Tuesday, August 29, 2006

August 29, 2006 Winners and Losers

August 29, 2006 Winners and Losers.

Lebanon War II will probably be examined in minute detail in the coming years, as were all of Israel’s wars. A six-hour film series is under production for WGBH-PBS in the USA, which will be a sort of 24, but without Keifer Sutherland. This will be a documentary series. Each hour will be another day in the 1967 Six-Day War.

Just when you think there’s nothing more to be said about a war that happened forty years ago, up pops another in-depth look at the war, bringing out details never before seen on the screen. The new series will use the American-born Israeli historian Michael Oren’s expertise. Oren is the author of a recent book on the Six-Day War. His conclusions take some of the glitter off the performances of the great Israeli heroes like Moshe Dayan.

A panel of luminaries, a retired head of the Mossad, a retired Supreme Court judge, and an ex-Air Force General will now investigate the Government’s role in Lebanon War II. Israel’s PM Ehud Olmert said when announcing this panel, that he was not interested in appointing a full-blown commission of inquiry into all aspects of the war, including the government’s role, the army’s role, and the home-front command. This type of committee, said Olmert, would paralyze the army, and make it ineffective in a period when extreme readiness was needed. Rather, he said, the army would investigate itself, and make the proper adjustments as quickly as possible.

Olmert said that the Israeli Government’s Ombudsman’s Office would investigate the home front, and why the bomb shelters weren’t ready, and other civilian matters. He ran afoul of Ombudsman Lilienbloom, who said he doesn’t take orders from Olmert, hinting broadly that his office was independent of any government interference or pressure. Olmert reportedly was aghast at the response, since the PM’s office, said Olmert, can indeed request such an inquiry. Time will tell who gives in.

Most reasonable analysts, without a political ax to grind, or a pre-conceived position to bellow about, accepted Olmert’s proposals. Most agreed that as horrendous as the Lebanon War II was, it didn’t equate to the army’s lack of preparedness in the Yom Kippur War, or loss of life. It was a little war, that was more terrorism than battles, and not worthy of disrupting the army and the government’s valuable time needed to re-build and repair.

The inquiry will not shorten Olmert’s time in office, nor lengthen it unduly. Many politicians with their own ambition showing like a hideous tie, are doing all they can to push Olmert out of office. Others are equally impatient to see Minister of Defense Amir Peretz ousted, and see Chief of Staff Dan Halutz shown the door.

But the respected pundits say the army actually achieved surprising results in spite of all the media babble. Hezbollah leader Nasrallah’s statements two days ago were taken by many as an admission of Israel’s success in the war. Nasrallah said he’d made a mistake when he’d kidnapped the two Israeli soldiers, never expecting Israel’s “insane” response.

Many think his statements came because of the internal pressure he is facing in Lebanon. Hezbollah's Beirut neighborhood is destroyed, as are at least half of the long-range missiles. Shiites in the south who fled their homes returned to bombed out shells. Nasrallah must somehow justify himself, and he’s doing it by blaming ‘those crazy Israelis.’

The Israeli analysts think that the mere fact that the Lebanese government is sending troops into south Lebanon is a major victory in its own right. The fact that the UN is going to try to help is another plus. These same analysts point out that for now Hezbollah is no longer right on the border fence, in most places, waving their yellow flags and spitting at Israelis. Also, the thousands of Israeli troops still in Lebanon are going over the areas they patrol with a fine-tooth comb. A number of well-concealed bunkers, tunnels, and weapons caches have been uncovered, and destroyed, some only meters from the border.

Hezbollah appears to have lost some standing in Lebanon. While Hezbollah is still popular among the Shiite masses, 2/3rds of the Sunni population have said Hezbollah made a mistake starting the war. One commentator said that proof of Nasrallah’s loss was the fact that he is still hiding out in bunkers, while Israelis have returned to the light of day.

