The Winograd Report

May 1, 2007 | AIJAC staff

Update from AIJAC

May 1, 2007
Number 05/07 #01

As readers may be aware, the much anticipated first report of the “Winograd Commission” into the handling of last year’s conflict in Lebanon was released in Israel yesterday.  The report, dealing only with preparations for the war and the first five days of the conflict, is, as expected, harshly critical of the decision-making of Prime Minister Ehud Olmert, Defence Minister Amir Peretz, and the performance of former Chief of Staff, Dan Halutz.

We open with some key excerpts from the report findings. Most of the key summaries about what went wrong and who is responsible are in the second half of this excerpt, from points 10 through 16 . Also of note are the commission’s remarks about the opportunity to learn from the mistakes made last year, which are right at the end. To read this highly important document, CLICK HERE.

Next up is some analysis of what the commission’s findings mean in wider terms than the immediate political implications, from Anshel Pfeiffer of the Jerusalem Post. He points out that the report appears to expose a political malaise whereby the Israeli political process failed to adequately explore alternatives and consult with advisors and military commanders before making a decision. However, he also points out that the report, by setting out rules for good governance, should not only be compulsory reading for all future Israeli leaders, but is also “a triumph for Israeli democracy.” He adds, “Few countries are capable of judging their leaders in such a serious and timely fashion.” To read his full analysis, CLICK HERE.

Finally, this Update offers you another view of the mistakes of the Lebanon War, which predates the Winograd report, but supplements its conclusions with some additional examination of the strategic opportunities and failures apparent in last year’s conflict. It comes from  distinguished Israeli strategic studies academic Prof. Efraim Inbar, writing in the latest Middle East Quarterly. For his overview of what went wrong, and what Israel can correct in order to prepare for a likely further round of conflict with Hezbollah, CLICK HERE.

Excerpts from the Winograd report

Ynetnews  04.30.07, 22:35

1. On September 17th 2006 The Government of Israel decided, under section 8A of The Government Act 2001, to appoint a governmental commission of examination “To look into the preparation and conduct of the political and the security levels concerning all the dimensions of the Northern Campaign which started on July 12th 2006”. Today we have submitted to the Prime Minister and the Minister of Defense the classified interim report, and we are now presenting the unclassified report to the public.

2. The Commission was appointed due to a strong sense of a crisis and deep disappointment with the consequences of the campaign and the way it was conducted. We regarded accepted this difficult task both as a duty and a privilege. It is our belief that the larger the event and the deeper the feeling of crisis – the greater the opportunity to change and improve matters which are essential for the security and the flourishing of state and society in Israel. We believe Israeli society has great strength and resilience, with a robust sense of the justice of its being and of its achievements. These, too, were expressed during the war in Lebanon and after it. At the same time, we must not underrated deep failures among us.

3. This conception of our role affected the way we operated. No-one underestimates the need to study what happened in the past, including the imposition of personal responsibility. The past is the key for learning lessons for the future. Nonetheless, learning these lessons and actually implementing them are the most implication of the conclusions of the Commission.

4. This emphasis on learning lessons does not only follow from our conception of the role of a public Commission. It also follows from our belief that one Israeli society greatest sources of strength is its being a free, open and creative. Together with great achievements, the challenges facing it are existential. To cope with them, Israel must be a learning society – a society which examines its achievements and, in particular, its failures, in order to improve its ability to face the future.

5. Initially we hoped that the appointment of the Commission will serve as an incentive to accelerate learning processes in the relevant systems, while we are working, so that we could devote our time to study all of the materials in depth, and present the public with a comprehensive picture. However, learning processes have been limited. In some ways an opposite, and worrying, process emerged – a process of ‘waiting’ for the Commission’s Report before energetic and determined action is taken to redress failures which have been revealed.

6. Therefore we decided to publish initially an Interim Report, focusing on the decisions related to starting the war. We do this in the hope that the relevant bodies will act urgently to change and correct all that it implies. We would like to reiterate and emphasize that we hope that this Partial Report, which concentrates on the functioning of the highest political and military echelons in their decision to move into the war will not divert attention from the overall troubling complete picture revealed by the war as a whole.

7. The interim report includes a number of chapters dealing with the following subjects:

a. The Commissions’ conception of its role, and its attitude to recommendations in general and to recommendations dealing with specific persons in particular. (chapter 2): We see as the main task of a public commission of inquiry (or investigation) to determine findings and conclusions, and present them- with its recommendations – before the public and decision makers so that they can take action. A public commission should not – in most cases – replace the usual political decision-making processes and determine who should serve as a minister or senior military commander. Accordingly, we include personal conclusions in the interim report, without personal recommendations. However, we will reconsider this matter towards our Final Report in view of the depiction of the war as a whole.

