Editor’s Notes: ‘I cannot make up my mind whether Olmert should resign’

By David Horovitz February 7, 2008

A political storm is raging over the purported politicization of the Winograd Committee, based on comments attributed to one of its members, Yehezkel Dror. Before that storm broke, The Jerusalem Post spent two hours getting an insider’s account of Winograd from Dror, as well as many insights into his own thinking. Did he help produce a skewed war report? You can judge for yourselves.

About two weeks before the Winograd Committee published its final report into the Second Lebanon War, The Jerusalem Post was telephoned by the spokesman for the Jewish People Policy Planning Institute, the Jerusalem think-tank whose founder and president is Winograd Committee member Yehezkel Dror. The veteran political science professor, who is soon to turn 80, would be giving a small number of interviews in the wake of the report’s publication, the spokesman said, and would be pleased to speak to the Post.

Of course we agreed, and the appointment was set for this past Monday. It turned out that Dror had also decided to speak to Ma’ariv and Channel 2. It was stipulated that the interviews would be published/broadcast today, Friday.

Our first question to the professor, as Post legal affairs reporter Dan Izenberg and I sat across the table from him at the JPPPI offices at the Hebrew University’s Givat Ram campus, was why was he choosing to speak out? After all, the committee had just spent innumerable hours preparing a colossal report on its year-plus investigation into the war’s failings. Why did he want to add to it?

One of our assumptions going in was that Dror had been disappointed by the thrust of the report, and had wanted something harsher, something that would expedite the political demise of Prime Minister Ehud Olmert. Thanks to the relatively mild tone of the Final Report, especially in contrast to the castigation of the prime minister in the first report last April, Olmert seems set to survive in office for the foreseeable future. And it had been widely reported last month that Dror was overruled by his fellow panelists when seeking precisely the harsher tone that might have produced the opposite outcome.

But this impression was not reinforced in the course of the two hours we spent with Dror, and he also insisted that he had not been the source of any leaks from the committee’s proceedings, regarding disputes with fellow panelists or anything else. Rather, Dror asserted that he was choosing to be interviewed – in contrast to his silent Winograd colleagues – because he hoped to deepen the penetration of the report’s urgent message among Israel’s decision-making elites.

Israel’s first 60 years had been a “heroic success,” he said, but the country’s future was anything but guaranteed. The war had exposed profound failings in Israeli “policy making and policy action” and he felt “a moral obligation and a professional duty” to make sure people understood the imperative for “harsh” and “painful” corrective treatment.

Dror also indicated that he had hugely valued the learning experience of his Winograd work, and that he was rather enjoying this late-life place in the media spotlight. This latter sense is borne out by the fact that, in addition to the media interviews, Dror scheduled various post-Winograd public lectures and appearances. “If Mephistopheles had approached me in a Faustian trade and told me, ‘You get the appointment [to Winograd] but I shorten your lifespan by a couple of years,’ I would have agreed immediately,” he told us.

Yehezkel Dror, who spoke to us in heavily German-accented English, is a figure almost from another era. He speaks loftily, with precision and formality, relying heavily on academic formulations. He introduced a great deal of political philosophizing into the conversation. He drew clear distinctions between comments he was making that related directly to the work of the committee, comments where he was going beyond the committee’s assessments, comments that represented his own personal views, and comments as regards what the Israeli public might reasonably, or even unreasonably, be thinking. And in doing so, he relied on our integrity and professionalism to present those separate, carefully calibrated comments fairly.

He told us that he had selected The Jerusalem Post and the other two media outlets, indeed, because he considered them to be “reputable.” What happened next was plainly not anticipated by Dror.

The agreed Friday “embargo” notwithstanding, Ma’ariv rushed into print on Wednesday with a front page lead story that asked, on the basis of its interview with Dror, whether pro-Olmert political considerations had skewed the work of the Winograd Committee. A political firestorm erupted. Dror hurried to declare that Ma’ariv had misrepresented him. The Winograd Committee dissociated itself from his reported remarks. Politicians from across the spectrum expressed horror about the ostensible political motivation that may have stained the committee’s work. Dror was summoned to appear before the Knesset’s State Control Committee. And there were threats to reopen investigation of the war, this time via a full state commission of inquiry.

