Cablegate: Initial Impact of Israel-Hizballah War On Israel

Published: Fri 25 Aug 2006 11:32 AM
Leza L Olson 08/28/2006 01:41:33 PM From DB/Inbox: Leza L Olson
C O N F I D E N T I A L TEL AVIV 03399
DE RUEHTV #3399/01 2371132
P 251132Z AUG 06
C O N F I D E N T I A L SECTION 01 OF 04 TEL AVIV 003399
E.O. 12958: DECL: 08/22/2016
Classified By: Political Counselor Norm Olsen. Reasons: 1.4 (b, d)
1. (C) In the wake of the 34-day Israel-Hizballah War, the
Israeli Defense Forces (IDF) are reviewing their performance
across the board, and taking stock of achievements and
mistakes with an eye towards assigning blame, where
necessary, and gathering lessons learned for application in
future such conflicts. Israeli media reports have been
largely negative, reporting on alleged logistical failures,
equipment problems, and an absence of sound leadership
throughout the conflict. IDF Chief of Staff LTG Dan Halutz
has been criticized, for instance, for selling his stocks in
the early hours of the conflict, and then taking a few hours
off to take care of family matters. The replacement of the
IDF's battlefield commander midway through the conflict was
also the subject of intense media speculation. Israel's
political leadership -- reeling from the media attack and the
apparent public concern for how the war was conducted and
ended -- has called for the formation of a professional
commission of inquiry. At this stage, it is still too early
to speculate on what effect the commission will have, if any.
Nevertheless, the IDF will not be able to proceed with
business as usual -- especially as most Israelis expect that
a second round with Hizballah is just around the corner. END
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2. (C) Near the close of the Israel-Hizballah War, long-time
embassy contacts within the MOD conveyed to emboffs upbeat
assessments of the results of the war. The MOD's POC for
Strategic Dialogues, Rami Yungman, told poloff August 8 that
he did not expect to see any shake-up within Israel's
military intelligence community in the aftermath of the war.
While Yungman could not clearly define an Israeli victory
over Hizballah, he strained to point out that Israel had
succeeded in degrading Hizballah's long-range rocket
capability, and shown Hizballah that if it attacks Israel, it
will pay a heavy price. MOD Political-Military Bureau Head
MGEN (Res.) Amos Gilad told CODEL Miller and emboffs August 9
that "the results of the bloody war with Hizballah were
better than they could have been. Hizballah's long-range
rockets have been destroyed," he claimed. "Bunkers near the
border have been destroyed. It is a real intelligence
victory." Gilad added, "We have counted the Hizballah dead,
name-by-name, as we have a list with at least 250 names on
it. We cannot release it due to sensitivity. Meanwhile,
Hizballah is hiding the corpses and not releasing the names."
3. (C) More time to reflect after the war's cessation on
August 14 has led to more sober assessments of the IDF's
performance and Israel's achievements. General Halutz
reportedly claimed in an August 21 Cabinet meeting that
Israel had won "not by a knock-out, but on points," and
admitted to reservists with whom he met that failures had
been made, and that his sale of stocks on the day the war
began was an error in judgment. Israeli Defense Intelligence
(IDI) officers told a visiting Senate Foreign Relations
Committee staffer August 24 that Israel succeeded in placing
Hizballah in a "more inferior position than before," even if
Hizballah has not been significantly degraded in a military
sense. The widespread destruction of Hizballah's offices in
southern Beirut are seen by the IDI as a significant blow to
the "state within a state" concept that Hizballah had
successfully projected. The IDI believes that Hizballah is
concerned about the strengthening of Lebanon's statehood, the
expansion of its sovereignty with the Lebanese Armed Forces'
(LAF) deployment in the south, and the increasing involvement
of the international community in Lebanon. The IDI officers
admitted that Hizballah had not been "knocked out," but
claimed that many of its medium-to-long range rockets
launchers had been destroyed, most of its bunkers and
positions in the south had been demolished, and some 500 of
its fighters had been killed. On the other hand, the IDI
officers noted that Hizballah retains a residual long-range
missile capability, still possesses an estimated 6,000-8,000
short-range rockets, maintained its command and control
capability during and after the war, and is already
rebuilding a number of its offices that the Israeli Air Force
destroyed in bombing attacks on southern Beirut. The IDI
officers uniformly agreed that it is highly unlikely that the
GOL or LAF will try to disarm or dismantle Hizballah.
4. (C) The new MOD director general, MGEN (Ret.) Gabi
Ashkenazi told the Ambassador August 24 that the IDF is still
examining how it managed the war, and that it is too early to
draw any specific conclusions. Ashkenazi said, however, that
it is clear that there were failures and that steps must be
taken to ensure that they do not happen again. According to
the DG, IDF Chief of Staff LTG Dan Halutz has already drawn
up a plan that will address problems with reservists, command
and control, and Israel's level of readiness: "We know what
to do. We need to provide more training to the reservists.
