The Blame Game

Quite naturally, none of the politicians directly involved in the fiasco of the second Lebanon war are prepared to take responsibility for this disaster. Why not put the blame on somebody in the past, the farther back the better.


By Moshe Arens

(A version of this column appeared in Haaretz on September 19, 2006.)

Now the time has arrived for the blame game. Quite naturally, none of the politicians directly involved in the fiasco of the second Lebanon war, the prime minister, defense minister, foreign minister, and other security cabinet members are not prepared to take responsibility for this disaster. Why not put the blame on somebody in the past, the farther back the better.

Let’s start with the prime minister back in the year 2000, Ehud Barak. Following the examples of David Ben-Gurion and Yitzhak Rabin, he decided to assume the double responsibility of prime minister and defense minister. He promised to withdraw the IDF troops from the Lebanese security zone during his election campaign. That promise probably helped him win the elections, and he was as good as his word. On May 24, 2000, a year plus a week after his election, our allies of the South Lebanese Army were betrayed, and Israeli troops were pulled across the international border. The very next day, Hezbollah flags were raised opposite Israeli towns and villages in the north, and Hassan Nasrallah compared Israel to a spider web that could easily be torn to shreds.

That was the beginning of Hezbollah’s deployment in fortified positions in southern Lebanon and their accelerated stockpiling of Iranian and Syrian rockets in the expectation that they would be able to deter any Israeli response to their subsequent provocative aggressive activities against Israel. Had it not been for the withdrawal from the South Lebanon security zone, much of northern Israel would have been out of range of many of Hezbollah’s rockets during the last war, and it’s possible that the war would not even have taken place. So is Barak to blame for the disaster? Hardly.

It’s true that after the withdrawal from the South Lebanon security zone, previous Israeli governments could have embarked on military action to prevent Hezbollah from establishing fortified positions near our border and amassing more rockets and tactical missiles. So should the blame for the recent fiasco be put on Ariel Sharon and his defense ministers, Benjamin Ben-Eliezer and Shaul Mofaz, who watched and waited while Hezbollah became progressively stronger? It’s true that the longer Israel waited, an effective strike against Hezbollah became progressively more difficult, but are Sharon, Ben-Eliezer and Mofaz really responsible for the disaster? Hardly.

And how about the Nautilus laser missile killer, which it is now claimed could have shot down all of the thousands of rockets that Hezbollah launched against Israel during the war? Why not blame Mofaz for not funding completion of the development and acquisition of this system? Actually, the Nautilus is a horrendously expensive system of limited capability, and it is not advisable to acquire it even at this time. There are better and cheaper ways of defending Israel.

How about the absence of training exercises for reserve units in recent years? And the sad state of the IDF’s emergency stores, and the resulting shortage of equipment and supplies for the IDF reserve units at the outbreak of the war? Are the chiefs of staff in past years, Shaul Mofaz and Moshe Ya’alon, to be blamed for the defeat? And how about Benjamin Netanyahu, the finance minister in Sharon’s government? If he brought about Israel’s economic recovery not only on the backs of the country’s poor, as was claimed in the last election campaign, but also by refusing to give the Defense Ministry the entire budget it asked for, maybe he is the culprit, and had it not been for him, Olmert and Peretz would have scored a great victory over Hezbollah. Hardly.

The truth of the matter is that on July 12, 2006, the few thousand Hezbollah fighters in fortified positions in southern Lebanon were no match for the IDF, despite all the shortcomings that have come to light. If the reserves had been mobilized at the beginning, giving them a week for refresher training, some of the shortages replenished in the meanwhile, IDF ground forces could have quickly suppressed the rocketing of northern Israel, isolated Hezbollah in their underground positions, and led the people of Israel to victory over Hezbollah, the vanguard of Iran on our northern border. Instead, the government’s total mismanagement of the war resulted in disaster.

Does that mean that there is no need for a state inquiry commission? That would be the case if Olmert, Peretz, and company were to take responsibility for their mistakes and resign. But they prefer to drag the country into a round of recriminations, setting up an inquiry commission composed of people handpicked by the prime minister, who himself is bound to be the main witness before the committee. He is now calling for the institution of a presidential system of government, in which the prime minister would be assured of a four-year tenure, so that even when found responsible for mismanagement, he cannot be thrown out. That kind of additional damage we don’t deserve.

This is a really serious matter. The defense of Israel against future acts of aggression depends on clearing the air, taking corrective action in the IDF, and giving Israel a new responsible leadership. Without a state inquiry commission, this is unlikely to happen. The sooner the better. Times a wasting.

Translate »