Atonement: But, “We Have Learned Nothing” and Keep Repeating the Same Strategic Failures…

For the Sin of False Oaths, By Israel Harel


The War of Independence had an objective and was given a name, and the name suited it. The people who planned the Kadesh (Sinai) Campaign and Operation Peace for the Galilee, had, for better or for worse, set strategic objectives ahead of time. The Six-Day War, the war with the greatest accomplishments in the field of all Israel’s wars, was not given an official name, even post factum.

The Yom Kippur War was also named symbolically, rather than due to the war’s objective. Israel was indeed overwhelmingly surprised, and all the efforts of the civilian and military leadership were initially directed simply at an attempt to save the country. But after two weeks of fighting, when the enemy stood defeated, lacking the ability and the will to fight and disarmed of most of its weapons, we could have (had we defined for ourselves clear national objectives, which need not necessarily be formulated during the height of an existential war) dictated arrangements that would have guaranteed, on Israel’s terms, our national security for generations to come.

But Israel did not have anything to dictate, because apart from surviving, and, as a secondary objective, defeating the enemy, it did not know what political and national objectives it sought to achieve. The public’s depressed and vengeful mood, rather than long-term strategic thinking, dictated the government’s steps after the war. Even back then, it turns out, Israel lived on slogans, but lacked defined objectives for its identity and borders.

For the ongoing war on terror that started after the Oslo Accords, when Israel’s gates were opened to Yasser Arafat and tens of thousands of his armed terrorists, the Israel Defense Forces actually tried to find a name. But the supreme objective defined by successive governments, and with them the IDF General Staff, was “to lower the level of violence” (and not, as any normal country with no complexes would define the objectives of its army in wartime: “victory and destruction of the enemy”). It is thus no wonder that the public adopted the name attributed to it by the enemy – intifada – with all that this entails. And that is only one of the reasons why terrorism has not been defeated, even though Israel came close to doing so. The disengagement saved Hamas from military destruction, just as Oslo got Arafat and Fatah up off the canvas.

The most recent Lebanon war, even though it did ostensibly have defined objectives – among other things, the release of the abducted soldiers – also has no name. This is surprising. After all, the prime minister is surrounded by quite a few spin doctors and public relations experts. Couldn’t those who dreamed up the disengagement, and then the convergence, come up with something creative?

The lack of a name is no coincidence. Instead of sticking to a genuine objective, one that is far-sighted and has vision, and then deriving the military measures from this objective, the objectives changed daily depending on how the fighting fared. And that is also how the objective that Ehud Olmert announced when he still thought that Israel was en route to victory was born: furthering the convergence plan.

Since the Six-Day War, Israel has not striven for supreme national objectives, for the simple reason that it never took the time to formulate such objectives. Everyone is urging Olmert to adopt “a new agenda.” After all, no one would dream of asking him to adhere to an objective or follow a strategy. And when there is no vision and everything is improvisation and spin for political survival, it is no wonder that the results in Lebanon were what they were.

We swore and made an oath: We would never again be caught in the situation in which we were caught on the eve of the Yom Kippur War. But facing the Palestinians and Hezbollah, we violated these oaths, and they became false oaths. Each time we were surprised again. In essence, we surprised ourselves. And last year as well, even though all the alarm bells were ringing and all the warning lights were blinking, we did not react to Hassan Nasrallah’s provocations and we handed Hamas the disengagement – in other words, a victory in the public consciousness, whose results were its victory in the elections, increased shelling of communities in the western Negev and the abduction of Gilad Shalit.

The essence of the Kol Nidre prayer is an expression of regret for failing to uphold the vows, oaths and promises that we made and a request that they all become “null and void, invalid and nonexistent.” As a nation and a society, we also made vows, oaths and promises that we did not uphold. We vowed that we would never again stick our heads in the sand as we did on the eve of that Yom Kippur. But since then, as all the shattered illusions will attest – including the illusion of Oslo, the flight from Lebanon, the fence and the disengagement – we have learned nothing and forgotten nothing.

So for this, too, we must beat our breasts on Yom Kippur and say “for the sin of lying and deceit that we committed,” “for the false oaths,” “for the arrogance,” “for the brazenness,” “for the light-mindedness.” And we must beg and plead: “Forgive us, pardon us, grant us atonement.”

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