Former Israeli cabinet minister Ophir Pines-Paz testified to the Winograd Commission investigating Israel’s failure in the Lebanon war, about the leadership’s attitudes and expectations going into the war. If one didn’t know what actually happened during this war, one would react in reading Pines-Paz’s testimony with utter disbelief. Is it possible that an entire cabinet can approve a war without believing they are doing so? Is it possible a cabinet can initiate hostilities without taking any responsibility for doing so or for ending them? Is it possible a nation can initiate a war and expect the rest of the world will force it to end–and then to decide it must force the world to force it to end the war by using tactics so outrageous that the world would react in horror? All this and more is possible according to Pines-Paz:
Former Minister of Science, Culture and Sports MK Ophir Pines-Paz (Labor) told the Winograd Committee the cabinet did not discuss a diplomatic end-point for the Second Lebanon War, as it expected international pressure to force Israel to finish it within a few days, the Committee reported Monday.
“The leading diplomatic sources… gave us a working premise that we didn’t have much time to work with, and that we needed to act until we would be stopped – but then no one stopped us. This is what happened. Not only did no one stop us, they encouraged us, and we let this go to our heads,” the former minister said.
Pines emphasized that Israel was dragged into a war without actually deciding to enter one.
“I learnt of the Israel Defense Forces plans for the war from the media,” he also testified.
At a certain point the cabinet came to the view that they would have to “force the world to force us [to stop the fighting],” so Israel needed to hit hard in order to bring international pressure upon itself, Pines said…
The ministers were asked to approve a “meaningful, but limited [operation]. But absolutely not a war, and in no way a comprehensive, large-scale campaign,” Pines said.
One thing this proves is that certainly all the Labor ministers and perhaps the Kadima ministers as well were “had” by Olmert and Halutz. The cabinet played no oversight role whatsoever in any significant military decision. I find it incredible that a minister would leave a meeting not understanding he’d just approved a war.
Given this treatment, how Labor can continue to play footsy with Kadima by participating in the governing coalition is beyond belief. Certainly Labor is too weak to win an election and Barak’s refusal to bolt is based on a survival instinct. But at what cost in moral probity? Well, talking about morality is useless since Labor has long lost sight of such matters.
Can you imagine a government so paralyzed that once it starts a war it cannot stop it on its own initiative? If Pines-Paz is to be believed, Israel determined that the only way it could stop the war was by getting its allies to force it to end. Is it possible that an entire nation can be like a deer caught in the headlights, immobile and incapable of taking action on its own behalf? Of course, in Iraq we see an example of a president and Administration betraying such inertness. But at least there is a Congress willing to step in and replace Bush’s faulty judgment with its own, thus eventually bringing that war to a close. But Israel, to its detriment, has no such checks and balances. And in Lebanon it, and the Lebanese themselves, paid a terrible price for this.
What is, of course, deeply ironic about this is that Pines-Paz is one of the good guys. He resigned his portfolio rather than continue sitting in such a bankrupt government. He’s willing to tell Israelis, even if it makes him look bad, that Emperor Olmert has no clothes. But will any good come of it? Will anyone learn any lesson from it? Sorry to say, but that is doubtful.