Friday, February 12, 2010

Israeli Leadership Misses the Point

Today's JPost features an article which reports there will be no internal inquiry into Operation Cast Lead. The Netanyahu government considers its report to the UN from a few weeks ago a sufficient treatment of the issue.

This completely misses the point.

For starters, open inquiries are a fundamental point of overlap between defense officials and citizens in a democracy. After 9/11, Congress held public hearings to determine government failures. Britain is currently in the midst of the Chilcot Inquiry, in which dozens of senior leaders are testifying about Britain's role in the invasion of Iraq. Public discussion may be embarrassing but it is a necessary part of decision-making in any democracy. Israel shouldn't hold an inquiry for the UN, it should hold one for its own citizens.

But more importantly, open assessment of a situation also allows a country to look constructively at a failure. This entire balagan over Goldstone is a lame attempt to cover up what is blatantly obvious to many in the Israeli and American public, and defense experts here in Washington across the political spectrum.

Operation Cast Lead was largely a failure.

Let's just admit it. In strategic terms, the operation failed to secure its objective of stopping rocket fire from the Gaza strip. It failed to deter Hamas for significantly longer than any previous operation, and it is almost certain that Israel will engage Hamas militarily in the near future.

But instead of examining its conduct for ways to improve, the Israeli leadership is trying to cover up what is already clear to the public. Holding an inquiry might be a partial admission of failure, but both Israeli citizens and the international community can see how ineffective the operation actually was. Soldiers were sent into the field of battle, 10 of whom were killed and 336 of whom were injured, some seriously.* For what? A year of peace?

Having an open inquiry would foster a serious discussion in Israel of the IDF's strategy towards Hamas and other non-state actors. This critical dialogue must be predicated, however, on the understanding that the current strategy has failed and a new one is necessary. The longer Israel waits, the higher the costs will be.

Both Israel and Zionism have a long and proud history of pragmatism and innovation. The time has come for Israel to be as clever and resourceful in peace-making as it is in warfighting.

*Not to mention 1166 KIA (1/3 of whom were insurgents) and roughly 5000 Palestinians wounded.

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