b. The way we balanced our desire to engage in a speedy and efficient investigation with the rights of those who may be negatively affected to ‘natural justice’ (chapter 3): The special stipulations of the Commissions of Inquiry Act in this regard do not apply to a governmental commission of Examination, but we regard ourselves, naturally, as working under the general principles of natural justice. The commission notified those who may be affected by its investigation, in detailed letters of invitation, of the ways in which they may be negatively affected, and enabled them to respond to allegations against them, without sending “notices of warning” and holding a quasi-judicial hearing before reaching out conclusions. We believe that in this way we provided all who may be negatively affected by our report with a full opportunity to answer all allegations against them.

c. The processes and developments in the period between the withdrawal of the IDF from Lebanon until July 11, 2006 which contributed to the background of the Lebanon War (Chapter 4): These processes created much of the factual background against which the decision-makers had to operate on July 12th, and they are thus essential to both the understanding and the evaluation of the events of the war. Understanding them is also essential for drawing lessons from the events, whose significance is often broader than that of the war itself.

8. The core of the interim report is a detailed examination of the decisions of senior political and military decision-makers concerning the decision to go to war at the wake of the abduction of the two soldiers on the morning of July 12th. We start with the decision of the government on the fateful evening of the 12th to authorize a sharp military response, and end with the speech of the Prime Minister in the Knesset on July 17th, when he officially presented the campaign and its goals. These decisions were critical and constitutive, and therefore deserve separate investigation. We should note that these decisions enjoyed broad support within the government, the Knesset and the public throughout this period.

9. Despite this broad support, we determine that there are very serious failings in these decisions and the way they were made. We impose the primary responsibility for these failures on the Prime Minister, the minister of defense and the (outgoing) Chief of Staff. All three made a decisive personal contribution to these decisions and the way in which they were made. However, there are many others who share responsibility for the mistakes we found in these decisions and for their background conditions.

10. The main failures in the decisions made and the decision-making processes can be summed up as follows:

a. The decision to respond with an immediate, intensive military strike was not based on a detailed, comprehensive and authorized military plan, based on careful study of the complex characteristics of the Lebanon arena. A meticulous examination of these characteristics would have revealed the following: the ability to achieve military gains having significant political-international weight was limited; an Israeli military strike would inevitably lead to missiles fired at the Israeli civilian north; there was not other effective military response to such missile attacks than an extensive and prolonged ground operation to capture the areas from which the missiles were fired – which would have a high “cost” and which did not enjoy broad support. These difficulties were not explicitly raised with the political leaders before the decision to strike was taken.

b. Consequently, in making the decision to go to war, the government did not consider the whole range of options, including that of continuing the policy of ‘containment’, or combining political and diplomatic moves with military strikes below the ‘escalation level’, or military preparations without immediate military action — so as to maintain for Israel the full range of responses to the abduction. This failure reflects weakness in strategic thinking, which derives the response to the event from a more comprehensive and encompassing picture.

c. The support in the cabinet for this move was gained in part through ambiguity in the presentation of goals and modes of operation, so that ministers with different or even contradictory attitudes could support it. The ministers voted for a vague decision, without understanding and knowing its nature and implications. They authorized to commence a military campaign without considering how to exit it.

d. Some of the declared goals of the war were not clear and could not be achieved, and in part were not achievable by the authorized modes of military action.

e. The IDF did not exhibit creativity in proposing alternative action possibilities, did not alert the political decision-makers to the discrepancy between its own scenarios and the authorized modes of action, and did not demand – as was necessary under its own plans – early mobilization of the reserves so they could be equipped and trained in case a ground operation would be required.

f. Even after these facts became known to the political leaders, they failed to adapt the military way of operation and its goals to the reality on the ground. On the contrary, declared goals were too ambitious, and it was publicly states that fighting will continue till they are achieved. But the authorized military operations did not enable their achievement.

11. The primary responsibility for these serious failings rests with the Prime Minister, the minister of defense and the (outgoing) Chief of Staff. We single out these three because it is likely that had any of them acted better – the decisions in the relevant period and the ways they were made, as well as the outcome of the war, would have been significantly better.

12. Let us start with the Prime Minister.  

a. The Prime Minister bears supreme and comprehensive responsibility for the decisions of ‘his’ government and the operations of the army. His responsibility for the failures in the initial decisions concerning the war stem from both his position and from his behavior, as he initiated and led the decisions which were taken.

b. The Prime Minister made up his mind hastily, despite the fact that no detailed military plan was submitted to him and without asking for one. Also, his decision was made without close study of the complex features of the Lebanon front and of the military, political and diplomatic options available to Israel. He made his decision without systematic consultation with others, especially outside the IDF, despite not having experience in external-political and military affairs. In addition, he did not adequately consider political and professional reservations presented to him before the fateful decisions of July 12th.

c. The Prime Minister is responsible for the fact that the goals of the campaign were not set out clearly and carefully, and that there was no serious discussion of the relationships between these goals and the authorized modes of military action. He made a personal contribution to the fact that the declared goals were over-ambitious and not feasible.

d. The Prime Minister did not adapt his plans once it became clear that the assumptions and expectations of Israel’s actions were not realistic and were not materializing.

e. All of these add up to a serious failure in exercising judgment, responsibility and prudence.

