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June 27, 2007

United States of America

Those Were the Days

The real value of the "Family Jewels"

By Michael Tanji | June 27, 2007

The hue and cry over the release of the CIA’s “family jewels” is predictable, but if not objectively viewed, self-defeating. Those who never met an intelligence program they did not hate are rejoicing in the shame of past establishment near-do-wells and are attempting to paint current national security efforts with the same broad brush. Yet in the rush to view the CIA and our broader intelligence community in the most negative light possible, what is being missed is the recognition of some deeper lessons learned.

Let me start by saying that the activities documented by the CIA are full of clear and flagrant abuses of power and law and call into question the moral compass bearings of both agency leadership and the politicians involved in directing and supporting such activities.

But the papers also describe an agency striving to address a compelling need that was going unfulfilled. Engaged in a war against communism, we were being infiltrated by enemy agents and provocateurs; organizations sympathetic to the communist cause were acting as fronts for our main enemy; and various other radical groups were threatening war from within. Rather than wait around to be exploited and attacked, the government picked a course of action they thought would work. It was not particularly well thought out and execution was spotty, but it was war and in the midst of such turmoil mistakes are bound to be made.

The dangers we faced then are not unlike the dangers we face now. The enemy is different but their strategy and tactics are not dissimilar to those we have fought in the past. And like the days of yore we still lack a formal and effective domestic intelligence capability with which to defeat these enemies. The FBI may claim to fulfill that role, but as various reports, papers and books have addressed previously, a law enforcement agency makes a particularly bad intelligence agency.

The difference is important. Success in law enforcement means reducing crime through arrest and prosecution. Success in intelligence means denying the enemy success by disrupting or degrading their capabilities. Frequent and high profile arrests just lets the bad guys know you are on to them, their tactics will change accordingly, and the game of whack-a-mole continues unabated in perpetuity. Intelligence activities are more discrete, long-term and designed to defeat the enemy wholesale by perpetrating the fraud that we are not on to them.

I am not advocating the unshackling legions of law-breaking orcs who would run roughshod over the rights of citizens, but the design and implementation of a strong, coherent strategy to combat threats that originate domestically, or take advantage of our liberal dispensation of rights and privileges by operating domestically under the guise of political, religious or social causes. Such a strategy would identify the best resources for a domestic intelligence mission and organize them for maximum effect. This means ending the charade that the FBI is the best place for keeping track of and dealing with domestic intelligence problems, as well as recognizing that the same intelligence gathering skills employed by the military or CIA can be useful against domestic as well as foreign threats.

It also means establishing clear and inviolate lanes in the road, seeking new and precise legal authority to address gaps or shortcomings in existing law, and an effective but not overbearing means by which to enforce the rules. It also means recognizing that intelligence activities in general are risky affairs and that those performing honest efforts to accomplish authorized missions cannot be hung out to dry when they fail.

We cannot take the fight to the enemy if we are sitting around waiting to be surprised. Intelligence drives operations and if the war against terrorism is anything it is an intelligence war. This is why efforts like classifying enemy combatants as such and not defendants is so important. Enemy combatants can be held for the duration of hostilities to keep them from doing us harm. They can also be exploited for intelligence to find still more enemies. Prosecuting defendants merely leads to the exposure of intelligence sources and methods to the enemy (via the discovery process). Those who advocate the so-called law enforcement approach to combating terrorism have not thought about the unintended consequences likely to result from such a shift; when faced with the decision of taking a life or taking a prisoner, and knowing that prisoners ultimately contribute to making the war harder to fight, those on the front line of this war are not going to take prisoners.

The more we know about our enemies the more effective we can be in eliminating the threat they pose. Imagining that we will succeed in this epic endeavor by only focusing our massive intelligence community at targets and problems that do not reside on US soil is not merely foolhardy: It is suicidal.

