Earlier I noted the disagreements between Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert and Defense Minister Amir Peretz over the scope of ground operations. On 9 August, as an expanded ground operation seemed to be drawing close, the Jerusalem Post noted:
So the IDF appears to be finally getting what officers admit they should have asked for from early in this operation – when it became clear that Hizbullah could not be defeated by non-stop airstrikes. The man to thank for the shift, it is said, is Defense Minister Amir Peretz who, for the first time since this war began, seems to be setting the national agenda.
It was Peretz who last Thursday ordered the IDF to begin preparing for a push to the Litani, sparking harsh criticism from some politicians across the spectrum. Today, however, that has changed. Almost everyone, including Prime Minister Ehud Olmert, has lined up behind the defense minister and his conquering-the-Litani plan.
As diplomacy drags on, does this newfound unity at the pinnacle of the Israeli cabinet on tactics mean that the government is playing a smart strategy (perhaps for the first time since this current war began)? That is, was the vote to authorize a major ground offensive, and then to hold off on its immediate implementation, a means to focus the negotiations at the UN on terms more acceptable to Israel? Israel’s key demand is that the Lebanese army must be supported by an international force with “operational capabilities.”
Kadima MK Otniel Schneller met Olmert Thursday and quoted him as saying that “a new proposal is being drafted, which has positive significance that may bring the war to an end. But if the draft is not accepted, there is the Cabinet decision.”
Today, there seem to be signs that the tactic of mobilizing for the ground war may be working, but will it be enough to produce a result, short of full invasion, that is acceptable to Israel? A UN resolution has been agreed by France and the USA, “amid indications that Israel might be willing to accept the draft even though it makes a key concession to Lebanon.”
As for the decision on the ground war, the vote by the Israeli security cabinet was 9-0, with three abstentions.
Vice Prime Minister Shimon Peres (Kadima), Culture and Sport Minister Ophir Paz-Pines (Labor), and Industry and Trade Minister Eli Yishai (Shas) cast the abstaining ballots.
Yishai said after the meeting that he thought the IDF should hit at Lebanese infrastructure and bombard villages from which Katyusha firing on Israel was emanating before sending in more ground troops.
Paz-Pines has consistently voted against expanding the operation since the fighting began, and Peres expressed concern in the meeting that expanding the operation would hinder diplomatic efforts aimed at bringing about a significant change in Lebanon’s political reality.
Tension within the cabinet on such a critical issue is a good thing in and of itself–contrast that with the lack of pluralism within Bush’s war-planning cabal. But in this case, the mix of international and internal pressures yielded an immediate action–massive aerial bombardment –that effectively delayed the initiation of the only action that was ever realistic for either defeating Hizbullah or forcing an active international role. (And yet Yishai remains wedded to the initial strategy, as if Israel’s destroying yet more infrastructure somehow will produce an outcome consistent with Israeli demands.)
Was the cabinet incapable of agreeing on a major ground offensive initially? Or was there actually a consensus that Olmert’s “shock and awe” would somehow cause either Hizbullah to yield, or force Lebanon’s army and the UN to come to the rescue without sacrificing–or at least signalling a clear readiness to sacrifice–large numbers of Israeli soldiers? I have no idea. But it is clear that internal criticism has grown. The criticism includes an essay by columnist Ari Shavit, who writes for a leading Israeli newspaper, Haaretz. Shavri says today that “Olmert cannot remain in the prime minister’s office.” The piece begins begins with a stinger:
Ehud Olmert may decide to accept the French proposal for a cease-fire and unconditional surrender to Hezbollah. That is his privilege. Olmert is a prime minister whom journalists invented, journalists protected, and whose rule journalists preserved.
However, one thing should be clear: If Olmert runs away now from the war he initiated, he will not be able to remain prime minister for even one more day. Chutzpah has its limits.
In other words, Shavit’s position is that the ground offensive should go forward regardless of the then-current UN draft. And some of his criticism is indeed tactical:
There is no mistake Ehud Olmert did not make this past month. He went to war hastily, without properly gauging the outcome. He blindly followed the military without asking the necessary questions. He mistakenly gambled on air operations, was strangely late with the ground operation, and failed to implement the army’s original plan, much more daring and sophisticated than that which was implemented.
Perhaps rising internal opposition to the tactics was a precondition for Israel’s government taking the serious steps for the ground war that it should have taken on 12 July–that is, if it was to do anything at all other than perhaps very limited reprisals for the taking of the soldiers across the northern border. If this internal opposition is what it took to do the right thing, then Israeli democracy worked. Whether it worked in time for Lebanon’s ever to recover is another question.
The UN vote is at 0100, Israeli time, or just under an hour after the time of this planting.