The average man in Jerusalem is still livid over the way the war was fought, and wants answers. Most agree that the army became fat and lazy. One high-ranking officer told a friend that the management side of the army, the huge bloated bureaucracy, soaked up huge sums of money that should have gone for upgrading weapons, ordering supplies, and making certain the command structure was intact. The Army’s investigation into the way the war was handled is supposed to take care of these problems. One wonders who will be investigating whom, though. If the same guys who made the mistakes are responsible for clearing up the problems, little can be expected to change.

Ex-generals, and ex-chiefs of staff, will run the Army committee, some of whom were in command when the problems began. Still, most agree at this stage it’s better to start with a low level inquiry than one that upsets the entire command structure. The army, it has been pointed out, was in the process of restructuring before the war started, and if these reforms are carried out, many of the problems should be solved.

Still, guys like Benny, a businessman in Jerusalem with extensive contacts in the media and the army, said that the government should have known what it could accomplish before they started a war. “They weren’t ready,” Benny said. Many commanders knew of the short falls in supplies, but went to war anyway. Luckily the army did okay, but Benny thought it was in spite of the confusion in orders, and indecision.

Retired General now Knesset Member Matan Vilnai, once commander of the northern front, who serves on the Knesset Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee, said that plans the army offered to the government as operable were in fact only expectations of what could be. Each battle plan took time to put into practice, and then time to correct once the battles began. Vilnai said that because the orders kept changing, it was impossible for commanders in the field to execute plans that needed careful adjustments.

According to Vilnai even though the government blundered, the army managed to make significant success. Still, he believes the army will get to the bottom of the foul-ups. Too much money is wasted, he said. The army has all the budget it needs to get the job done, to buy new weapons, to upgrade what they have. But they’ll have to cut the fat. And about time too, he said.

Yesterday, balloons flew at the spot where Gilad Shalit was kidnapped. Yesterday was his birthday. Newspaper reports say he’s still in good health, but no one seems to know who is holding him captive. A spokesman for Hamas said yesterday that organization isn’t holding him. Another Hamas official made waves yesterday when he said that the war in Lebanon had destroyed Hamas. He said that anarchy and theft were running wild in Gaza. He claimed that it was time to talk to the Israelis, and get some order back. Perhaps this was a hint that Gilad Shalit, who Hamas denies holding, will soon be freed as part of a prisoner swap.

The other two soldiers held by Hezbollah may also soon be freed. Reverend Jesse Jackson has made an appearance in the Middle East to try to speed up the process. In the past he’d been called upon to visit Syria on diplomatic missions.

UN Sec General Kofi Anan is visiting the Middle East. He has demanded the release of the Israeli soldiers, in accordance with UN Resolution 1701. So far nothing has come of the demands. Israelis were reminded of what happens when kidnapped soldiers aren’t returned immediately. Clips were shown on Israeli TV last night of Ron Arad, an Israeli pilot who fell into Lebanese hands 18 years ago. He has not been heard from since 1988. But last night Lebanese TV aired a promo clip of an upcoming documentary on Ron Arad. Speculation is wild in Israel why the Lebanese are showing this documentary now. An Israeli producer, who helped provide some of the footage for the show, said nothing new was in the program. No new details of what happened to Arad after he was captured.

But the promo did bring back to the publics mind what happens when soldiers aren’t returned quickly. Arad reportedly is anywhere from Lebanon to Iran, from still being held prisoner, to buried in a secret grave. The saga of Ron Arad has been going on for a long time in Israel, and it is a stark reminder not only of how much Israelis honor those captured, but how deeply each soldier is revered. A ten-million dollar reward is still unclaimed for help locating Ron Arad. One only hopes that the Israel won't need the same desperate measures, and undergo the wrenching emotional trauma, because of the three Israeli soldiers still held by Hamas and Hezbollah.

Some commentators say that Israel shouldn’t have agreed to a cease-fire until Hezbollah and Hamas agreed to turn over the three Israeli prisoners. Once this prisoner issue is resolved, it will be clearer who were the winners and losers in the Lebanon War II. And like the Six-Day War, every little detail of this war will be picked over for decades to come. What Olmert’s done up to now and will do in the future will be part of Israel’s history. A history he, Peretz and Halutz want to look good in.