Learning from the mistakes of the past means not only rejecting illegal and immoral practices, but recognizing that we do not live in a fantasy world where decorum is more important than success. A truly reform-minded administration would be training, equipping and employing intelligence community resources against all enemies; foreign and domestic. Congressional oversight should be focused not only on the real misdeeds of those they are watching, but helping solve the problems they face by passing effective laws and providing adequate funding. We would also fare better in this conflict if the judiciary recognized that war is upon us and that the long-ago codified laws of war - not our more recent criminal code - is the best way to deal with those seeking our domination and destruction.

June 22, 2007

United States of America

This We'll Defend (poorly)

US Government Cyber Security Leadership Requires IT Professionals, Not Biologists

By Michael Tanji | June 22, 2007

The mission of the Department of Homeland Security is self-evident, though based on recent testimony by agency leadership one is left with the feeling that at least on one key front, there is not a lot of enthusiasm for securing the nation.

DHS Chief Information Officer Scott Charbo appeared before the House Homeland Security Committee Wednesday and confirmed what several past audits have exposed over the last few years: DHS is not taking cyber security seriously.


  • DHS recently received yet another grade of “F” in information security by the Government Accountability Office. GAO investigators found that the agency still has not fully implemented a comprehensive, department-wide information security program, completed numerous risk-assessments, lacked security plans and had little or no way to test the validity of current security systems.
  • At Wednesday’s hearing, the homeland security sub-committee was particularly chaffed to learn of over 800 security-related "incidents" on its networks between 2005 and 2006. Incidents included unauthorized access to networks, unauthorized software installations, malicious code infections and leaks of classified data.
  • Computer systems of the Immigration Service also received attention at the hearing, with Government Accountability Office investigators testifying that mis-configured and out-dated systems left services like the US VISIT program open to technical compromise. In fact US VISIT computers were shut down by the Zotob virus in 2005.
  • The Transportation Security Administration was recently shown to have given short shrift to rules about the handling of so-called “sensitive security information” that is unclassified data that nevertheless has some sort of security value and thus merits special protections.


GAO audits of most government agencies involved in the defense and security of the nation indicate that problems associated with cyber security are pervasive and systemic. Incompatible systems and the use of contractors to install, maintain and secure systems has been offered as a reason for these failings; but private concerns with differing information infrastructures merge all the time and contractors successfully maintain the security of countless other institutions and with much greater success.

What is really lacking here is a sense of priority and leadership.

Consider that Congress (indeed the nation) is debating the merits of a new immigration bill. If passed, the bill would place an extraordinary demand on the computer systems of security agencies like DHS. Let us echo the cry of the immigration bill's opponents and ask that we secure the network first, before we start to talk about taking on additional technical and security challenges. As things stand now there is no way to know if the systems that would be used to help verify the relative security of anyone attempting to gain access to the US have not already been compromised, making infiltration by a wide variety of threat actors more than a hypothetical situation.

One cannot point the finger at a generic scapegoat like “contractors” or any other working-level staff because they take their cues about what is important from agency leadership. No doubt DHS CIO Charbo is a dedicated public servant, but he is by trade and training a plant biologist, not a technologist or an expert in security. Even if he built up a certain level of information security expertise during his past tenure as CIO of the Department of Agriculture, it is clear that he has not given cyber security the priority it deserves.

Cyber security is an issue that needs to be taken as seriously as all other aspects of homeland security. The heavy lifting at the pointy-end of the spear gets the most attention, but all that work is for naught if critical decisions are being made using insecure networks and data of questionable integrity. This is a mission that merits seasoned, qualified and motivated leadership that can communicate its intent to succeed and that will hold people accountable for failure. Absent that, even the most comprehensive homeland security legislation is a waste of time.

June 18, 2007

Iraq

Quitters Never Win

Focusing on "Best Defeat" Ensures a Future of Failures

By Michael Tanji | June 18, 2007

Council on Foreign Relations Senior Fellows Steven Simon and Ray Takeyh explain why we’ve lost in Iraq and how to bravely run away:

Last week's bloodshed in Iraq and the bombing of what remained of the historic Shiite shrine in Samarra and of two Sunni mosques in Basra were more reminders of a terrible truth: The war in Iraq is lost. The only question that remains -- for our gallant troops and our blinkered policymakers -- is how to manage the inevitable. What the United States needs now is a guide to how to lose -- how to start thinking about minimizing the damage done to American interests, saving lives and ultimately wresting some good from this fiasco.

