Tuesday, May 01, 2007

The Wrong Choice

Yesterday's interim "Winograd Report," from the Israeli commission looking into the Second Lebanon War, said something I wanted them to say but doubted they would:
"The decision to respond with an immediate, intensive military strike was not based on a detailed, comprehensive and authorized military plan, based on careful study of the complex characteristics of the Lebanon arena. A meticulous examination of these characteristics would have revealed the following: the ability to achieve military gains having significant political-international weight was limited..

"Consequently, in making the decision to go to war, the government did not consider the whole range of options, including that of continuing the policy of ‘containment’, or combining political and diplomatic moves with military strikes below the ‘escalation level’, or military preparations without immediate military action -- so as to maintain for Israel the full range of responses to the abduction. This failure reflects weakness in strategic thinking, which derives the response to the event from a more comprehensive and encompassing picture...

"Some of the declared goals of the war were not clear and could not be achieved, and in part were not achievable by the authorized modes of military action."

In other words, the blunder wasn't in the conduct of the war, but in the decision to go to war in the first place and seek to root out an entrenched social and guerrilla movement with air power. This is exactly what many of us said at the time.

The primary blame for this fiasco is laid at the feet of Prime Minister Ehud Olmert, whom the report accuses of, "a serious failure in exercising judgment, responsibility and prudence." The assessment of Defense Minister Amir Peretz is slightly more oblique in that the commission sees the problem in the fact that he was holding that post in the first place.

Most important for Israel's future policy may be this paragraph:
"The ability of Hezbollah to sit ‘on the border’, its ability to dictate the moment of escalation, and the growth of its military abilities and missile arsenal increased significantly as a result of Israel’s unilateral withdrawal in May 2000 (which was not followed, as had been hoped, by The Lebanese Army deploying on the border with Israel."

In immediate political terms, this may push Ami Ayalon ahead of former Prime Minister Ehud Barak, the one who withdrew from Lebanon, in this month's Labor primaries. While the commission itself may not change many minds on such a clear issue, the last time I checked things were close and any little bit could make a difference. From the standpoint of long-term strategy, however, I'm not sure unilateralism has a future. What the new strategic direction will be is up in the air.

(Crossposted to American Footprints)



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