Having secured the consent of the JPPPI spokesman to now disregard the embargo, the Post on Thursday carried a front-page news story containing short excerpts of our interview with Dror. This made plain that, in his conversation with us, the professor had indeed spoken of his personal “skeptical” support for the peace process. He had also said that Israeli citizens in general, when considering whether Olmert ought to resign over the handling of the Second Lebanon War, had to balance assessments of prime ministerial guilt alongside questions about the fate of that peace process, whether new elections would disrupt it, and other potential future consequences. “This is a matter for subjective judgment,” Dror had said.

We also made plain that Dror had stressed he was speaking on these particular matters without reference to the work of the Winograd Committee. Our first question to Dror remains central to this episode: Should he have chosen to give interviews at all? Might he not have been wiser to let the Winograd Report speak for itself? And if he were adamant about the need to push the recommendations via interviews, was it sensible to mention his political preferences at all in the same conversations – a case of admirable “full disclosure,” as he put it to us, or naivity?

Dror is a sophisticated man, and he relied on similar sophistication in the way his comments would be presented – an expectation that does not sit easily with the motivations, the agendas, the very nature of Israel’s tabloid press. He also relied on a sophisticated response from Israel’s politicians to a discussion that swirls frenetically around the very future of the governing coalition. And here he really should have known better, having spent a lifetime in close proximity to political leaders, and more than a year investigating the words and deeds of some of the current players.

Below we publish a transcript of our interview, edited for clarity and, somewhat, for length. Thus readers can make up their own minds, on the basis of our conversation with him, about Dror’s integrity and preconceptions and those of the committee on which he sat, and about the legitimacy of the political storm now raging around him.

Prof. Dror, why do you want to speak to us at all? You’ve spent a long, long time on this report, [so why add to it]?

It’s not necessarily the policy of the other committee members [to give interviews]. Each one of us makes his own decisions. The committee has finished its functions. I want to push the recommendations [forward]. In my view, the problems exposed during the war are in large part not unique to the war. They are manifest symptoms of deeper problematics of Israel policy thinking and policy action.

While we mark the 60-year anniversary of the State of Israel this year, 60 years is nothing compared to 2,000 years of not having a state. Sixty years is nothing to get Christianity and Islam used to the idea of having a successful Jewish state, which completely contradicts both Islamic and Christian theologist traditions. Therefore 60 years’ success, heroic success I would say, is no guarantee for the future. The momentum is not [strong] enough to assure thriving or even existence [for Israel]. Therefore Israel must be very good in its crucial choices and in its thinking. It is not so in most areas, according to my evaluation. This is clearly demonstrated during the war of Lebanon – in the Winograd findings and all other writings on it.

I have spent most of my professional life working on problems of policy making around the world and in Israel. And so I feel a moral obligation and a professional duty to use the shock effect of the war [for Israel's benefit]. Really the war was what can be called a small “shock test.” The war is not really very significant, but it reveals problems that existed before, which require, in part, radical treatment. [And I want to highlight] that there are deep problems, that require harsh treatment and painful treatment.

Was it “lucky” that we had the war?

It’s an interesting paradox. History is full of ironies. The fact the peace with Egypt could be achieved out of the partial defeats of the Yom Kippur War is one such irony of history. If used correctly, the shock learning of the Winograd Committee may enable significant improvements in the capacity of Israel to face future security problems, which are likely to become more serious and more complex. Because the Middle East is moving towards more fanatic, highly organized groups, on one hand, which leads to asymmetric, high-intensity conflict, and probably – though hopefully not – nuclearization. And I don’t only mean Iran. If Iran goes [nuclear], other Middle East countries will go too. So, these are radical challenges.

At the same time, there’s the challenge of the peace process. I call it the Jekyll and Hyde strategy. And this requires radical new thinking. The question of how to deter fanatics, or how to deter a nuclear state, is radically different from the use of deterrence in the classical Israel-Arab conflicts.

Which of the Winograd Report’s thrusts do you fear are under-resonating?

For me the Winograd Committee was an intense learning curve. Some of the subjects I knew or thought I knew rather well before. I am supposed to know about the operations of the higher levels of government. But the picture that emerged was worse than I expected. I emerge [from the committee] on two levels. My main text is optimistic. My sub-text is pessimistic or skeptical. Through the committee, I learned in depth about the Lebanon War and got really worried. Not so much because of what happened – not so much happened – but because it indicates problems in our capacity to cope well with what is sure to come.