I think most people in this country have a different definition of “lost” than the authors. The war is won; Saddam is deposed and dead and Iraq the oppressive police-state and sponsor of terrorism is no more. Iraqi political progress is indeed lacking, but one shudders to consider the state of Iraq’s political system absent the relative stability being afforded by the surge. This is in fact an issue the authors address later, but in a wholly inadequate fashion.

It is so convenient to point to the impact of last year’s election as justification for flight, but no one who actually bothers to talk to Americans accepts this as fact. American’s are against losing and if their rejection of certain political dispositions is indicative of anything, it is the half-measures and unoriginal thinking the political class has supported to date. If the election was a signal that the people were behind retreat, how then to explain the record low approval rating of the Congress that was supposed to extract us from the quagmire?

Some compare post-war Iraq to post-war Germany or Japan and wonder why we see so little progress is the same amount of time. Such comparisons are helpful but only to illustrate that they are comparing apples-to-pineapples (similar name but one is much more prickly). To reach post-war status after WW II the US and its allies mobilized tens of millions of soldiers and waged total war against the vanquished. The level of destruction and “collateral damage” caused by such a warfighting strategy is viewed as unacceptable today. An errantly placed precision-guided-munition is enough to spark international outrage, so repeating the bombing of Dresden is pretty much out of the question. So too is a massive occupation force; a body of troops that simply does not exist today.

Of the many military lessons of Iraq the one to take away here is that it takes remarkably little to win but it still takes a major investment to occupy. If there is a root cause of failure in Iraq it is as much doctrinal as it is political.

The analysis continues but is remarkably contradictory. If the US leaves a Sunni-Shiite war is unlikely to be a big deal, yet “Sunni-Shiite-Kurd killing and score-settling” is likely to intensify after our departure; the chief jihdist threat to the US originates in Pakistan (agreed), but al-Qaeda in Iraq, the terrorists they are training and the weapons they are deploying is almost a trifle (tell that to the IED task force); there are downsides to defeat (no kidding), but with the appropriate application of spin we can come out smelling like a rose (a case where words are supposed to speak more loudly than actions).

Concern over how a potential strategic adversary might view a US withdrawal is a red herring; the US has yet to be defeated in a modern force-on-force conflict and that is a record that is unlikely to be broken. What continues to perplex us, despite several "teaching moments" that have occurred in the last several decades, is terrorism and insurgency. While countries like China will take decades to catch up to where our military capabilities are today (much less twenty years from now), a US withdrawal from Iraq prior to crushing the insurgency sends the message that if you re going to stand against the US, size doesn't matter.

It’s the asymmetry, stupid.

Of all the messages our untimely departure from Iraq would send, the most significant is that you need little in the way of resources to defeat the world’s last and greatest superpower. In fact, not only can you drive the great Satan from your homeland, the odds are pretty good that you could use the same tactics to take the fight to him and win. Note that the 9/11 plot didn’t even bother considering the Pentagon as an adversary, merely a target.

The authors continue with yet another call for a return to so-called realism, which apparently means repeating the very real mistakes of the past. Iran nourishes itself on our carrots and uses the sticks we throw at it to fuel forges in which new weapons are crafted for use against us. The promotion of peace between Israel and Palestine can only work if both sides are serious about accomplishing the mission, something that is proven false almost before the ink is dry on such agreements.

If there is one area where agreement can be found it is in the idea that forcing democracy on people is a misguided and ill-advised strategy. We manage to get along with a lot of countries that are not democracies or at the very least are not democracies-like-us. Democracy works for us in part because it’s all we know; we lack hundreds of years of history under a king or emperor or warlord to consider as comparison. Iraq may not become the 51st state, but we shouldn’t expect it to come to that decision in a timeframe that – politically and historically speaking – is akin to blink of an eye. Until recently, we have not seriously afforded them such time.