We need to admit that our regular forces were more involved
in executing operations in the West Bank and Gaza than they
probably should have been." "The biggest lesson learned,"
Ashkenazi added," is that the results could have and should
have been better. The military experts will specify the
successes and failures in numerous areas. A number of
reasons have to do with how we began the war, what the
targets were, and how to hit them." Ashkenazi stressed that
he believes that Hizballah has been hurt and that the GOL is
taking on more responsibility: "Still, we should prepare for
a second round with Hizballah, and possibly Syria, because
Syria must pay for its role in this war."
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5. (C) While the IDF is looking inward and compiling lessons
learned, the Israeli media is giving voice to frustrated IDF
soldiers and bereaved families that feel Israel's military
performed poorly during the war. One of the themes in the
criticism concerns technology, with the assertion being that
nothing should be too expensive when it comes to saving
lives. In mid-July, the Jerusalem Post ran an article
alleging that several senior Armored Corps officers expressed
their frustration over what they claimed was the defense
establishment's refusal to pay for the installation of the
Trophy active defense system on Israel's Merkava tanks. The
officers claimed that that Trophy system -- developed by
Israeli defense industry giant Rafael -- is capable of
neutralizing all anti-tank rockets in Hizballah's arsenal,
and said that soldiers were being killed and wounded
unnecessarily, paying the price for budget constraints.
Ashkenazi told the Ambassador in their August 24 meeting that
the MOD "stunned" PM Olmert when it presented its budget
request on August 23: "The figures are huge, but we need a
budget. It is the second priority for me after resolving the
export control issue and putting it behind us."
6. (SBU) The Israeli paper, Yedioth Ahronoth, recently
reported of an August 20 meeting between IDF Chief of Staff
Halutz and commanders of the Alexandroni Brigade -- a unit
that fought in the western sector of southern Lebanon --
during which the commanders related how their junior officers
no longer have confidence in the IDF's senior officers. The
commanders told Halutz about problems they faced with the
supply of food and water to combat areas, missing equipment,
and outdated tactical intelligence. One officer reportedly
complained that he received photos of a village his unit was
to enter that were taken in 2002. Two reservists from the
Alexandroni Brigade noted their intent to start a protest
march from the historic battle site of Castel, outside
Jerusalem, to the Prime Minister's residence in Jerusalem.
They said that once at the residence, they would stage a
sit-in until Prime Minister Olmert resigns. One of the
soldiers told the newspaper, "We are at a turning point. We
have finished a campaign, and now Iran and Syria are waiting.
We have a strong army, but the leadership does not know what
to do."
7. (SBU) More recently, the Israeli Internet news outlet YNET
reported on a petition submitted by reservists of the Galilee
Division's 300th Brigade to their commander in which they
claimed that their company commander refused to debrief the
soldiers in order to gather lessons learned regarding
battlefield operations, their equipment, and the manner of
their release from duty. In the petition, the soldiers state
they do not intend to serve further in the IDF, and request
that they not be called up for future active reserve duty.
One of the petition-signers interviewed by YNET stated that
his unit destroyed launchers and terrorist infrastructure in
the western zone of southern Lebanon, but received poor
treatment and faulty equipment, and suffered from supply
problems. Another of the signers complained that the amount
of recovery time after their operations deep in Lebanon was
insufficient. When asked, unidentified IDF sources stated
that they are looking into the complaints lodged in the
petition. Israeli commentators observe that this particular
issue is resolvable, but -- if not handled correctly -- could
lead to a situation in which members of the 300th Brigade
move their protest to Jerusalem.
8. (SBU) In another recent petition, IDF reservists assigned
to the Spearhead Brigade in Lebanon vigorously protested to
Israeli DefMin Peretz and General LTG Halutz what they termed
indecisiveness and "cold feet" among Israel's leadership.
They claim that the indecisiveness manifested itself in
inaction, the failure to carry out operational plans,
last-minute cancellation of missions, and prolonged stays in
hostile territory. The signers suggest that the war aims
were not clearly defined and were changed during the course
of the fighting, and that the leadership ultimately sought to
avoid engagement with the enemy. In light of this, the
signers wonder why they were called up, and charge Israel's
leadership with immorality and shamelessness, as well as
irresponsibility in not preparing over the previous six years
for the fight with Hizballah. The signers assert that they
will fulfill future call-ups, but also contend that the
crisis of confidence affecting the IDF will not be resolved
until there is a thorough investigation conducted that leads
to conclusions concerning strategic planning, national
security, and personal leadership.
