The fallout from the failed Lebanon war has begun.
Maj.-Gen. Udi Adam, the commander of Israeli forces in northern Israel who was humiliated when he was publicly pushed aside during the war by Israel Defense Forces Chief of Staff Dan Halutz, announced in the press Wednesday that he plans to resign as early as next week after all Israeli troops withdraw from Lebanon. He thus became the first political casualty of a war that failed to fulfill its goal of soundly defeating Hezbollah and freeing two Israeli soldiers captured July 12 in a cross-border raid that also killed eight others.
Adam’s announcement sparked calls for the resignations of other Israeli leaders, including Halutz, Defense Minister Amir Peretz and Prime Minister Ehud Olmert for their handling of the war, in which 162 Israelis were killed.
Observers said that after Halutz appointed Deputy Chief of Staff Maj.-Gen. Moshe Kaplinsky as his personal representative in the Northern Command when the war in Lebanon faltered, “it was only a matter of time” before Adam resigned after some 30 years in the IDF. Gerald Steinberg, a political science professor at Bar-Ilan University, called Adam’s action “the first big development in the post-war shakeup.”
“It’s like a dam breaking and this is the first big crack,” he said. Steinberg said he believes that once Adam has left the military, he will begin talking of the plans he had developed to defeat Hezbollah but which were never implemented.
“The chief of staff has to be worried,” Steinberg said. “There was friction between them over strategy and budgetary priorities and once [Adam] resigns, he will talk. He will get a lot of following from the public, which sees him as being targeted by the chief of staff as a scapegoat. It is sympathetic to him.”
But Amatzia Baram, a political science professor at the University of Haifa, said he does not believe Adam’s resignation will lead to more bloodletting.
“I don’t see this as the start of an avalanche of resignations,” he said. “[Adam] was the planner of everything. He was the guy who should resign. He was in charge of the front and was responsible for the kidnapping, for the lack of decision-making and oscillating between this and that decision; he lost touch with what was happening on the ground.”
Baram said he does not mean to pin everything that went wrong in the war on Adam, “but if you are looking for the person most responsible, it is he.”
A committee established by Olmert to examine Israel’s conduct of the war and what lessons could be learned is expected to be empanelled shortly. Gabi Sheffer, a political science professor at the Hebrew University, said he has his doubts about its makeup.
“Most of the people on the committee support Olmert and so I’m not sure it will be absolutely inquisitive” and conducted with a critical eye. Sheffer said the appointment Monday of a retired jurist, Eliyahu Vinograd, to head the committee came at a time when there were public calls for more of an independent probe.
“The judge will be more neutral,” he said. “He was a member of other committees of inquiry and he might ask more difficult questions. But otherwise, I think that most of the committee has a positive attitude towards the Olmert government.” Arye Mekel, Israel’s consul general in New York, said the only difference between this committee and a state investigative committee is that this one was appointed by Olmert and the other would be appointed by the chief justice of the supreme court. “This committee will have subpoena power and will take testimony that cannot be used in a court of law, so they can speak freely,” he said. “It will be able to do a full job. There are two generals and two civilians on the committee and it will have the confidence of the people.”
Asked if it would examine what happened during the war or concentrate on making recommendations for the future, Mekel said: “If they want to draw conclusions for the future, they have to look at what happened and come up with recommendations of what to do.”
He said the panel would examine both the political and military aspects of the war and that the state comptroller would examine civilian preparations. But Steinberg said he believes that even more important than the work of the committee will be the public debate that will now take place.
“There will be no secrets involving classified documents, the debate will be carried out in public,” he said. “Why were the reserve forces not ready, who made the budget priorities, why was the ground war not approved?”
Yaron Ezrahi, a professor of political science at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, said Halutz would resign only “if the public pressure keeps mounting, but I don’t believe he will.” He called Adam “sort of a scapegoat” and said he must now defend himself and argue that Halutz, as a former commander of the Israel Air Force, “had no idea how to conduct a ground operation.”
Ezrahi said Adam is waiting to make his resignation official until all Israeli troops withdraw from Lebanon because he is the one who sent them there. But Ezrahi argued that the withdrawal of Israeli forces from Lebanon without securing the release of the two abducted soldiers would be “one of the greatest mistakes” Israel made.
“That is the last card we have for getting our soldiers back,” he explained. “Hezbollah and the Lebanese government can’t wait to start reconstruction with Iranian money and Israel should say it will not completely withdraw until the soldiers are returned. If we finish the war and start negotiating for their release — trading them for convicted murderers — it would look very bad.” Ezrahi added that if Israel flatly refused to withdraw its troops without its kidnapped soldiers, “the Lebanese government and Hezbollah would be under tremendous pressure to return them.”
But Hezbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah was equally adamant in saying that the soldiers would not be released without Israel’s release of Samir Qantar, 44, the longest held Lebanese prisoner.
“After all that happened and this ends without Samir?” Nasrallah told Al Jazeera television. “You ask me, will there be a deal without Samir, I say no … Absolutely not.” Qantar was convicted of carrying out a terrorist raid in the Israeli northern city of Nahariya in 1979 in which a 4-year-old girl was killed with a rock in front of her father. He and a policeman were also killed before Qantar was captured.
The idea that Israel would release Qantar, believed to have masterminded the attack, has upset many Israelis.Nancy Milgram, a resident of Nahariya, noted that Qantar was “specifically not released” during a previous prisoner swap with Hezbollah in January 2004 “because of his evil actions.”
More than 400 prisoners were released by Israel in that prisoner swap, including Qantar’s partner in the raid, Ahmad Abrass. Qantar, who was sentenced to 542 years in prison in 1980 for his killing spree, was denied release despite Hezbollah protests. In return, Israel received the bodies of three soldiers Hezbollah captured in October 2000 and a businessman, Elhanan Tannenbaum. There was also speculation this week that the decision of an Israeli military court to order the release of 18 Palestinian Hamas lawmakers and three Hamas ministers — possibly on bail — may be part of a prisoner swap in exchange of another Israeli prisoner, Cpl. Gilad Shalit. He was captured June 25 by Hamas and other terrorist groups in a cross-border raid from the Gaza Strip. Israel later arrested the lawmakers and cabinet members, saying that as members of Hamas they are guilty of belonging to an outlawed terrorist organization.