Finally there is this statement:

If this administration is not prepared to lose this war right, its successor will be saddled with the burden.

One wonders if our departure from Somalia (Islamists employing insurgent tactics) was a proper loss, what lessons it taught our adversaries, and what burden if any it left the current administration.

Losing “right” means one thing and one thing only: Justification for future failure. Retreat – couch it in any language you like – justifies poor intelligence, shoddy planning, and the promotion of half-baked theories and delusional world views (regardless of the political origin). Opponents of the surge find it untenable and unpalatable, but failure to adopt an aggressive strategy to dampen the violence and send a clear, unambiguous signal to trouble-makers, only increases the number of future distasteful situations we will have to face.

June 8, 2007

World

JFK Plot: The Herculean Approach to Combating Terrorism

We're fighting hard, we need to fight smart

By Michael Tanji | June 8, 2007

The passage of time allows for a more thorough and insightful analysis of related events, but at this stage time is at something of a premium. To that end your author undertakes a more substantial if premature effort to elaborate on earlier points made about the JFK plot. This is no means a comprehensive list of the broader implications of this plot, nor is the analysis exhaustive, it merely serves to reinforce lessons-learned and highlight certain fallacies that impede our ability to effectively face this threat.

The Battleground is Everywhere

It makes for a nice slogan – fighting them “there” so we won’t have to fight them “here” – but that was never a realistic strategy. The 9/11 hijackers were from over-there but they plotted and practiced here. Subsequent plots uncovered since 9/11, not to mention the various dry runs that have occurred, demonstrate that there is no shortage of domestic threats.

And why not? Leveraging would-be Jihadists in the US makes perfect sense if you are hoping to avoid the scrutiny of the US intelligence apparatus. Operating domestically means operating under an entirely different set of rules than your overseas brothers. Domestic surveillance programs are useful for dealing with known quantities, but are useless against “sudden jihad syndrome” or otherwise unaffiliated actors, which leads me to . . .

It’s the Message, Stupid

We can kill with precision and to any scale, but we can’t get out a unified, compelling message to save our lives (literally). Our attempts at public diplomacy are waged by known spin doctors who cavort with collaborators or undermined by diplomats who can’t or won’t get with the program. The enemy’s message, on the other hand, resonates with people globally whether Arab, Filipino or Trinidadian.

Don’t speak Arabic? No problem, we’ve got an American on staff to reach out to the English-speaking world (unlike the US government, AQAM doesn’t have a linguist problem as far as anyone can tell). Get your news and information about the war against the crusaders from the Internet? Got that covered with professional-quality multi-media presentations.

While we waste time and energy worrying about largely theoretical OPSEC concerns and shut down some of the most insightful and compelling communiqués about the fight against radical Islam, the enemy is honing his message and finding new ways to let it permeate into impressionable minds worldwide.

Our Enemies are all Friends

When it comes to fighting “The Great Satan,” there is no sectarian divide, at least not on a practical level. The proverb “the enemy of my enemy is my friend” originated in the Middle East after all. The body of evidence that refutes the conventional wisdom in this area threatens to drown those who still cling to the fiction.

When you are using a different scale for measuring progress – a thousand years for revenge – there is time enough to settle theological differences once the perceived existential threat of Crusade is dealt with. It is not paranoia when everyone is in actuality out to get you, and with new Sunni-Shi’a and Jihadist-secularist cooperation being uncovered all the time, there is good reason to be looking over our shoulders.

Don’t Get Bitten by Bytes

The Internet is full of useful tools that are benign in and of themselves but when used by people with ill-intent could facilitate acts of evil. That the alleged JFK plotters used Google Earth to help them plan their attacks does not make Google Earth a threat any more than the fact that terrorists use web-based email accounts makes Gmail, Hotmail or Yahoo! a threat.

