As criticism of the handling of the Lebanon War mounts, spurred on by the return of reservists who fought in Lebanon – often without the proper equipment and sometimes even without food and water – several things have become clear:
1. The army suffered greatly from a series of budget cuts begun in 1998 and dramatically escalated during Benjamin Netanyahu’s tenure as Finance Minister.
2. Money that could have been used to properly equip the army went instead to cover other areas of the budget.
3. State support of haredim through its various welfare programs takes money away from very important things like national defense. In other words, there is no free lunch, and a community of people that does not value work, instead intentionally depending on state welfare, carries with it higher costs than is often realized.
4. The IDF spent a huge amount of money planning and implementing the withdrawal from Gush Katif and northern Samaria. It also spent much of its training on that issue, rather than Hezbollah. In other words, if the settlers had accepted the decision of the government, taken their compensation and moved to the Negev or central Israel, the IDF could have spent the last two years doing what it is really supposed to – preparing and training for national defense.
5. The over-reliance on air strikes seems to be based on two factors. A) Once the IDF’s preferred battle plan – one that was creative and relied on surprise – was nixed by Olmert & Co., the IDF was faced with a frontal war against well-entrenched and trained terrorists possessing weapons often on par or better than the IDF’s. Worse yet, the element of surprise was lost by Olmert’s foolishness. B) It was clear to senior level IDF officers long before this war that the IDF had been seriously damaged by three things: 1. Deep budget cuts, 2. Preoccupation with the territories, and, 3. Demoralization caused by the settlers reaction to the Gush Katif withdrawal. Therefore the IDF was reluctant to enter a ground war on Hezbollah’s terms. Olmert could not or would not understand this.
Clearly, there is lots of blame to go around. Israel lives in a neighborhood that demands lightning quick defense and overwhelming deterrence. To compromise either risks the lives of millions of Israelis. Olmert, Peretz and Livni have done just that – but so have the haredim (including Chabad) and the settlers.
One cannot demand a robust defense and overwhelming deterrence as one sits and studies and intentionally collects welfare. One cannot do so as one diverts millions of dollars and thousands of troops away from national defense as one has a collective hissy fit in Gush Katif. One cannot expect one’s army to have the highest morale when one has spent much of the last two years comparing their actions to the Nazis and the Gush Katif withdrawal to the Holocaust, then topping this off with refusal to serve and calls for disobedience.
Just as Netanyahu’s reckless budget cuts endangered soldiers in this war, so did the misbehavior of haredim and settlers.
What must be fixed in the IDF will, God willing, be fixed, and politicians will fall because of their incompetence.
But can the same be said about the haredim and the settlers? Will a correction take place? If not, the rot will grow and spread, adding to the corrosion of Israeli society from within much the way extreme post-zionism has, and the outcome of the next war, bungled or not, may God forbid be far worse than today’s.