wants to regain the Golan
Heights, which were conquered by
Israel in 1967. This, for Syrians, is
a paramount national duty, a matter of
national pride, and they will not give
it up for any price. They know that
for now, they cannot win a war against
Israel. Hizbullah offers an
alternative: continual pinpricks that
are intended to remind Israel that it
might be worthwhile to return the
Anyone who ignores this political
background and sees Hizbullah only as
a military problem shows himself to be
an ignoramus. It was the duty of the
committee to say so clearly, instead
of prattling on about "orderly
staff-work" and "military
alternatives". It should have
issued a red card to the three
ineptocrats for not weighing the
political alternative to the war:
negotiations with Syria for
neutralizing the Hizbullah threat by
means of an Israeli-Syrian-Lebanese
accord. The price would have been an
Israeli withdrawal from the Golan
By not doing so, the committee really
said: there is no escape from Lebanon
War III. But please, folks, try harder
A CONSPICUOUS hole in the report
concerns the international background
of the war.
The part played by the United States
was obvious from the first moment.
Olmert would not have decided to start
the war without obtaining explicit
American permission. If the US had
forbidden it, Olmert would not have
dreamt of starting it
George Bush had an interest in this
war. He was (and is) stuck in the
Iraqi morass. He is trying to put the
blame on Syria. Therefore he wanted to
strike a blow against Damascus. He
also wanted to break the Lebanese
opposition, in order to help America's
proxy in Beirut. He was sure that it
would be a cakewalk for the Israeli
When the expected victory was late in
coming, American diplomacy did
everything possible to prevent a
cease-fire, so as to "give
time" to the Israeli army to win.
That was done almost openly.
How much did the Americans dictate to
Olmert the decision to start the war,
to bomb Lebanon (but not the
infrastructure of the Siniora
government), to prolong the war and to
start a ground offensive at the last
moment? We don't know. Perhaps the
committee dealt with this in the
secret part of the report. But without
this information it is impossible to
understand what happened, and
therefore the report is to a large
extent worthless for understanding the
WHAT ELSE is missing in the report?
Hard to believe, but there is not a
single word about the terrible
suffering inflicted on the Lebanese
Under the influence of the
Chief-of-Staff, the government agreed
to a strategy that said: let's bomb
Lebanon, turn the life of the Lebanese
into hell, so they will exert pressure
on their government in Beirut, which
will then disband Hizbullah. It was
slavish imitation of the American
strategy in Kosovo and Afghanistan.
This strategy killed about a thousand
Lebanese, destroyed whole
neighborhoods, bridges and roads, and
not only in Shiite areas. From the
military point of view, that was easy
to do, but the political price was
immense. For weeks pictures of the
death and destruction wrought by
Israel dominated world news. It is
impossible to measure the damage done
to Israel's standing in world public
opinion, damage that is irreversible
and that will have lasting
All this did not interest the
committee. It concerned itself only
with the military side. The political
side it ignored, except to remark that
the Foreign Minister was not invited
to the important consultations. The
moral side was not mentioned at all.
Nor is the occupation mentioned. The
committee ignores a fact that cries
out to heaven: that an army cannot be
capable of conducting a modern war
when for 40 years it has been employed
as a colonial police force in occupied
territories. An officer who acts like
a drunken Cossak against unarmed peace
activists or stone-throwing children,
as shown this week on television,
cannot lead a company in real war.
That is one of the most important
lessons of Lebanon War II: the
occupation has corrupted the Israeli
army to the core. How can this be
THE COMMITTEE judges Olmert and Peretz
as unfit because of their lack of
military experience. This can lead to
the conclusion that the Israeli
democracy cannot rely on civilian
leaders, that it needs leaders who are
generals. It imposes on the country a
military agenda. That may well be the
most dangerous result.
This week I saw on the internet a
well-done presentation by the
"Reservists", a group of
embittered reserve soldiers set up to
lead the protest against the three
"ineptocrats". It shows,
picture after picture, many of the
failures of the war, and reaches its
climax with the statement that the
incompetent political leadership did
not allow the army to win.
The young producers of this
presentation are certainly unaware of
the unpleasant smell surrounding this
idea, the odor of the "Dolchstoss
im Ruecken" - the stab in the
back of the army. Otherwise they would
probably not have expressed themselves
in this form, which served not so long
ago as the rallying cry of German
* An Israeli author and activist.
He is the head of the Israeli peace
movement, “Gush Shalom”.