As much of a juggernaut as the war on terror seems to be, it is not powerful enough to stop technology’s march forward. Anyone who argues that we should be stifling technical advances for the sake of security is displaying an amazing ignorance of both fields. The lesson to take away from the JFK plot is that (at least in some cases) we are not using technology as effectively as possible. You defeat a network with a network, not an org chart. Operate as nimbly and effectively as a Jihadi and you’ve got a chance to beat him; fight by committee, panel and board and you’re asking to be beaten.

Terrorism is not for Amateurs

Preparing for and executing serious terrorist attacks – ones that result in serious damage to property or loss of life – is hard. True, “sudden jihad syndrome” could result in injury or death, but at the risk of casting offense, such endeavors are nickel-and-dime affairs. Ad hoc domestic terror cells are not harmless, but if those convicted of, or under indictment for, domestic terror plots are any indication of the state-of-the-art, they are not professional grade.

Large scale, sophisticated plots take time, cost money, and are best carried out by well-indoctrinated true believers. They also take brains. If your idea is to repeat the Murrah Federal Building bombing, and a new group member just happens to know a guy who can get his hands on a large amount of fertilizer, is that fortuitous or is the guy an informant? Lucky for us domestic cell “masterminds” have opted for the former deduction.

The problem of course is that as time passes the domestic base of true believers grows, the skills acquired by these individuals grows, and with time the opportunities to root out spies also grows. Remember the trend is towards super-empowered individuals, not large armies.

Defeating terrorism is going to require the application of policy and methodology that addresses these and other factors holistically and at once. Like the Hydra of mythology, shooting a terrorist today merely grows more terrorists; when we strike a blow against terror we need to cauterize the wound it to prevent further growth or every subsequent battle will be haunted by the specter of déjà vu.

June 7, 2007

Paraguay

Terrorists in Our Neighborhood?

Keeping Perspective on the Islamic Terrorist Threat from South America

By Guest Contributor, Jeffrey Carr | June 7, 2007

There's a truism in the intelligence community that goes "The greater the degree of uncertainty, the greater the need to align facts, assumptions and judgments. The more we rely on judgment over facts, the more likely we are to err in our decisions."

The recent JFK plot has shed a new light on terrorist activities in Central and South America. There are some legitimate causes for concern, however it's important to not jump to unsubstantiated conclusions that could easily result in an avoidable mis-step by the U.S. There is a difference between evidence justifying cause for concern, and evidence justifying cause of action. The best unclassified evidence available to us today clearly demonstrates that there is a definite cause for concern.

The Tri-border area (TBA) of Ciudad de Este, Paraguay, Foz do Iguacu, Brazil, and Puerto Iguazu, Argentina is a lawless region that operates as the hub of a multi-billion dollar business in money laundering, arms sales, drug trafficking, and other criminal enterprises according to a 2006 report issued by the U.S. State Dept.

Fortunately, the governments of Brazil, Argentina, and Paraguay are cooperating with U.S. agencies like ICE (Bureau of Immigration and Customs Enforcement/DHS) to set up Trade Transparency Units, which consist of highly-trained financial intelligence specialists to track the "gray" money moving through the region. As of 2006, these units were operating in Argentina and Brazil. The Paraguay unit was planned for but not yet operational. A proprietary software tool called The Data Analysis and Research for Trade Transparency System (DARTTS) analyzes foreign exchange transactions and other secret bank data and forwards the leads to field agents for follow-up.

Venezuela, under the leadership of President Hugo Chavez, has become the go-to place for criminals and terrorists looking to secure false passports and citizenship papers. In 2006, Cuba's Department of the Interior contracted with the Government of Venezuela to run that program for them. Cubans, in effect, are managing Venezuela's citizenship records, according to testimony of a U.S. State Dept. official given before the House Subcommittee on International Terrorism and Nonproliferation last summer. Fortunately, anyone attempting to enter the U.S. who is carrying a Venezuelan passport is automatically flagged for further scrutiny, so this window of opportunity for terrorists is rapidly closing.

