No longer spoiled for choice

By Amir Oren


Adar 21, 5767

"Why is Hassan Nasrallah still alive?" Defense Minister Amir Peretz was asked not long ago. The question referred to the declared resolve of the government, the Israel Defense Forces and Peretz himself - he's the fellow who promised that Nasrallah would not forget his name - to strike at the Hezbollah leader, who inflicted great troubles on them, which have resulted in ordeals at the hands of Micha Lindenstrauss and Eliahu Winograd. Peretz did not take issue with the rationale of the question. "You didn't give me his exact map coordinates," he quipped.

In other words, we will get around to attacking Nasrallah, once we know for sure that an operational opportunity has arisen. So, ostensibly, all that separates Nasrallah from Allah is corroborated real-time information. For his own good, Nasrallah had better not become complacent, but Peretz, and above him Prime Minister Ehud Olmert, and below them Chief of Staff Gabi Ashkenazi (who is more moderate than they), would have to be very daring, very desperate, to put the Israeli civilian sector at the risk of the kind of response that a surprise attack on Nasrallah would bring.

Brigadier General (res.) Amos Gilboa, former head of the research division of Military Intelligence, studied the killing of Nasrallah's predecessor, Abbas Mussawi. Gilboa related last year that the idea of abducting Mussawi as a bargaining chip for the missing Air Force navigator Ron Arad, aired in a talk show in February 1992, morphed into an intelligence gathering exercise about his movements at a certain event, and from there to planning how to assassinate him. The decision-making process, Gilboa said, was compromised by negligence and incompetence.

In July 2006, Olmert, Peretz and their ministerial colleagues made a decision that relied separating knowledge from what it obliges. They lacked not data but internalization, understanding and translation of the information provided into organization and implementation. Now, when everyone on both sides of the border can see the shortcomings that have yet to be corrected, a decision on an operation that poses the risk of again exposing the home front to blows might be interpreted as a card player's last reckless gamble.

The human price exacted by the failures on the home front need no elaboration. Equally important is the political and security price: Israel's diminished freedom of operation. If the home front cannot protect itself, the government, which is cautious because of last year's blunders, will find it difficult to decide on an attack that will generate a response. A conscious entry into a limited confrontation is no longer a genuine option. Only the two polar alternatives are feasible: either a massive strike, in the hope of destroying everything that is liable to hit the civilian sector but at the risk of an escalation to all-out war, or restraint.

And that, in essence, is what is most despicable in Olmert's slashing assault on the state comptroller. The delay in providing replies to Lindenstrauss, which delayed the report and the correction of the shortcomings, hurt security. Olmert is meant to know the IDF's strategic situation assessment.

The strategic situation assessment for this year, which was drawn up in the General Staff's Plans and Policy Directorate, and authorized by the echelons above it, found a decline in the stability of the regional alignment and identified arenas liable to erupt: Lebanon, Syria, Iran and the Palestinians. It notes a "rise in the possibility of a collision with Syria and Lebanon," and warns about the encroachment of the global Jihad movement in the region. Increasingly, the IDF's readiness emphasizes the improvement of the operational response to the missile and surface-to-surface rocket threats. They pose a direct threat to the home front (and also to military bases and sensitive infrastructure facilities). If Olmert does not protect the civilian sector, he is allowing Nasrallah, Bashar Assad and the ayatollahs in Tehran to turn the entire population into hostages.

Two weeks before July 12, 2006, Home Front Command conducted an exercise codenamed "Bay Watch," based on a scenario of deterioration involving the northern front. The scenario proved remarkably accurate: "A step up from the 'dialogue of deterrence' - Hezbollah will exacerbate its terror operations and engage in flat- and steep-trajectory firing into the Israeli home front. At the center of the deterioration is steep-trajectory firing that goes on for about ten days. An extensive military operation is possible, mainly involving Lebanon. If a ground operation is carried out, this will go on for three additional weeks. The civilian rear is attacked from the start of the deterioration until the end of the war. The steep-trajectory firing will be broad in scale, up to 40 kilometers. The firing of surface-to-surface rockets of intermediate and long range does not take place in the first stages of the escalation, but as a measure of continuation during the period of deterioration and in response to Israeli action."

