Israel’s War Against Palestine: Documenting the Military Occupation of Palestinian and Arab Lands

Aluf Benn: Who decided to go to war in Gaza and why?

28 October 2009

By Aluf Benn, Haaretz – 28 Oct 2009

Aluf Benn

Aluf Benn

I want to know how and why it was decided to embark on Operation Cast Lead in the Gaza Strip and to expand it into a ground offensive. I want to know if the decisions were affected by the Israeli election campaign then underway and the change in U.S. presidents. I want to know if the leaders who launched the operation correctly judged the political damage it would cause Israel and what they did to minimize it. I want to know if those who gave orders to the Israel Defense Forces assumed that hundreds of Palestinian civilians would be killed, and how they tried to prevent this.

These questions should be at the center of an investigation into Operation Cast Lead. An investigation is necessary because of the political complexities that resulted from the operation, the serious harm to Palestinian civilians, the Goldstone report and its claims of war crimes, and the limits that will be imposed on the IDF’s freedom of operation in the future. There is no room to argue that the government should be allowed to govern without interference and investigations, with the public passing judgment at the ballot box. The government changed after the Gaza operation and the questions remain troublesome.

The investigations by the army and Military Police are meant to examine soldiers’ behavior on the battlefield. They are no substitute for a comprehensive examination of the activities of the political leadership and senior command, who are responsible for an operation and its results. It’s not the company or battalion commanders who need to be investigated, but former prime minister Ehud Olmert, Defense Minister Ehud Barak, former foreign minister Tzipi Livni, Chief of Staff Gabi Ashkenazi, and the heads of the intelligence chiefs and Foreign Ministry, who were party to the decisions. It is also important to investigate Barak and Livni’s election campaign advisers to find out if and how the campaign affected the military and diplomatic efforts.

The following questions require answers:

  • Why did the “cease-fire” agreement between Israel and Hamas collapse, and who decided and why on an IDF operation against the tunnel uncovered near the Gaza border on November 4, which resulted in renewed escalation in the south?

  • Before embarking on Cast Lead, were diplomatic alternatives explored for achieving calm in the south? Was Hamas’ proposal for renewing calm in exchange for opening crossings seriously considered in Israel, or did the government only want a military operation?

  • How did the rising popularity of the opposition parties, Benjamin Netanyahu and Avigdor Lieberman, as reflected in polls at the time, affect Barak and Livni’s stances before and during the operation?

  • What was the importance of image as informed by concepts such as “restoring deterrence” and “overcoming the trauma of the Second Lebanon War” in the decisions to embark on the operation and introduce ground forces?

  • Did the cabinet receive assessments that discussed the possibility that hundreds of Palestinian women and children would be killed? Did ministers voice fiery rhetoric at cabinet meetings that could have been understood as encouragement to harm Palestinian civilians? Did Olmert and Attorney General Menachem Mazuz intervene and silence such voices?

  • How did the personal and political infighting between Olmert, Barak and Livni affect the decision making? Why did Barak support a humanitarian cease-fire immediately after the operation began, and why did Olmert and Livni reject his proposal? Why did Livni change her position as the fighting ensued and Olmert insisted on continuing the operation?

  • Who decided to bomb the flour mill and sewage treatment center in Gaza, and why?

  • Did Olmert weigh the expected damage to Israel at the United Nations when he rejected the Security Council’s call for an immediate cease-fire

  • Where did Olmert disappear to on January 13 when Barak and Livni could not find him in an effort to offer a cease-fire?

A state commission of inquiry should be established. Such committees have been set up before for significantly less important issues than the war in Gaza. But the political reality is paralyzing: The defense minister and the chief of staff fear the fate of their predecessors who lost their jobs because of the Yom Kippur War and the two Lebanon wars. The prime minister is afraid of Barak and Ashkenazi. The Knesset State Control Committee under Kadima’s Yoel Hasson will not initiate an investigation against Livni. Without a state commission of inquiry, State Comptroller Micha Lindenstrauss must undertake the role himself. He has already proved that he is afraid of neither Olmert nor Barak.

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