An exhaustive open-source investigation into the presence of terrorist groups operating in the Tri-Border Area of South America was conducted in 2003 by the Federal Research Division of the Library of Congress and is, quite frankly, the most extensive analysis of multi-language sources (books, newspapers, journal articles, published investigations) available, to our knowledge. It should be required reading for those interested in the TBA region. The following are a few of the concluding points reached by the TBA as a Haven and Base for Islamic Terrorist Groups report:

  • Various Islamic terrorist groups, including the Egyptian al-Jihad (Islamic Jihad) and al-Gama'a al-Islamiyya (Islamic Group), Hamas, Hizballah, and al-Qaeda, probably have a presence in the TBA;
  • Hizballah and al-Qaeda are probably cooperating in the region, but definitive proof of this collaboration, in the form of a specific document, did not surface in this review;
  • Islamic terrorist groups are using the TBA for purposes of safe haven, fund-raising, money laundering, recruitment, training, plotting, and other terrorist-related activities; Terrorism within the TBA by Islamic terrorist groups has been limited to selective, mafia-like assassinations of business or community leaders who may be opposing their interests;
  • The Islamic terrorist groups' activities in the TBA are in support of their international organizations and the Islamic jihad against the United States and U.S. allies;
  • Hizballah has reaped hundreds of millions of dollars in profits from narcotics and arms trafficking, product piracy, and other illicit activities in the TBA; and
  • A substantial number of members of the Islamic terrorist groups in the TBA have probably moved out of the region since late 2001 to other areas of South America, such as Chile, Uruguay, and Venezuela, where they may be under less pressure by security forces than in the TBA.

While the evidence available to the general public does support the presence of Islamic terrorist groups in our hemisphere, there is not consistent agreement between law enforcement and intelligence agencies as to how prevalent or reliable the evidence is. Should increased attention be paid to this region? Of course, however it's important to note that as much as 4 years ago, the region was coming under sufficient scrutiny to cause "a substantial number" of Islamic terror groups to leave the region in favor of other South American countries. Finally, the conclusions of this report are 4 years old, and therefore should be weighed with the appropriate mix of caution and awareness, considering that today's terrorist environment is much more expansive and volatile.

Jeffrey Carr participated in law enforcement and intelligence gathering activities with the U.S. Coast Guard until 1980. Today he is an information architect for analyst software, and writes about Data Fusion and Geospatial Intelligence at his blog www.IntelFusion.net.

June 3, 2007

Israel

Faith And Demand: Israelis On The IDF And Politics

After Hizballah War, Israelis Believe In Their Defense Forces More Than Political Leadership

By C. Hart | June 3, 2007

On June 12th, the election runoff for Israel’s Labor Party leader will be determined, and one thing is clear, the current Defense Minister, Amir Peretz, will be losing his job. Reports indicate that Prime Minister Ehud Olmert is looking forward to the end of the Labor contest so he can quickly re-shuffle his cabinet and choose a new defense minister. Israel’s Home Front Command has recently announced that it will soon be preparing citizens for full-scale war, which many expect will begin sometime this summer.

A survey called, “The People Speak: Israeli Public Opinion on National Security 2005-2007” was recently published by the Institute for National Security Studies (INSS). In that report, over two-thirds of Israelis polled said they supported the decision of their government to go to war against Hizballah in Lebanon during the summer of 2006. The vast majority also believed that the Israeli government should have continued the war until Hizballah was destroyed, or until the P.O.W.’s were returned. It is obvious from the report that the population was not happy with the results of the war.

However, a significant portion of the Jewish public remains confident that Israel can cope successfully with any conceivable future threat to the state; and, they view Iran’s nuclear ambitions as the most serious threat facing Israel today. A majority of Israeli’s (76%) expect to see an outbreak of war between Israel and an Arab country or with Hizballah in the next three years. Confidence in the ability of the IDF to defend Israel remains high, while faith in the current political leadership remains low.

