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Washington Jewish Week: "Israel's military leaders have it right: Get out" by APN Spokeman Ori Nir

last week's Winograd Commission report documents the security toll that ruling over and policing an occupied hostile civilian population takes on the Israeli military.

Wednesday, February 06, 2008

In a characteristically understated yet piercing way, last week's Winograd Commission report documents the security toll that ruling over and policing an occupied hostile civilian population takes on the Israeli military.

"Some of the flaws found in the IDF's activity in the Lebanon War were linked to the fact that alongside with its chief mission [of fighting wars to defend Israel] the military is also harnessed to ongoing tasks that are not related to real fighting, such as policing and security in the West Bank," says the report by former Supreme Court Judge Eliyahu Winograd's commission of inquiry, which investigated the Second Lebanon War's failures.

Less understated were the testimonies by senior officials who appeared before the commission. These testimonies, made public in the fall, clearly make the point that so many hate to acknowledge: Israel's occupation of the Palestinian territories severely hinders the ability of the Israel Defense Forces to excel on the real battlefield, when facing a real military challenge.

In the words of Maj. Gen. Amos Malka, the former military intelligence chief, the IDF "atrophied" as a result of its almost exclusive focus on enforcing the occupation in recent years. "What I can say unequivocally is that the army atrophied for four-five years with regard to its fitness. It atrophied," Malka told the Winograd Commission.

Malka spoke so bluntly in part because he believed that his testimony would remain secret, but an appeal to Israel's Supreme Court compelled the commission to publish the testimonies.

The paralysis played out in two ways, Malka said. One was that the occupation sucked disproportionate resources. "Excessive attention was given to one thing only, the Palestinian issue, [while] other matters were neglected, resources were directed to purposes that do not allow units to reach a reasonable level of readiness," he explained. The final Winograd report poignantly addresses that deficiency.

But the main way in which the occupation paralyzed the IDF, Malka said, was one that the commission echoed in last week's report: a mindset and bad habits. The war demonstrated, Malka said, that the military leadership was not able to change its West Bank mindset and follow a modus operandi appropriate to Lebanon's different circumstances.

"There wasn't a point at which the [army] leadership understood that it had to shake off the concept of 'ongoing security operations,' of [operating in the occupied] territories. In practice, the whole set of operations in the first two weeks [of the war] was as if a carbon-copy of operations in the territories."

He summed up, "They did not internalize that the mode of warfare has to be different, that it has to abandon the Palestinian mindset and go back to the mindset that for some of the commanders did not at all exist."

Many of the IDF's commanders never fought in Lebanon. Moreover, many never had any operational experience other than policing the Palestinian population and pursuing terrorism suspects.

A similar observation was voiced by Israel's elder statesman, President Shimon Peres. "I think the army entered this war tired, because [the IDF] was situated in a war that wasn't a war, which had no glory of victories. It was an [ongoing] effort to prevent a disaster. That's exhausting," he told the Winograd Commission.

Asked why he thought that the IDF was not prepared for the war, Peres replied: "The IDF

There are, obviously, many other reasons for Israel to end the occupation. Forty years of ruling over a population that is willing to fight for its freedom and independence have been eroding not only Israel's military, but also its morals, its economy, its standing internationally, its internal cohesion and its ability to live in peace in the Middle East.

Groups such as ours have been saying this for years. Now it's time to listen to Israel's military leaders, who for years have been calling on the country's politicians to match their ongoing security efforts in the West Bank and Gaza with diplomatic efforts to find a political solution to the conflict with the Palestinians.

Prime Minister Ehud Olmert is committed to follow the recommendations of the Winograd Commission. Furthermore, he has vowed to make the quest for Israeli-Palestinian peace a part of a national tikkun, healing. American friends of Israel ought to do their share and support these efforts. Israel's security depends on it.