Deja Vu

Do you remember the very original management theory proposed by the Olmert government after the Second Lebanon war?


By Moshe Arens

(A version of this column appeared in Haaretz on July 16, 2008.)

Two years have passed since the debacle of the Second Lebanon War. Do you remember the very original management theory proposed by the Olmert government after the war? It claimed that it is precisely those who made the mistakes who must now be charged with correcting them. That was only one of the many pieces of nonsense to which we were subjected at the time.

Another was that the war actually ended in victory for us – not quite by a knockout, but on points. That the UN-brokered cease-fire with Hezbollah, Security Council Resolution 1701, was really a great achievement for Israel, as it brought strengthened United Nations forces and the Lebanese army to southern Lebanon, which would prevent Hezbollah from rearming. It did not take long before Hezbollah made a laughingstock of Resolution 1701.

Presumably, the Olmert government has been engaged for months in an intensive study of the Winograd reports – first the interim report, and a year later, the final report. Those who were responsible for making the mistakes were now busying themselves correcting them. Did anyone really believe that?

Actually, after the northern part of Israel received its daily dose of hundreds of Hezbollah rockets on the very day the cease-fire went into effect, we did not need the Winograd report to know that the mistake the Olmert government made in that war was in not ordering the Israel Defense Forces to provide protection for the north’s civilian population by having ground troops move into southern Lebanon and put most of Hezbollah’s rockets out of range. You did not need to be a rocket scientist to understand that.

David Ben-Gurion used to preach that in war, the IDF’s first responsibility was to protect the civilian population. But the security cabinet simply forgot that lesson, in the vain hope that the problem could be solved by the air force. And the lesson has still not been relearned.

It was the great philosopher George Santayana who said that those who fail to learn the lessons of history are doomed to repeat them. But it is rare that you actually see history repeating itself. After all, things change so rapidly that we are not likely to face a repeat of a scenario we have witnessed in the past.

The Olmert government, however, had that most unusual opportunity. No sooner had it bungled the Second Lebanon War then it had to deal with another war in the south. Not identical, granted, but very similar. It was the Second Lebanon War on a smaller scale. In place of Hezbollah we were facing Hamas, and the rockets were now coming down on the western Negev instead of the Galilee. But once again, the air force was called in, in the vain hope that it could put an end to the civilian population’s suffering. Nothing had been learned; the same mistakes were repeated.

It even ended the same way: an Egyptian-brokered cease-fire with Hamas, and rockets falling on the western Negev until the very last day – in fact, even after the cease-fire was to have taken effect. And Hamas declared itself the victor in this round of fighting, just like Hezbollah did two years ago.

Now there are reports that Hezbollah has utilized the past two years to amass a vast quantity of rockets, thus preparing itself for the next round. And a mirror image of what happened, and is still happening, in southern Lebanon is now happening in the Gaza Strip. In the next round, the IDF will find Hamas better armed, better trained and more prepared.

As far as members of the Olmert government are concerned, all this is of little consequence. Wishful thinking predominates in their minds. The northern border is peaceful, and only occasional rockets and mortar shells disturb the “cease-fire” in the south. Why should things not continue this way?

Anyone who believed that Hassan Nasrallah was going to supply meaningful information on the fate of Ron Arad is likely to believe anything. They can dream on, but it is time the Israeli public woke up.

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