9. (SBU) Conveying a sense of pleasant surprise, the
newspaper Yedioth Ahronoth reported extensively August 21 on
remarks made by Chief Infantry and Paratroopers Officer BGEN
Yossi Hyman at his own retirement ceremony. According to the
paper, Hyman acknowledged publicly his and many other
officers' personal responsibility for the failure to prepare
Israel's troops for war. He attributed the collective
failure and missed opportunities to "the sin of arrogance," a
focus on achievements, deliberate efforts to cover up
military ignorance, and a lack of understanding about the
profession of arms. Hyman stressed to all present that it is
time for the IDF to "demonstrate quiet, honest, responsible
and mature leadership," and investigate all the problems and
failures that occurred. He suggested that this is necessary
to prepare for the next war -- a war with an enemy that is
constantly improving itself and strengthening.
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10. (SBU) In a move that appears designed to head off
mounting criticism -- but which is also in keeping with
precedents set by the 1973 Yom Kippur War and the 1982
Invasion of Lebanon -- DefMin Peretz announced August 16 that
he would establish a committee of inquiry to examine the
events of the Israel-Hizballah War. Even though Peretz
appointed a former IDF chief of staff, Amnon Lipkin-Shahak,
to head the committee, Israeli media reports suggest that the
announcement of the commission was met with harsh criticism
from members of the IDF, defense establishment and the
Knesset. Unidentified military sources reportedly expressed
skepticism that the committee could be critical of DefMin
Peretz, as Lipkin-Shahak served on Peretz's team of external
advisers during the war. Meretz-Yahad MK Yossi Beilin
cautioned that he would not accept Peretz's committee as a
substitute for an independent state commission of inquiry.
Likud MK Gideon Sa'ar stressed in his public comments that
any such committee should investigate Israel's political
leadership as well as the IDF. National Union-NRP MK Uri
Ariel compared Peretz's committee to a "spit in the face" of
Israel's soldiers, contending that the general public and
Israeli soldiers demand an independent commission that can
examine the Defense Minister. On August 21, Peretz's
committee suspended its activities after one day of work,
providing no reason to the public for the suspension. Media
analysts suggest two possible reasons: that an independent
state commission is being formed, and that the Justice
Ministry is reviewing a demand by the IDF that testifying
officers be provided immunity.
11. (SBU) Two other investigative bodies are on track to
examine the events prior to, during, and after the war. The
State Comptroller's Office is collecting data and documents
for an investigation, details of which remain scarce. The
Knesset's powerful Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee has
already conducted an investigation and is soon to provide an
interim report of its findings. Preliminary findings
revealed to the press indicate that the report's authors will
contend that there were serious flaws in the home front's
preparedness for a war, and that Home Front Command had been
in a state of only "partial operation" and did not call up
its reserves. The committee's report will also claim that
the GOI never discussed evacuating people from the north, and
that there was no entity to coordinate the activity of NGOs
operating in the north during the war. Such claims will
likely encourage complaints from residents of northern
Israel, many of whom contend that the GOI abandoned them
early on in the war.
12. (SBU) A majority of the Foreign Affairs and Defense
Committee's members support the establishment of a state
commission of inquiry. Only Kadima members, including
committee Chairman Tzachi Hanegbi, have opposed the formation
of a state commission. Arguing that there is no choice but
to establish a state commission, Labor MK and former IDF
Major General Matan Vilnai -- who lost out to Peretz for
leadership of Labor and who sees himself as a future Prime
Minister -- told the press, "We are in a crisis similar to
that after the Yom Kippur War from the point of view of the
behavior of the army and intelligence."
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13. (SBU) Amid all the accusations of incompetence from
quarters critical of the IDF and DefMin Peretz, voices are
also being heard from soldiers families. Protests mounted by
IDF reservists in Jerusalem August 21 were joined by family
members of some of the more than 110 IDF soldiers killed in
the Israel-Hizballah War. One mother of an IDF sergeant
killed in Lebanon told Ha'aretz journalists, "The leadership
failed and it must go. For that, we do not need inquiries."
Other family members have called for the resignations of PM
Olmert, DefMin Peretz, and General Halutz. A group of
mourning families have announced their intention to hold a
protest march on August 25, and present a letter to PM Olmert
demanding his resignation. Israelis appear to be processing
the results of the war while still in a state of shock from
the war itself. As one Israeli citizen commented to poloff,
this is the first time Israel watched a war it was involved
in real-time. Israelis learned within hours about
casualties, deaths and battlefield developments, whereas in
previous wars (e.g., the Six Day War, the Yom Kippur War),
they received packaged results days after those wars had ended
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