Now, I can divide this into four or five main dimensions of worry, not in order of importance: First, the quality of leadership – and I don’t mean of this or that particular leader. Second, the quality of strategic thinking, of longer range, deeper, multi-dimensional thinking. Third, the interface, the division of labor between the army and the political levels. This is an old problem. The military carries relatively too much weight. The foreign minister carries too little weight. The fourth worry is over the operation of the army, the fighting capacity of the army. The fifth is over the political system, which put pressure on Olmert to appoint a minister of defense without any background in the field. It is unbelievable in Israel that a prime minister who has no experience in military affairs and very little experience in diplomatic affairs appoints a minister of defense who has no idea whatsoever in government, however bright. [Amir Peretz] has a good IQ but no idea whatsoever.

If one writes a constitution, put in that never should a prime minister also be a minister of defense. And never should there be a case where both the prime minister and the defense minister lack deep experience in defense affairs.

This takes us into a sixth point, which goes beyond Winograd. Israel on critical issues, mainly the peace process, is a blocked society. There are “pro” and “con” people on both sides and many of them are rather dogmatic. But even the non-dogmatic, who hesitate between them, balance one another. It is very hard to reach a decision. And this leads into what we call in the military sense, the “period of floundering.”

In the area of the peace process, it produces oscillations – oscillations which cannot be resolved because there is such a delicate balance and there are such intense true-believers on both sides. I’ll put it metaphorically: Israel needs a leader who combines Lincoln and De Gaulle. We are in a self-created catch, but a catch.

[As to] the recommendations [in each of these dimensions]: On improving strategic thinking, [what's needed is] clear: to build up a real National Security Council, really a national security staff, which engages in policy thinking, not in execution. I’m against it engaging in running around, negotiations, and so forth, because experience shows that if they get executive functions, they lose track of their main task. On the [flawed] interface [between the political leadership and the military]… the balance has to be changed. I cannot imagine any military operations without very strong diplomatic contexts, not to speak of mass media, humanitarian law, and so forth. Even a small tactical operation is very complex.

There’s a multi-dimensional perspective. The higher echelons of the army themselves must understand all this. So you have to consider the training: what do you put into courses of higher command if and when they are being held. There is a difference between commanding a unit in action and considering the implications of using cluster bombs and so forth, which you have to be aware of. It is not acceptable that the military dominates security decisions in the cabinet.

This is reinforced by the Winograd report findings that the military [leadership] really didn’t do their job. They didn’t provide enough options, not enough analyses. (By the way, [to ensure all of this is widely internalized] I think the full Winograd Report should be translated into good English. There will be a significant market for it. At least 1,000 libraries [worldwide], all intelligence agencies, will buy it.)

Next, we have to improve the army. I will not discuss this, because it’s not my specialty.

On political reform, you know my opinion: You have to move to a stronger prime minister, which is risky, but otherwise we have these balances of coalitions which avoid any decision-making whatsoever. We have to strengthen the diplomatic strength of the Foreign Ministry and of the Prime Minister’s Office and the tasks of the cabinet as a whole. Winograd recommends, if there is a security emergency, setting up a kind of war cabinet in which all ministers with a security background participate, independent of the coalition. Because one of our findings is that a number of people in the cabinet with a strong military background did not really play a major role.

What to do about the army social [fighting] ethos?… In Lebanon, quite a number of operations were stopped because [soldiers] were hit. The troops have to be committed to their goal… This relates to the social code: The readiness of the society to kill – this is not a problem – and to be killed. This is related to radical individualism, which has penetrated the Western world and Israel. It is very nice video-wise. But for the strategic future of Israel, if this is your image, you won’t have deterrence. And if there is war, you might fail. Because, if there’s war or armed conflict, you have to fight determinedly. To “win,” in a modern sense of the term – not in a classical sense, because the concept of victory is changing with the type of conflict.

Which leads to our Winograd finding that there were two good options for the war. There [should have been] more, but there was not enough creativity. The two options that were on the table were to stop the war after four or five days or to launch a significant land operation. If you’d finished the war after four or five days, I would say you’d have had very good deterrence because the success of the air force in hitting its targets was very impressive. This deterrence was eroded when the land forces didn’t really perform. The achievements of the forces during those last 60 hours are not impressive. They didn’t add to the deterrence.

Let me state in the interest of full disclosure that I am personally for the peace process, you should know. I’m for it, but I’m not sure it will work. I always think at once optimistically and pessimistically. This is usually not done. Usually you think about your plans optimistically and regard the enemy as a little stupid. This is a sure recipe for disaster if you face as determined an enemy as Hizbullah.

Do you feel that the committee was manipulated?

From a personal point of view. I am cold. What the newspapers write, I don’t care. What the television says, I don’t care. If I speak of the committee members as a whole, they were not influenced strongly by any external factor, other than the High Court.

