Ethiek en een oorlog winnen, kunnen die samengaan? Nauwelijks...
The General Staff identified the public's intolerance for soldiers' deaths as an Achilles heel. The IDF used tremendous firepower, knowing this would claim the lives of hundreds of Palestinian civilians, to reduce its own casualties and forestall a situation in which the war would be brought to an end prematurely.
Hamas was diep ingegraven in Gaza en relatief goed en professioneel voorbereid, mede dankzij training en materiaal van Iran. Hamas een zware klap toebrengen zou ofwel veel Israelische soldaten het leven kosten, of een overmaat van wapengeweld vereisen dat ook veel Palestijnse burgers zou treffen. Bij (relatief) veel dode soldaten keert het Israelische publiek zich tegen de operatie, bij veel dode Palestijnse burgers neemt de internationale druk om de operatie te beëindigen snel toe, zoals ook bij eerdere Israelische offensieven gebeurde.
Last update - 12:46 24/01/2009
ANALYSIS / The IDF model that failed in Lebanon succeeded in Gaza
By Amos Harel and Avi Issacharoff
ANALYSIS / The IDF model that failed in Lebanon succeeded in Gaza
By Amos Harel and Avi Issacharoff
It was almost inevitable that most Israelis would be left with a somewhat sour feeling at the end of the war in Gaza. The left was furious about the killing of Palestinian civilians and the widespread destruction wrought across Gaza; the right was angry at the security cabinet for not letting the Israel Defense Forces win. The soldiers in the field were sorry that the operation ended without the return of abducted soldier Gilad Shalit. And the media quickly moved to cover the inauguration of Barack Obama. By midweek, the Gaza campaign had already been relegated to the back pages of the papers.
No few myths that had been cultivated - in these pages, too - were proved false by the operation. The ground operation did not exact large-scale Israeli casualties, the rocket fire was considerably reduced due to the presence of IDF troops in Gaza, and the army withdrew without an organized "exit plan." On the other hand, the prewar assumption that it would be difficult to achieve a clear-cut victory in a confrontation with Hamas was proven correct. Far from raising a white flag, Hamas hurried to mark the IDF's departure with victory processions.
The public's partial disappointment stems from the disparity between the expectations that developed against the backdrop of the relatively smooth entry of the ground forces, and the difficulty of translating the fighting into an arrangement that would vanquish Hamas. Israel's leaders knew from the outset that these were unrealistic expectations, but even several General Staff officers this week maintained that Israel was only four kilometers away from delivering a crushing defeat to Hamas. That was the distance between the forward paratroopers in the north of Gaza City and their buddies from the Givati Brigade in the city's southern part. If the circle had been closed, so this argument goes, we would have seen a different outcome.
For the IDF, the Gaza operation was a corrective experience in the wake of the failure and humiliation it sustained during the Second Lebanon War. The conditions of the confrontation facilitated the army's task: Not only did Hamas turn out to be a weaker foe than Hezbollah, but the performance of the Israeli officers improved, from Chief of Staff Gabi Ashkenazi to GOC Southern Command Yoav Gallant, from the brigade commanders, who raced ahead, to the logistics personnel. But we should also remember the situation in which the IDF's top brass found itself (in part, of course, due to its own fault) at the outbreak of the previous war.
Considering the circumstances, the position paper former GOC Norther Command Udi Adam submitted to the Winograd Committee (which examined the conduct of the 2006 Lebanon war) was surprisingly frank. In it, Adam wrote: "Northern Command did not fulfill its mission - stopping the firing of the Katyushas." Stopping the rocket fire was not officially included in the orders given to the IDF in 2006, but Northern Command nevertheless acknowledged its failure in this regard in retrospect.
