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Halutz Resignation: A Question of Policy

24 January 2007

By Yisrael Ne’eman

Good to his word Israeli Chief of Staff Dan Halutz resigned last week after having received the conclusions to some 80 different investigations into IDF operations during this past summer’s war against the Hezbollah. He did not wait for the interim report by the government appointed Winograd Committee which is to be made public next month.

Halutz was the first air force commander appointed to the post (in 2005) and will probably be the last. The army ground command will dominate general headquarters and the IDF from now on as they had done previously. Despite the fact that former deputy chief of staff and infantry commander General Gabi Ashkenazi (presently serving as director general of the defense ministry) has been named his replacement, the problems are far from solved. Let us recall that generals Gal Hirsh who commanded the 91st division and his superior, Udi Adam, were previously forced to resign. As often mentioned, the soldiers fought well but the upper level command structure appears to have been unsure and indecisive. Dozens of investigative reports will need to be published before a final judgment can be made.

One very interesting “leak” from an apparent discussion held with Halutz during the war has been intentionally overlooked. His hesitancy was motivated by political and civilian considerations when expressing reservations concerning entering a ground campaign citing fear of a popular backlash against such a decision due to the expected casualties. The air war was not fully motivated by operational necessities, but rather the need for “sterility” and to hold casualties down.

Now the question is, “What were the objectives of the war?” It is true that Halutz expected the Hezbollah to possibly buckle under the air campaign but apparently he did not expect them to break. Everyone knows that the capture of Katuysha rocket launch sites ends the possibility of firing from those zones. This involves increased casualties but also ensures greater Israeli civilian safety. Armies exist to defend their populations and not the other way around. One of the major claims being made against the political and military elite of last summer is their lack of ability to defend the country from Hezbollah rocket attacks over a five week period.

But there is a good deal of hypocrisy by critics of the administration and the IDF brass when it comes to policy implementation. They wanted to halt the rocket attacks and eliminate the Hezbollah threat without using ground forces. When this failed they blamed Halutz, as well as PM Olmert and defense minister Peretz. During the last days of the war the army began a serious ground offensive and suffered increased casualties as expected, and all the above mentioned incurred further blame. There were increased demands for a cease-fire which Israel accepted but of course the IDF did not achieve its “objective” of forcing the Hezbollah out of south Lebanon. Despite the conditions of UN Resolution 1701 the Hezbollah continues to rule Israel’s northern border regions although in a weakened and disguised form.

There are those like Ariella Ringel - Hoffman whose son-in-law was killed in the war (Yediot Ahronot last Friday), who now claim Israel should have ended the war after a week or two and that would have kept casualties to a minimum. It also would have left the Hezbollah in a very powerful position still deeply entrenched on Israel’s borders and led to many more casualties in the future.

The major problem is not having defeated the Hezbollah in south Lebanon this past summer. This is further exacerbated by the “Four Mothers” syndrome as brought up to date by Ringel - Hoffman. As one will recall the Four Mothers began a protest movement in the late 1990s which led to Israel abandoning the south Lebanon security zone and any operations at all, thereby giving Hezbollah’s Hassan Nasrallah a free hand to build his deadly Khomenist infrastructure.

In sincerely trying to avoid casualties by not confronting the Hezbollah we are only going to incur more in the end. It is an unpleasant choice that needs to be faced. Unfortunately we may pay the price in Hezbollah War II sometime in the not so distant future.