The High Court changed the way you presented the material?

Clearly… The High Court intervened [in our work]. Two decisions touched us. First the decision to publish the [witness] testimonies, after security censorship. This was a bad decision because people spoke with us on the understanding that they would not be published. In the future, anyone who testifies, before any committee, will take into account that it will appear in the newspaper. It is wrong epistemology. It reduces the ability to reach the truth. I think the High Court gave too much weight to the right to know as compared to the necessity to get at the truth on critical matters for the future.

The big success of the committee, many people say, is that it published the first report [last April] without the court’s intervening. Because you couldn’t do the same after the court intervened. The first report doesn’t have personal recommendations but it has very clear, very frank, very brutal personal conclusions… I think [those affected] were taken by surprise. What did they think? That we were indebted to the government? I am grateful for this appointment, I’m glad about it, but this is not going to influence what I do. We’re an independent body.

Then came the High Court decision that if we had personal conclusions or recommendations [to make in the final report] we had to apply Article 15 [of the State Commission of Inquiry Law, which requires the commission to send letters of caution specifically stating that the recipient could be hurt by its findings and on what grounds. The recipient then has the right to hire a lawyer and question witnesses before the committee to disprove the allegations]. This put us into a bind. The bind is that if we followed this course, we thought it would take another year, at least, because the lawyers would have taken as long as they always do. We were not ready to do that. I personally could not.

Had they established a [state] commission of inquiry I would have refused to be appointed to it, because I wouldn’t spend a year on these legal games. In general, all the time, [the aim of the committee] was to pay more attention to improving the future than to do retributive justice… Thanks to the High Court decision, we had merely, only to deal with the future. So, if you read the report carefully, we wrote that “the government” did not properly consider the policy, instead of saying “this-and-this minister” did not do so.

The bottom line: The court’s intervention and limitation produced a very different report than the one you wanted to write?

Not very different. I’m not sure we would have had personal recommendations in any case. But it changed the style. The first report includes personal conclusions and the second does not. If it had not been for the court decision, we would have behaved according to quasi-judicial [procedures] as we understood them, but not strictly according to Article 15… Without the court ruling, we may have had more personal conclusions. I can’t say we would have had. I say we may have had. We couldn’t discuss it; it became outside the limit. The court ruling precluded it.

What would retributive justice have required?

We didn’t discuss it. If you ask, who might have been candidates for personal conclusions, I won’t answer. I don’t say [the report] applies to all Israeli affairs. I don’t say it applies to all security affairs. But the critical overall strategy setting, put to the test in a small war – we learned something from it. It is a symptom. Not a total picture, but a symptom of these problems… First of all, there was an error in doctrine. The question of how much to rely on stand-off weapons. Second, we are not sure that the army itself knew its unpreparedness.

An army that wasn’t capable and wasn’t aware of this?

If the army itself didn’t know, [the political leaders] couldn’t have found out. They should pay attention to our recommendations – for preparedness criteria to be presented every year to the cabinet; for strengthening the oversight of the military by outside bodies. We recommend learning lessons – the army has done so to some extent. Some other bodies involved in the war did not.

Did you expect something different to happen politically than what has happened in the wake of the report?

No. I am a skeptical person…

The committee did not expect that the prime minister would resign on the basis of the report?

No one did. But we didn’t discuss it. I didn’t expect it for a moment. Look, I could imagine him resigning after the first report. I could imagine it, not predict it. If it would have happened, I would not have said it was a complete surprise. First of all, I don’t say he should have resigned or not. I am only making a clinical analysis. Please, make this clear. Now, after the first report, I could imagine, with 20-30 percent probability, that he would willingly or under pressure have resigned. Or go to elections. I wouldn’t have expected it after second report. Especially as the second report cleared him of what the protest movements wrongly focused on, namely the claim that he ordered soldiers to die for party-political and personal reasons.

Now, please take into account that this is an accusation not only of moral turpitude. If we would have reached the conclusion that he decided on the last land action out of political, public relations [motives], he would have been guilty criminally. This is a criminal matter more than a moral matter. If we would have reached that conclusion, we would not have hidden it, regardless of Article 15, and this would have been a major catastrophe. I don’t mean for Olmert personally but for the country. For the prime minister to be found guilty of such behavior is… [tails off] We reached the conclusion that the decision [to launch the ground offensive] was justified, and was made without such a motivation. The protest movements lost all their steam because for some reason they focused on this, without good arguments.