In Gaza, the reduction of rocket fire was cited as the operation's only goal, and the IDF adopted a smart media posture that anticipated any operational result with regard to the rocket attacks: IDF spokespersons emphasized time and again that, "it is impossible to get to the last launcher" and anticipated that between 100-300 rockets would be fired at Israel every day. When Hamas did not meet this expectation and fired an average of just 60 rockets (and 20, toward the operation's end) a day, the media focused on Hamas' failure - not on the fact that the attacks continued.
In 2006, when Israel went to war against Hezbollah, Northern Command had nine tanks stationed along the entire border with Lebanon. Half of the string of outposts were manned by a reserve battalion, which the commanding officers considered declaring unfit for action. Southern Command moved into Gaza after two years of meticulous planning, with each brigade and battalion perfectely aware of its sector and mission. In a meeting with Ashkenazi and Gallant at the beginning of this week, the brigade commanders who fought in Gaza said that, in contrast to Lebanon, this time they felt the missions were more firmly defined: The brigades were not rocked by orders that changed each passing day. Intelligence was also accurate: Battalion commanders say that they often knew exactly what to expect around the next bend in the road.
This time, the Israel Air Force's role was completely different. The political echelon authorized Ashkenazi to do what his predecessor, Dan Halutz, was not permitted to do in Lebanon: to launch a widespread attack on governmental targets as a means to pressure the enemy. Not only was the IAF tuned in to the ground forces' requests, it made a special effort to hunt down the rocket launchers. Unlike in 2006, the General Staff did not draw a "yellow line," artificially dividing the operational sector between Northern Command and the IAF.
The model that failed in Lebanon was, for the first time, successfully implemented in Gaza. This time, Southern Command was in charge of the entire combat arena, including aerial actions and "targeted assassinations." True, all available means were placed at its disposal, but it seems as though Gallant learned some lessons from Udi Adam. Gallant had one division commander working under him: Brig. Gen. Eyal Eisenberg (who proved successful in Gaza, after his failure as a division commander in Lebanon). Adam had to cope with four division commanders, some of them hard to get along with.
Ashkenazi and Gallant worked reasonably well together, despite considerable personal tension and a dispute over the operation's continuation. In the "kitchen cabinet," Olmert-Barak-Livni gleaned the impression that Ashkenazi - who favored an end to the operation before expanding the ground offensive ("Phase 3") - insisted on informing the trio about Gallant's opposite stance. In the previous war, knowledgeable sources noted, the only time a different position was presented was when Halutz was sick. An officer who was in contact with the political echelon during the Gaza operation says he now understands what went so horribly wrong in Lebanon: "It was weird, to put it mildly." Another senior figure adds: "It is difficult to conduct a war when an election campaign is under way. Two of the 'kitchen cabinet' members were interested in the operation's implications for the elections. The third [Olmert] was busy with the question of what it would all mean for his legacy."
At midday Monday, as a senior officer met with journalists for a background briefing to sum up the operation (public interviews with the chief of staff will probably have to wait for his retirement in two years), Prof. Asa Kasher entered the General Staff building in the Kirya, the defense establishment complex in Tel Aviv. About a decade ago, Kasher, a philosopher, helped draw up the IDF's code of ethics. During the second intifada, he and Maj. Gen. Amos Yadlin (a combat pilot and now director of Military Intelligence) co-authored a document entitled "Moral Combat Against Terrorism," which defends the use of force against terrorists who hide amid a civilian population. The incident that motivated the document's drafting was the assassination of Salah Shehadeh, a senior Hamas figure, in an attack which also left 15 civilians dead. But that was a proportional attack compared to the firepower the IDF unleashed in Gaza during Operation Cast Lead.
Compared to Hezbollah, Hamas prepared a ramified defensive network to block the IDF's entry. The number of underground mines and booby-trapped buildings in Gaza was unprecedented. Hamas failed because the IDF proceeded with a strategy of pounding, first from the air, then on the ground. A series of conversations with officers this week reinforces the conclusion formed at the outset of the ground operation: The General Staff identified the public's intolerance for soldiers' deaths as an Achilles heel. The IDF used tremendous firepower, knowing this would claim the lives of hundreds of Palestinian civilians, to reduce its own casualties and forestall a situation in which the war would be brought to an end prematurely.
