Those who cannot learn from history are doomed to repeat it.
-George Santayana There were major mistakes made in this summer’s war in Lebanon. Many of them were made by the politicians, but they don’t shoulder all of the blame. The IDF made errors in strategy and judgment. In an attempt to make sure the military learns from and corrects those errors, they are holding a conference to discuss the war and figure out what needs to be fixed. The problem is you can only learn if you are honest with yourself about what went wrong. Unfortunately, as this story from Ynet shows, that honesty is not part of the conference’s agenda.
“Today there were two conferences. One with IDF chief in the hall, were only words of praise were spoken, without a drop of criticism, and another one, outside the hall in recess, where we talked amongst ourselves about the failures of the war and the fact that more firm steps should have been taken against those who failed, for the lack of self criticism and for the IDF chief’s attempting to leave all that occurred behind.” These statements were made to Ynet by an Israel Defense Force senior official, who was present at the Senior Command Conference at the Israel Air Force base in Hatzor for summing up the second Lebanon war. “Most of the speakers were friends of the IDF Chief and who just praised his name,” the official continued. For over 10 hours throughout the day, hundreds of officers ranking colonel and higher heard the summary of the main lessons which were learned from the war. During the event,IDF Chief of Staff Lieutenant General Dan Halutz gave a long speech, of over an hour, in which he admitted that he had made mistakes with some of his decisions, but was quick to emphasize that all the lessons learned were already being dealt with. Just before Halutz’s speech, senior officials of all units were presented with the principal findings of the investigations. “They only showed what was convenient; they did not approach the difficult questions, the important findings. Not Udi Shani’s investigation which criticized the IDF Chief, nor Eliezer Stern’s report (the head of human resources) which dealt with values of war, which inspected how the senior commanders acted, those reports which claimed that they settled for sitting in front of the plasma screen instead of being on the field with the soldiers – were not presented. Stern briefly explained that everything was supposedly okay, and then they said this subject should be discussed in a forum in the general headquarters,” said one of the people present. “It felt as though they had come to have a fuzzy conference, without an in depth discussion,” he continued. Whoever expected to hear that the official were removed from their posts following the criticism, was disappointed on this matter as well. Senior officials absent from conference Northern Command Chief at the time of the war, Major-General Udi Adam, and his deputy Major Eyal Ben Reuven, did not show up at the conference at all. Commander of the Galilee Division, Brigadier General Gal Hirsch, who resigned following the publication of the Elmog report, was absent from the conference as well. Operations officer of IDF’s northern district Colonel Boaz Cohen, who recently left on military leave, was also missing.
“This is, after all, a concluding conference, these officers were in the midst of the action, and despite the fact that they are all still in their uniform – no one thought they should be invited? Or hear what they have to say? The only explanation is that the IDF Chief is scared of criticism,” said another senior officer. “It is easiest to ask Air Force officers to speak, after all, the will not criticize him,” he continued. The IDF Spokesperson’s Office said in a statement Monday evening that “During the conference, findings and lessons were presented on the fighting in Lebanon with regards to the Northern Command, Navy, Air Force and the readiness of the reserves.” Officers who took part in the conference said apart from the usual topics related to inadequate training and insufficient supply of equipment to reserve soldiers, not enough ‘fundamental’ issues were discussed. For example, they said, Halutz spoke of the steps taken against the Navy officers who allegedly leaked information to the media regarding the missile attack on the Navy vessel off the coast of Beirut during the war, but he did not mention a word on the minor steps taken against those responsible for the incident. “Any officer opposed to the chief of staff was asked to leave the conference hall,” one officer said. “Outside people spoke of the real problems, but inside no one asked questions or criticized. Everyone spoke of how well we did (in the war) and how we achieved most of our goals. The conference is set to resume Tuesday morning to discuss the work plan for 2007 in accordance with the lessons drawn from the war