Israelis want to see change. Ehud Olmert has managed to keep his job as prime minister for the time being. However, when the final report of the Winograd Committee investigation is released this summer, if Israel is not already at war, Olmert may face serious challenges to his leadership by Israel’s opposition parties, and other disgruntled members of his government.
Meanwhile, statistics and polls don’t tell the whole story. If you just look at the numbers, you will get the wrong impression of how citizens felt during the Second Lebanon War, how society is dealing with the outcome of that war, and Israeli expectations for the future.

Some analysts believe that international pressure kept Israel from reaching a victory in Lebanon during last summer’s conflict. But, Western support of Israel, then, was high. America was behind Israel’s defense efforts for many days during the war, and Israelis were surprised by the continued support of not only U.S. President George W. Bush, but Britain’s Prime Minister Tony Blair. Both leaders virtually gave Israel a green light to continue in the battle against Hizballah and finish off the terrorist army occupying much of south Lebanon.

What is clear is that Israel was not able to meet that goal. News reports have revealed that the IDF was not prepared to go to war last summer. Israeli leaders expected to go to war in the fall. They did not anticipate the battle with Hizballah to accelerate so quickly and expansively; their goals were unrealistic; and they did not have a definitive end strategy.

Olmert, being a career politician, was less experienced in defense related issues than his predecessor, former Prime Minister and General Ariel Sharon. In his cabinet, Olmert could have included a defense minister with superior qualifications to lead Israel into battle. Instead, he gave the coveted position to a politician who readily admitted he was inexperienced in military issues. Amir Peretz would have rather had the title of Finance Minister, with a desire to bring a socio-economic plan to the Israeli public. Having not anticipated a full-scale war any time soon, citizens were looking forward to their taxes being used to fund the poor and needy, not to supply IDF ground troops with more equipment, and tanks with more sophisticated weaponry.

Israel’s former Chief of Staff, Dan Halutz, was an experienced air force general, expecting, like many Israeli officers and defense analysts, that the nation’s future wars would be fought mainly in the air, and not as much on the ground. Israel went into war without good intelligence information. The IDF did not anticipate the strength and expertise of Hizballah to launch rockets deep into Israeli population centers, and to aim missiles that accurately hit Israeli tanks. No one knew just how entrenched Hizballah was in Lebanon’s neighborhoods, especially in the southern part of the country. Few expected that, in the beginning of the war, Hizballah would use an advanced rocket system, with the help of Iranian Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC), to severely damage one of Israel’s naval vessels. Furthermore, the public was shocked that Hizballah would break all rules of engagement, hitting not only innocent civilians, but hospitals, as well. This was not a normal conventional war, and the kind of battle that Israel faced was not yet part of a military plan on how to confront the global war on terror.

Furthermore, Israelis were not prepared for an extended war on two fronts – Gaza in the south, and Lebanon in the north. The government did not officially call it a war until after the war ended. The surprise of the “unexpected” caused emotions to run high in Israeli society. Olmert’s questionable political decisions, putting members of his cabinet in wrong positions, showed lack of wisdom, which led to increased public mistrust.

While a majority of Israelis in the recent INSS poll said they believed the IDF should have pushed through to the end in Lebanon, perhaps it is more reflective of their desire, rather than the emotional will of the people at the time of the war. It is easier now for Israelis to analyze what happened then and say, in hindsight, what should have been done. However, during the war, the reality of the situation was different. Every dead soldier that came back from Lebanon was increasingly met with public frustration as the war progressed. In fact, after one well-known popular author protested the war with several of his friends, he got a call that his own son was killed in action.

Polls indicate that a majority of Israeli citizens stood behind the government’s decision to go to war. There are reasons for this. First of all, when Israelis are at war, they unite. The “left” and the “right” realize that they cannot afford to be divided. They stand together for the sake of the survival of the nation. Surrounded by mostly hostile neighbors, Israel’s survival is always at stake, but most definitely during times of conflict.

Secondly, when soldiers are kidnapped and taken as prisoners of war, a red line is crossed in Israeli society. Their value of human life surpasses that of most Middle Eastern societies, and Israelis will do everything they can to get their P.O.W.’s returned.

