Thursday, 8 March 2007

Israel's Hezbollah war: the best laid plans

Thursday, March 08, 2007

From Matthew Kalman, Jerusalem

Last summer's war in Lebanon was "planned months in advance" according to today's edition of the Israeli daily, Haaretz.

According to the newspaper, Prime Minister Ehud Olmert told the Winograd Commission, set up to inquire into Israeli shortcomings in the war, that Israeli leaders had already decided how to respond if Hezbollah repeated its October 2000 kidnapping of three Israeli soldiers on the border with Lebanon.

Olmert said that in March 2006, he "asked the army commanders whether operational plans existed for such a possibility, and they said yes. He asked to see the plans, and they asked why. He responded that he did not want to make a snap decision in the case of an abduction, and preferred to decide at that moment. Presented with the options, he selected a moderate plan that included air attacks accompanied by a limited ground operation."

In fact, as the Chronicle reported in the early days of the hostilities, such planning had been long been underway. ('Israel set war plan more than a year ago')

"Of all of Israel's wars since 1948, this was the one for which Israel was most prepared," Gerald Steinberg, professor of political science at Bar-Ilan University, told the Chronicle at the time.

The outcome, as we now know, was a disaster -- both for Lebanon and for Israel.

Responding to the Chronicle story, some commentators made great play of the revelation that the Israeli assault was not a sudden reaction to perceived aggression, but a military action planned well in advance.

Much of that commentary was distorted.

For example, the Diplomatic Times Review asserted that the Chronicle's "analysis suggests that the attack on Hezbollah inside Lebanon was going to take place regardless of Hezbollah's action."

Guardian columnist George Monbiot, quoting the Chronicle story, concluded that "Israel's assault, then, was premeditated: it was simply waiting for an appropriate excuse. It was also unnecessary."

However necessary, or unnecessary, Israel's invasion of Lebanon was -- and the criticism of the war's execution has been unremitting inside Israel -- the Haaretz report shows that Olmert was not simply waiting for an "excuse," he was seeking to plan for a crisis which seemed likely to happen (and did) after the abduction of Israeli Cpl. Gilad Shalit (still being held) in a Palestinian raid across the border with Gaza.

"During deliberations last June, following Shalit's abduction, Olmert told the committee he was certain there would be a similar attempt to kidnap soldiers on the Lebanese border. He ordered the IDF to prevent this," according to Haaretz.

Posted By: Foreign and National Desk (Email) | March 08 2007 at 06:45 PM

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