And more: "Working assumptions: Hezbollah possesses the ability to launch long-range surface-to-surface rockets that cover metropolitan Tel Aviv. None of the rockets fired at Israel are intercepted. Summation of Hezbollah's scale of firing: 110-115 rockets on an average day, 230 on a peak day. Hits will occur in a broad array of civilian localities on the Nahariya line and on the Acre-Carmiel-Safed line, and there will be selective firing at main population concentrations in the Haifa area, as far as the Zichron Yaakov line, and at strategic facilities."

Where were Olmert and Peretz during this exercise? Did they read the scenario and the lessons before making decisions on escalation, however justified a response this was in the wake of the abductions in Gaza and the North? Why is it that what was obvious to the GOC Home Front Command, Gershon Yitzhak, and to the chief of the Police Northern District, Dan Ronen, was not grasped by the political echelon? How could the prime minister make do with a general remark such as, "There will be a complex and difficult situation" in the rear, as though he were a commentator, without exercising his responsibility to prepare ahead of time and facilitate conditions for the population in light of the onrushing situation? Who decided that evacuating settlers from Gaza requires prolonged preparations by army divisions and police control headquarters, but that the home front could be left to private arrangements to be worked out between the army officer and the police officer?

When Gad Shamni - now a major general and Olmert's military secretary - was head of the operations division in the General Staff, he warned about the weakness of the interministerial alignment: the civilian elements are not connected well to the IDF. Organizational responsibility for the civilian rear remained in the IDF, mainly because no efficient body could be found outside of the army. It is essential to appoint a minister in the Prime Minister's Office to oversee Home Front Command at all times, and in an emergency also the police, the firefighters, the hospital authorities and the Agriculture Ministry, which deals with shortages in grains for fodder.

Home Front Command was established in 1992 on the ruins of the Civilian and Territorial Defense Corps as one of the lessons of Israel's helplessness in the face of the Iraqi Scuds in 1991. From the mid-1980s until the Gulf War of 1991, the State Comptroller's Office drew up three secret reports, which had little influence. It was only the public exposure of the fourth report, at the end of the war, that jolted the system, and even that took some time.

The role of the report by the current state comptroller, retired judge Micha Lindenstrauss, is to make it impossible to say after the next failure that it could have been prevented. To speed up the examination of the home front, the State Comptroller's Office used about a quarter of its professional personnel, even at the expense of other reviews, including the suspicions that Olmert was involved in corrupt practices.

The bureaucratic and political apparatuses like internal, quiet reviews. They praise the comptrollers of the defense establishment, retired senior officers who are invited to General Staff meetings, sit through them quietly and clandestinely write important reports that point to certain shortcomings but cannot solve substantive problems. It's a good thing that Olmert didn't try to tempt the state comptroller with the great honor of sitting in on cabinet meetings.

Veterans of the State Comptroller's Office are longing for the times of the German-born comptrollers, meticulous and precise, who also initially engage in internal correspondence in their mother tongue. The first state comptroller, Dr. Siegfried Moses, kept his distance from both the prime minister, David Ben-Gurion, and from the media. His successor, Dr. Yitzhak Nebenzahl, was a member of the Agranat Commission, which probed the Yom Kippur War. But who needs a silent, polite comptroller? The more he shouts, the more he angers people and urges and forces change, the better. In the distant past, as Haim Cohn, the first state prosecutor and the attorney general in the 1950s, admitted, everyone took shelter under Ben-Gurion's wing, and things were decided secretly. That was a different time; under Lindenstrauss we have moved on, and rightly so, to the period of "these are the names."