Thomas Friedman, the New York Times columnist, conjectured that Israel wanted to "educate" Hamas and the inhabitants of Gaza by means of brutal collective punishment. Such an interpretation is not entirely wrong, given the scale of the destruction wrought by the Israeli-made Viper mine-clearing machines (which cause an underground explosion that sets off hidden land mines). Officers in command posts describe a different atmosphere that was dictated by the senior command level. Reports from the field mention a directive for bulldozers to raze dozens of buildings - not because they were booby-trapped, but because they were blocking the forces' "line of vision."
The truth must be said: For years the army has demonstrated insensitivity in regard to killing Palestinian civilians, certainly in times of heavy fighting. In the fall of 2004, during Operation Days of Penitence in the Gaza Strip, one could see the grim faces of officers, after learning about the deaths of two children from Sderot by a Qassam rocket. The result was not long in coming: seven civilians were killed by tank fire at an UNRWA school in Jabalya. Anyone who saw that incident will not be surprised at the 42 civilians who were killed in a similar barrage during Operation Cast Lead. Israel does not implement murderous methods like the Russians in Chechnya, or violence on a par with American actions in Iraq. But it is acting far more harshly than it did in Jenin during Operation Defensive Shield in 2002 or in Bint Jbeil, Lebanon, in 2006. The present aggressive policy reminded veteran officers, among them the chief of staff, of the actions of the Israeli forces in Lebanon in 1982. Perhaps we can expect another generational trauma, of the kind that engendered the film "Waltz with Bashir" so late in the day.
Meshal as Nasrallah
The final scene of "Waltz with Bashir" was reenacted in Gaza this week. The film ends with a segment from a TV report filmed by military correspondent Ron Ben-Yishai in the Sabra and Chatilla refugee camps, following the September 1982 massacre. A Palestinian woman, standing amid the ruins, shouts: "Where are the Arabs? Where are the Arabs?" The same complaints were voiced by Gazans, who, this time, too, were shocked at the Arab world's indifference. With the active encouragement of Al Jazeera, large demonstrations were held in Cairo and Amman and even in Jakarta, Indonesia. But the Arab regimes did not rally to Hamas' cause. Even Hezbollah maintained relative quiet along the northern border, apart from the firing of two Katyushas.
The Egyptian daily Al-Ahram reported this week that the head of Hamas' political bureau in Damascus, Khaled Meshal, expressed disappointment at the Arab reaction to the operation during a closed session of the Arab summit in Qatar. Not only did Hamas remain almost alone in the campaign against Israel, it also suffered a painful blow in the military confrontation. The best proof of this was its agreement to an unconditional cease-fire while IDF troops were still in the Gaza Strip. Al-Ahram reports that Meshal admitted that he had not expected the Israeli reaction to be so severe and sustained - the same sentiment that was expressed by Hassan Nasrallah in Lebanon two and half years ago.
Outwardly, Hamas broadcast a different message. Military Intelligence tends to give Hamas high grades for the credibility of its announcements in ordinary times. But since the start of the ground operation, Hamas' fabrications have gone off the charts. One of the organization's spokesmen claimed this week that Hamas had expelled the IDF from the Gaza Strip. The spokesman of the Iz al-Din al-Qassam Brigades, Hamas' military wing, admitted to losing only 48 of its men in the fighting. And how many Israeli soldiers were killed? Forty-nine, according to Hamas (in reality, 10 soldiers were killed). Conversations with residents of Ramallah and East Jerusalem indicate that from their point of view, Hamas won. They claim that Hamas withstood Israeli military pressure and that the IDF struck only civilians in the Gaza Strip. Asked why they think Hamas stopped firing rockets, they explain that it was a good-will gesture to Barack Obama on the occasion of his inauguration.