Repeating Lebanon Mistakes in Gaza

IDF Intelligence expert Gen. Amidror's conclusions after reading the Winograd Report: The mistakes of Lebanon are being repeated in Gaza.

Hillel Fendel ,

The recently-released Winograd Report listed one of its main objectives as educational - and thus IDF Intelligence expert Maj.-Gen. (ret.) Amidror's paper on the report's strategic lessons is of great import.

His paper, entitled "Strategic Lessons of the Winograd Commission Report," was published this week by the Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs, which is headed by Israel's former Ambassador to the UN, Dr. Dore Gold.

Gen. Amidror notes that though the Winograd report concentrates on the flaws in the decision-making process leading up to last summer's war, it also "contains important insights into the strategic thinking that was predominant in the Israeli political-military leadership from the time of Israel's unilateral withdrawal from Lebanon until the outbreak of hostilities in July 2006."

Amidror's main conclusion is that the mistakes made along our Lebanese border over the past several years are now being dangerously repeated in Gaza.

Tough Declarations Following Withdrawal
Amidror notes, based on the Winograd report, that after then-Prime Minister Ehud Barak unilaterally withdrew Israeli forces from southern Lebanon in May 2000, Israel "declared that any violation of Israeli sovereignty would bring about a harsh and immediate Israeli response. These declarations stipulated that in the event of any assault on Israeli soldiers or civilians, all of Lebanon, Syria, and Hizbullah would be affected. The purpose of these statements was to build up Israeli deterrence in the aftermath of the withdrawal."

However, despite the strong warnings, Israel responded only locally to the kidnapping of three Israeli soldiers only a few months later, in October 2000. Winograd quotes then-Deputy Defense Minister Efraim Sneh, who said that Israel did not respond more forcefully because it did not want to show that its Lebanon withdrawal had actually produced an escalatory effect. Moreover, the Second Intifada had erupted and the Israeli government was concerned about having to wage a two-front war. This policy of restraint continued through March 2002, when Hizbullah terrorists infiltrated into northern Israel and murdered six Jews. 

The Winograd Commission found that as a result, another view became deeply rooted in the Israeli security establishment to the effect that Hizbullah's military buildup was not so terrible as long as relative quiet along the border was preserved.

"Israel knew that Hizbullah was gaining strength and acquiring weaponry," Amidror concludes after studying the Winograd findings, "but it preferred to turn a blind eye. As a result, Israel did not prepare for war with an enemy that was far more powerful than it had been in the past."

A Similar Process in Gaza
Amidror extrapolates: "In the Gaza Strip, a similar process is underway. Hamas is getting stronger as it organizes itself, digs fortifications underground, and builds up its military capabilities." While Israel delays the confrontation with Hamas because of a temporary truce or some other illusory understanding, "we are likely to find ourselves in exactly the same position in Gaza that we created with respect to Lebanon."

Amidror says that Winograd mis-described Israeli policy towards Lebanon during 2000-2006 as one of "containment" - though Israel did not, in fact, use force to prevent its adversary from reinforcing its capabilities.  However, in Gaza, Amidror says, what Israel is doing is even more harmful and dangerous: 

"[In Gaza, Israel] is rather ignoring reality altogether. This is an extremely costly policy. Few have any idea what price Israel will have to pay if it moves into Gaza in two or three years, when Hamas feels strengthened and has the capability to launch 122mm Katyusha rockets - which Hizbullah possessed in the thousands - as far as Ashdod and Kiryat Gat. Israeli decision-makers will have to take into account that inaction has a price, as well."

"Anyone who has dealt with military affairs knows that it is impossible to thwart the firing of Katyusha or Kassam rockets by means of artillery fire, or by means of any land-based or air-based firepower... It is now clear that the only way to thwart rocket attacks is by controlling the situation on the ground."

Kassam rockets are today landing in Sderot and Ashkelon, Amidror writes, because Israel does not control the situation on the ground in Gaza - as opposed to the situation in the Shomron, where Israel prevents Kassam rockets because of its control of the ground in the area.

Only One Solution
"The only way to deal with such situations [in both the north and south]," Amidror concludes, "is to allow the IDF to cross the border and halt such offensive preparations."