What should they have focused on?

The overall management of the war.

And had they focused on the overall management of the war?

I don’t think it would have made a difference. These protest movements don’t really have public pull. In terms of political philosophy, a prime minister doesn’t have to resign because of protest movements. He has to resign if there is a majority against him. He’s been elected. He’s legitimate. Legitimacy in the constitutional sense means that he has been elected and no vote of no-confidence. You don’t have to go by public opinion polls. Should a head of government resign because public opinion polls show he is distrusted, in principle the answer is no. Because it’s a populistic business and I don’t have such a high opinion of public opinion.

As a point of general principle, on the basis of what you established about the governance of this war, should the prime minister resign?

I can analyze this subject. I will do a discourse on moral reasoning. There are two major approaches to moral reasoning. Approach number one goes back as far as I know to Kant, where you go by some a priori values which are absolute. The second approach is called consequentialism. It considers the results of the action. A prime minister can legitimately say, “If I resign, the peace process will break down. If I resign, the recommendations will not be implemented. Those who will come after me into the government are not going to be better.” That’s what he can tell himself. And he can say, “I learned a lot. If the public doesn’t want me, let’s have a vote of no-confidence. If I make another mistake, they will surely vote me out on a vote of no-confidence. In terms of consequences, it is better that I continue.”

Now let’s leave the prime minister aside. I have to make up my opinion – not me personally, but the citizen. I think the question of what relative weight to give to a priori values or to consequentialism is itself a subjective value decision. There is no meta-value. I personally, without applying it to this case, in the case of Israel, because of my interest in the future, give a lot of weight to consequences…

There are factual questions. Do you think this peace process has a chance? In my own view, I’m for the peace process in principle. I’m skeptical, but I wouldn’t say there is no chance whatsoever. One has to try. If there are elections, will it disrupt the peace process? Yes. Especially as when it’s all over there will be another president in the United States and I don’t know how the special relationship will work. Bush is very supportive. Bush is unique. Therefore, if you think in a Kant-like approach, or more in terms of a priori values, to say, he’s guilty, he must resign, never mind the consequences, this is very one-sided. To say I only look at consequences, this is also very one-sided. You have to balance both. This is a matter for subjective judgment.

I will not tell you what my judgment is, but it’s irrelevant. Most people don’t think in such terms. But I’m not surprised. I don’t expect it. Most people don’t think in terms of uncertainty. People have intolerance for ambiguity.

So you do not feel that the personal failure [by the prime minister over the war] was so debilitating for Israel’s future, so terribly dangerous to Israel, that [he must go].

It is a moot choice. Each one has to make his own decision. But it’s not an obvious answer.

That’s a very interesting answer from somebody who has spent an awfully long time analyzing a decision-making process which his committee has castigated…

Yeah, but I said the decision-making was lousy…. The committee did not go into the philosophy of judgment.

Let me ask one more time: You are choosing now, in this conversation, not to say that you feel very strongly [that the prime minister should resign]?

I don’t feel strongly either way.

That’s very significant.

If you think it’s significant, fine. I think it’s a weakness that I cannot make up my mind. Maybe in another month after I’ve relaxed a bit, I will be more determined… Maybe in a month we will learn more about [where] the peace process [is going].

The thrust of your committee’s first report was that this prime minister did not demonstrate the basic capabilities critical for a prime minister. It was screaming from every line of that report that he ought to…

Yeah, but this leaves open the following question, to which there is no empiric answer: What is his learning curve?

Aren’t parts of an answer unfolding even now, in Gaza, where Israeli policy, one might be forgiven for thinking, was not thought through, where options were not discussed properly, where public diplomacy was absent?

I agree. [But did] the intelligence services predict a scenario that putting pressure on a dense population would lead to an explosion [as happened on the Gaza-Egypt border]? Every social psychologist would put that as a possibility. But I don’t expect a prime minister or even a minister of defense in principle to be a social psychologist. I expect his advisers to raise this issue. If they didn’t raise it, I would kick them out. But I would not kick out the prime minister for not seeing this possibility. If the intelligence services or other advisers said, according to what they know of behavior in densely populated areas, put under harsh pressures, ruled by a true-believer group of fanatics… if the advice was that there is a significant possibility that it will break out in the direction of Egypt, or if the advice says there is a significant possibility of a mass march on Israel, Gandhi-like. There are many possibilities.