Traditionally, the Israeli soldier has been led to believe that his government and comrades won’t leave him to suffer in the field. They will retrieve him, dead or alive, and if he is abducted, they will do everything humanely possible to bring him back home. This is what contributes to the devotion and loyalty of those citizens serving in the army.

One of the reasons the public, at large, has not been supportive of the Olmert government, is because they believe that Olmert, himself, did not negotiate the successful return of Israel’s three P.O.W.’s before accepting international negotiations for a peaceful end to the war.

Discrepancies exist between what the polls say and what the reality on the ground was during the time of the Second Lebanon War. Israeli families were hearing from their sons and fathers that supplies in the field, including food and water were limited; and that weapons depots were not adequately equipped. They heard about the confusion in the ranks between officers, commanders, and combat units. They saw the indecision on the part of defense and political officials throughout the confrontation in the north. They understood that there was no strategic plan and no realistic goals to handle the terrorists, while recognizing that the enemy was well-equipped and ready to take on Israel at every turn.

Why would any mother want to sacrifice her son, or any wife want to sacrifice her husband, for a war that was being lost because of the failures of senior government and military officials?

The right scenario would have been for Israel to root out Hizballah in the first days of the war. The IDF took Hizballah by surprise then, and should have pressed on to Lebanon’s Litani River and beyond at that time. Israel missed a great opportunity because air power instead of a ground invasion was the main force used in the first few days. Hizballah quickly assessed this tactical error and was able to effectively set up ambushes. Eye witnesses said that Hizballah would act like snakes coming out of holes in the ground, fire on Israeli troops at close range, and then go back into their holes. Hizballah’s entrenchment in the basements and backyards of southern Lebanese homes gave them a distinct advantage over Israeli forces.

With good intelligence, Israel could have pushed through, on the ground, in those first few days, and severely damaged Hizballah's fighting power. Yet, as the war progressed, Israeli troops were hit badly, especially those men taking up positions in safe houses. Also, tank commanders were dying, because of Hizballah's ability to make direct hits on tanks with sophisticated missiles. Since the war, Israel has fitted tanks with systems to counter and defeat anti-tank missiles in preparation for a future war with Hizballah.

While the Olmert government could not stop Hizballah’s missiles from causing one-fourth of Israel’s population to flee from homes in the north, they also could not identify Hizballah headquarters, and were not able to destroy the terrorist army’s capabilities. In the end, the important thing was to get Israeli troops out of the battlefield before more lives were taken. Aimless plans caused Israel’s eventual withdrawal from battle.

Some have said that Israel actually won the war, because the IDF was able to push Hizballah's army out of the southern part of Lebanon; and, because the peace agreement with Lebanon gave the Lebanese government the diplomatic backbone needed to take over Hizballah positions in the south of the country. Yet, today, Hizballah has re-armed to pre-battle strength. The terrorist army has the backing of many Lebanese citizens and is still entrenching troops within the southern population.

Meanwhile, Israel has learned much from past mistakes. The majority of Israelis still believe in the IDF’s ability to defend the country, and the defense establishment is doing its best to meet those expectations. With the threat of war on the horizon involving at least three fronts (Gaza, Lebanon, and Syria), along with the possibility of a fourth front (Iran), the government has focused its defense budget on readying IDF troops; on re-stocking weapons depots; on unifying communications between officers and troops; and on equipping soldiers in the field with necessary supplies.

Emergency preparations have already begun, with defense exercises carried out during the past few months, including the unprecedented participation in drills of Israeli government officials. Leaders have more realistic goals; have defined their targets (hopefully with greater accuracy for the next conflict); and, have drawn up new plans based on new defense strategies for a new kind of terrorist war.

While a change in government is considered the ideal by many citizens, the certainty of a soon-coming war is of more concern to most of the population today, which doesn’t seem ready for new elections. Olmert may have weathered a political storm, and may still have another chance to prove himself, as Israelis prepare for a war they hope will have a different outcome than the last one.

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