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Moshe Yaalon: 'Former Chief Of Staff Dan Halutz Caused The IDF To Fail In Second Lebanon War'

'I Believe That If I Had Been In Command War Would Have Ended Entirely Different'

'I Repeatedly Tried To Persuade Halutz That Air Power Alone Could Not Knock Out Hezbollah'

Moshe Yaalon, former IDF Chief of Staff

Not only Israel, but countries in the Middle East and the international community are still pondering what happened to the vaunted Israel Defense Forces Israel in last summer's war against Hezbollah guerrillas in Lebanon. The Winograd Commission has painted the the broad outline focusing on the faulty decision making of Prime Minister Ehud Olmert, Defense Minister Amir Peretz and former Chief of Staff Dan Halutz. But it is Halutz's predecessor, Moshe Yaalon who has spelled out what what went wrong from the strategic and tactical points of view. Yaalon who served as Chief of Staff from 2002 , after the IDF withdrawal from southern Lebanon, until the spring of 2005, has given extensive interviews to the Maariv newspaper and Channel One TV. IsraCast summarizes these two important insights into what went wrong in the Second Lebanon war.

'Hezbollah was already deployed along the Lebanese border when I was appointed Chief of Staff in the summer of 2002 ' said Yaalon. Hezbollah guerrillas had moved into the security zone which was unilaterally evacuated by the then prime minister Ehud Barak. Yaalon, who had opposed the unilateral pullout while serving as military intelligence chief, stressed there were no understandings with the Beirut government over who would control the evacuated territory down to the Israeli frontier. As Chief of Staff during the ensuing period, Yaalon has come under fire for not insisting on a tougher IDF response to the repeated Hezbollah attacks across the border. The former commander rejects the criticism saying by the end of his tour of duty the IDF exerted pressure on Hezbollah which forced the guerrillas to halt their cross border provocations.

IDF Tank in the Second Lebanon War

But the year after Yaalon took charge, the IDF suspended training for reserve units in order to cut costs. Was this not the start of a deterioration in the reserves that became apparent during last summer's war? Yaalon retorts that he feels frustrated because what happened during the war should not have happened. The same IDF with the same budget and the same level of training should have finished the war differently. And he adds : ' I have a bad feeling that if I had been there things would have looked totally different '. Yaalon contended that he had prepared the army at all command levels for the Lebanon scenario and the ground forces should have been ready to enter the fighting.

He explained: ' When you go to war you must know exactly what are the capabilities and the weak points and there are always weak points. When the IDF depends on its reserves not all the reserve forces are at peak readiness. Therefore you initiate a prudent course of action , even if its reaction to a provocation. Even if you train the reserves every year, which didn't occur recently, they will still be rusty. You must allow the reserves you mobilize to clean the rust '.

How did this work in the past?

Yaalon: ' Take Operation Defensive Shield for example. ( IDF operation on the West Bank in 2002 after suicide bombers massacred scores of civilians inside Israel ). There was the suicide bombing at the Passover ceremony at a hotel in Netanya. Regular units were sent in first allowing the reservists time to get organized for battle. Whoever needed it trained on his tank before being sent in a little later.

So what happened in Lebanon?

There was a severe administration problem. Yaalon declared categorically: 'The bottom line was that the Chief of Staff caused the army to fail. I know the commanders at divisional, brigade and battalion levels. What, are they all failures? These are the commanders that foreign officers come to learn from them'.

But how did Gen. Dan Halutz fail the army?

Dan Halutz (Photo: Amit Shabi)

' It happens when the political echelon meets the military and they decide to go to war without realizing what is the result of their decision. They decide on a reaction without taking into account what the political achievement should be from the military operation. The discussion was basically emotional. It's as if you're angry and you want to kick the wall with your bare foot. A fraction of a second before your foot hits the wall you feel you're really going to give it to that wall! Bit it ends very painfully. The Chief of Staff should have presented all the pros and cons to the government but he swept them aside'.

The outbreak of the war found the retired Yaalon in Washington a guest at a think tank. He identified the IDF's weak points in the first days knowing that air power could not provide the answer to Katyusha rockets. He asked why the reserves were not being mobilized because it was clear to him that a ground operation would be required if the fighting continued. At the end of the first week he understood from the Americans that Israel requested an unlimited time- frame to crack down on Hezbollah - a few weeks or a few months. Yaalon said ' he wrung his head in his hands ' asking who thinks air strikes can knock out Hezbollah guerrillas in a few weeks or months? He conveyed messages to the Chief of Staff via Israel's military attach to Washington. Eleven days after the war's outbreak, Yaalon flew to Israel with the aim of meeting Gen. Halutz and Prime Minister Olmert but to no avail; neither would agree to even see the former Chief of Staff.

David Essing

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