If the prime minister then says, “I don’t want to hear it,” I put the blame on him. [But] I cannot expect the prime minister to be an expert in mass behavior, in mass communication where there’s war, in the psychology of true believers. I put the first blame on the advisers or the professionals. If he refuses to listen, [that's another story]. So my first question as regards Gaza would be, “What did the intelligence and analytical units say?” Therefore the failures in Gaza, I cannot ascribe them to the top level.

You presumably feel it is not justified for reserve soldiers and for commanders to say that if they are called in to combat by this prime minister in the future, “I’m very sorry, he failed and he doesn’t have the right to be sending me into war, I don’t trust him to send me into war.” Is that your position?

I’ll tell you my own feeling about this. First, I can empathize with the feelings. You can also cite the harder case of bereaved parents. [But] second, I cannot accept anyone saying he refuses to follow orders. This undermines the existence of the state. He can say I will come unwillingly. But to say I refuse a mobilization order? Put him into prison! If everyone can make his own decisions [about whether] to follow orders, we will have anarchy or civil war. To say he [Olmert] should be dismissed is legitimate. But to say “I refuse orders”? I reject this out of hand. But I add that I understand it. And if there is a mobilization in another year – I hope there won’t be – they will all come. I take [the protests now] as an expression of emotions, not as an iron determination. I don’t take it too seriously.

Are you saying [to the country], “Read this report and you will understand what is wrong and what to do about it?

You’ll see some possible directions.

But you want more than that out of this report. You want Israel to survive.

Not just to survive, to thrive. I will soon be 80. Let’s assume I would have died at 73. Not a tragic age. I would not have had the opportunity to set up the Jewish People Policy Planning Institute. And that was very important. I would not have been on the Winograd Committee. Not so important, I would not have received the Israel Prize. Someone told me “Winograd is a chance in a lifetime.” I corrected him. Once in a hundred lifetimes. I told my friends, if Mephistopheles had approached me in a Faustian trade and told me, “You get the appointment [to Winograd] but I shorten your lifespan by a couple of years,” I would have agreed immediately. Life is not only a matter of the years, but what you do with them…The Winograd Committee is for me a peak in my life, an opportunity to learn, improve my thinking and advance what I believe is a contribution to the [well-being] of Israel.

Did none of the committee members believe the prime minister should resign?

We did not discuss it. It was not on the table. And if we had discussed it, I wouldn’t tell you.

You’ve spoken about a “warrior spirit” that wasn’t always there in the war.

Israel needs an ethos of readiness for serious sacrifice. If it demonstrates this ethos, the probability of having to make the sacrifices goes down. If you look soft …

What should Israel have done that first day?

First of all, wait. Think for 48 hours. I personally – this is not a committee opinion – don’t accept the view that in 24 hours the global window of opportunity would have been closed. A week is too much. But 24-36 hours – think, consult, discuss. It was not as if you were attacked by missiles and you have to respond immediately. And even then, you better think a little. Then, one should have considered whether to follow the containment policy. I don’t think so.

This is my personal view. But that still leaves a number of possibilities: For instance, continue the containment policy and prepare secretly in one month to hit them devastatingly… The international community will take it so long as I don’t hurt the Lebanese government. Or, I could have maintained containment and demonstrably mobilized large numbers of troops at the border and moved them up slowly and said “if you don’t put the kidnapped soldiers in the hands of the Lebanese government, we’re going to invade.” All these things have to be put on the table as options and considered. This can’t be done on the spot. Now, who should I blame [for this not happening]? The defense strategists who did not offer so many options? The government, who didn’t tell them to go home and take some more hours [to think]? Or both?

You mean there’s enough blame to go around?

Yes. Was this criminal neglect? No… It is a failure, but not moral turpitude. To flounder for two weeks [over whether to launch a ground operation] when you can’t say you didn’t have time, that’s a different story. The report is very strict about this floundering.

Did you blame the government and the army equally for this floundering?

Both of them had significant failures. How can you compare the scale? The government made serious failures. The army made serious failures.

What’s the lesson to be learned about doing deals for kidnapped soldiers? You have a section in the report urging a halt to “crazy deals.”

The hostage business is a clear case of a threat Israel builds for itself, because of the high payment they make to get back captives. Not only hostages. Remember [disgraced Hizbullah captive Elhanan] Tennenbaum! And even bodies and so forth. You teach the other side. You give him an incentive to carry out kidnapping which means, in the long run, you have many people dying and being kidnapped because you have created a self-enforcing, self-hurting, self-repeating machinery. But this has difficult moral implications. To say, as the Americans say, “We don’t negotiate”? Some hostages were killed [as a consequence]. That’s very difficult with Jewish values. To do as the Russians did many years ago when some people were killed in Lebanon: They killed some of the kidnappers and sent back their bodies, cut up, and the kidnapping stopped? That’s not a recommendation.

But to pay disproportionate payments? We mentioned the possibility of a “reasonable” rate of payment. We don’t say what rate. We stress that this is not a matter you can decide upon while your kidnapped people are there. You cannot have this strategy formulation while the Palestinians have a kidnapped person and the Hizbullah maybe has two. You have to wait for a quality time, make a decision, explain it to the public. Don’t make stupid declarations about never negotiating when everyone knows you are going to negotiate. And never say that you’re going to war to get the people released when you know this is one thing the war didn’t do anything about.

Quality time?

When’s that going to happen? I’ll give you a concrete proposal: Set up a small, classified thinking group of five, six people to work on the subject. Prepare a policy declaration after the [current] exchange business is finished.

After?

Yes, you discuss [the new policy] with [Binyamin] Netanyahu before you release it. You’ll be able to reach agreement with the main opposition parties – not all of them. So you’ll have a lot of support for it in parliament. The main leaders of the different parties undertake to explain to the public. If I could be sure that this would be the policy, I wouldn’t mind so much how much you pay now [to get back the three kidnapped soldiers]. I mind so much what you pay now because it’s a precedent that next time you’re going to pay more. It’s a slippery slope.

Let them do whatever they’ve got to do this time, however asymmetrical and crazy, so long as it’s the last time?

I’m not so afraid about the present payment. I’m afraid to make the slippery slope another 10 degrees more acute. We have to break this self-reinforcing chain.

Do you think this country’s going to make it?

I think we’re gonna make it, yes. Israel is a heroic success. [But] the quality of government is critical to the future. We are a state in the making, facing problems that require critical, authoritative decisions by government.

You’ve just encountered a patently inexpert leadership. So, why the optimism?

Fundamentally, Israel has proven quite robust. I was in the War of Independence. I was in the Hagana and such. We were told to prepare to die with honor. We didn’t die. The Lebanon War, though it’s important as a test case, was not so important. I hope Iran’s nuclear weapons will be prevented. But if not, I don’t look at Iran as a crazy state. They’re not suicidal. They can be deterred. And Israel can build an image that deters them. We have an image of being a little crazy and this is useful. The Arab states are divided. There’s the Shi’ite-Sunni divide and so forth. The global system is not very strong, but it’s developing. The next president may not be like Bush, but there’s a strong [US-Israel] relationship. There’s the challenge of moving to a more peaceful situation to reduce the possibility of wars. The basic situation is loaded with challenges and opportunities, but it’s manageable. I’m ready to bet on it, but not a thousand to one…

Life consists of challenges and response. Living in Israel is a mission. I don’t like the party hacks. Many of the politicians are really hacks. Machine politicians. I don’t like that hack part of politics. I’m an elitist. Eighty percent of the critical decisions affecting Israel are shaped by maybe 100 or 200 people, 300. These are my clients. These are the people I want to read the report and discuss it. The other people, I also want them to read it, but I’m more interested in those few hundred… Because a few can make a difference.

The political leadership that was running the war: party hacks or decent people in over their heads?

There’s never been an Israeli prime minister who is a hack. And the first prime minister I knew was Ben-Gurion… All our prime ministers were devoted to the future of Israel and abstractly to the Jewish people. Not one of them would willingly, for political purposes, do something that would really harm the security of the country. Not one of them would do something that they would think would harm the country significantly.

Wasn’t the appointment of Amir Peretz as defense minister a conscious act…

No, I think it was a terrible mistake caused by a deep belief about the needs of the coalition and the belief that the Treasury was going to be more important, not thinking of the prospect of a war. And the [further] mistake was not to appoint a deputy minister. To save money. This was penny wise and pound foolish. Peretz is very intelligent. His testimony was very intelligent. He should have refused the Defense Ministry. He should have insisted on the Treasury, where he could have made a great contribution to social justice. But a good deputy defense minister could have changed the picture a little. But in any case, if you have this political pressure, don’t start the war. It is not reasonable, and I’m putting this diplomatically, to conduct a war when you know that you have no defense experience and you have a minister of defense who you know has no government experience at all. It’s just no good. But it’s not moral turpitude.

So, to characterize, you’re saying these were decent people who were in over their heads in their positions?

They were, in this area, over their heads in their positions, in part because this came too early and they didn’t know that they were over their heads. Because if they had known that they were over their heads, they could have compensated.

You mean the war came too early in their term?

Yes. They could have compensated… but they relied on the army. We all rely on the army. It’s our army. We hesitated very much how sharp to be [in criticizing the army in the report]. But if you’re not sharp, nothing gets done. It is very hard for civilians who don’t know defense to challenge the army. I wrote an article before the war on how it is one’s duty to cross-examine the chief-of-staff sharply. Respect him, but cross-examine him. Get second opinions. I don’t go to even a slight [medical] operation without even a second opinion. With a broken nail, maybe. Not more than this. Yet how did [Haim] Ramon put it in his testimony? He said Israel has no second opinion. If there’s no second opinion in education, that’s very bad. If there’s no second opinion and you start a war [raises his palms in despair]. That’s why we call it a great failure.

It’s a long chain: starting the war, blindly trusting the army, bad luck. Let’s be philosophical. Luck is important. Assume there’d been no Lebanon War. Let’s assume, counter-factually, that Israel had hit Iranian nuclear facilities and succeeded. The chief-of-staff would have been the hero not just of Israel, but of the world. Those things the air force understands. It’s brilliant at them. The whole thing is a tragedy – an excellent leader [of the air force] in the wrong time in the wrong position. One could write a nearly Greek tragedy on this. [Dan] Halutz is a very impressive person. But he was in a frame of mind that didn’t fit this type of war and he didn’t know it. Nations don’t fall so easily to bad luck. But there can be a crazy ruler who, against all rational considerations… Hitler was bad luck for the Jewish people. Didn’t have to happen. Unless you want to say [of Hitler], that this was an irony of history, this established Israel. But we won’t go so far.

Israel is a balaganistic society, a chaotic society. The army in all our wars had balagan. But this doesn’t determine the outcome. Missing supplies had nothing to do with the outcome of the war. Nothing. The lack of water, nothing. The budget cuts didn’t make a real contribution either, because the war was so small. If you’d also had war with Syria and tension on the Egyptian border, it would have been a problem. But it was nothing. Only a small part of the army was put into action. Training was reduced, you can say, because there was less money. But the allocation of the money is the responsibility of the army. They could have done something else with the money. One plane less and much more training. It depends on how you do your threat analysis. It’s a matter of the basic concepts, the basic strategies…

Take the case we discussed in the report of the [Israeli navy's] Hanit ship [hit by Hizbullah early in the war]. This incident is on the borders of criminality, criminal negligence. It was a case of regarding your enemy as nothing, as a bunch of terrorists. But it was known that Hizbullah was well-armed. Yet you put your ship nearby and don’t activate electronic alarms, so your most modern ship is hit? [Again raises his palms in despair.]

It is beyond reasonable error. It is balagan and I am against balagan. I am for efforts at zero error… Let’s discuss discipline. Routine discipline. Never a strong point in Israel. You have to be strict about it. Let’s talk about realistic exercises. Israel didn’t have a war for many years, which meant the commanders had no experience with fire and smoke, so you have to have realistic exercises, with real ammunition. Real exercises have accidents. You have to take the risks. You have to reduce them, but statistically speaking, the more realistic the exercises, the more things will happen. But when the battle comes, you’re going to save many lives.

These are very difficult choices. How long did the war last? 33 days. Everyone agrees now we should have mobilized the reserves earlier. Not merely to train them, but as deterrents. Use ultimatums. Use them as a political instrument, integration between the military and the political. This is such a weak spot, a main area for in-depth consideration. Please don’t forget: The last 60 hours, leaving aside the decision [to launch the ground offensive], were a failure militarily. It’s impossible to avoid a number of failures but this was a little too much.

We said in the report that [the war] was a grave missed opportunity. I put it stronger. I call it a very grave lost opportunity, because this was almost a one-off opportunity. You have to look at [the war] as an overall failure, with certain achievements. Israel has to look victorious. We won’t get the enemy to raise his hands [in surrender]. But Israel has to appear that it succeeds and it has to succeed. It is necessary for deterrence. Also, if you wish, for public morale.

Let’s speak about deterrence. It’s a basis for peace-making. Israel would be in a better position to make peace if [the war had] clearly worked. Hamas would have thought a little more before shooting the rockets. Therefore I regard this as a serious, missed, unusual opportunity. [Capitalizing on this opportunity did not necessarily] mean sending in the land forces. You could have stopped after five days. It would have been a nice result.

© The Jerusalem Post