13. The Minister of Defense is the minister responsible for overseeing the IDF, and he is a senior member in the group of leaders in charge of political-military affairs.

 a. The Minister of Defense did not have knowledge or experience in military, political or governmental matters. He also did not have good knowledge of the basic principles of using military force to achieve political goals.

b. Despite these serious gaps, he made his decisions during this period without systemic consultations with experienced political and professional experts, including outside the security establishment. In addition, he did not give adequate weight to reservations expressed in the meetings he attended.

c. The Minister of Defense did not act within a strategic conception of the systems he oversaw. He did not ask for the IDF’s operational plans and did not examine them; he did not check the preparedness and fitness of IDF; and did not examine the fit between the goals set and the modes of action presented and authorized for achieving them. His influence on the decisions made was mainly pointillist and operational. He did not put on the table – and did not demand presentation – of serious strategic options for discussion with the Prime Minister and the IDF.

d. The Minister of Defense did not develop an independent assessment of the implications of the complexity of the front for Israel’s proper response, the goals of the campaign, and the relations between military and diplomatic moves within it. His lack of experience and knowledge prevented him from challenging in a competent way both the IDF, over which he was in charge, and the Prime Minister.

e. In all these ways, the Minister of Defense failed in fulfilling his functions. Therefore, his serving as Minister of Defense during the war impaired Israel’s ability to respond well to its challenges.

14. The Chief of Staff (COS) is the supreme commander of the IDF, and the main source of information concerning the army, its plans, abilities and recommendations presented to the political echelon. Furthermore, the COS’s personal involvement with decision making within the army and in coordination with the political echelon were dominant.

a. The army and the COS were not prepared for the event of the abduction despite recurring alerts. When the abduction happened, he responded impulsively. He did not alert the political leaders to the complexity of the situation, and did not present information, assessments and plans that were available in the IDF at various levels of planning and approval and which would have enabled a better response to the challenges. 

b. Among other things, the COS did not alert the political echelon to the serious shortcomings in the preparedness and the fitness of the armed forces for an extensive ground operation, if that became necessary. In addition, he did not clarify that the military assessments and analyses of the arena were that a military strike against Hezbollah will with a high probability make such a move necessary.

c. The COS’s responsibility is aggravated by the fact that he knew well that both the Prime Minister and the Minister of Defense lacked adequate knowledge and experience in these matters, and by the fact that he had led them to believe that the IDF was ready and prepared and had operational plans fitting the situation.

d. The COS did not provide adequate responses to serious reservation about his recommendations raised by ministers and others during the first days of the campaign, and he did not present to the political leaders the internal debates within the IDF concerning the fit between the stated goals and the authorized modes of actions.

e. In all these the Chief of Staff failed in his duties as commander in chief of the army and as a critical part of the political-military leadership, and exhibited flaws in professionalism, responsibility and judgment.

15. Concomitantly we determine that the failures listed here, and in the outcomes of the war, had many other partners.

a. The complexity of the Lebanon scene is basically outside Israel’s control.

b. The ability of Hezbollah to sit ‘on the border’, its ability to dictate the moment of escalation, and the growth of its military abilities and missile arsenal increased significantly as a result of Israel’s unilateral withdrawal in May 2000 (which was not followed, as had been hoped, by The Lebanese Army deploying on the border with Israel.)

c. The shortcomings in the preparedness and the training of the army, its operational doctrine, and various flaws in its organizational culture and structure, were all the responsibility of the military commanders and political leaders in charge years before the present Prime Minister, Minister of Defense and Chief of Staff took office.

d. On the political-security strategic level, the lack of preparedness was also caused by the failure to update and fully articulate Israel’s security strategy doctrine, in the fullest sense of that term, so that it could not serve as a basis for coping comprehensively will all the challenges facing Israel. Responsibility for this lack of an updates national security strategy lies with Israel’s governments over the years. This omission made it difficult to devise an immediate proper response to the abduction, because it led to stressing an immediate and sharp military strike. If the response had been derived from a more comprehensive security strategy, it would have been easier to take into account Israel’s overall balance of strengths and vulnerabilities, including the preparedness of the civil population.

e. Another factor which largely contributed to the failures is the weakness of the high staff work available to the political leadership. This weakness existed under all previous Prime Ministers and this continuing failure is the responsibility of these PMs and their cabinets. The current political leadership did not act in a way that could compensate for this lack, and did not rely sufficiently on other bodies within and outside the security system that could have helped it.

f. Israel’s government in its plenum failed in its political function of taking full responsibility for its decisions. It did not explore and seek adequate response for various reservations that were raised, and authorized an immediate military strike that was not thought-through and suffered from over-reliance on the judgment of the primary decision-makers.

g. Members of the IDF’s general staff who were familiar with the assessments and intelligence concerning the Lebanon front, and the serious deficiencies in preparedness and training, did not insist that these should be considered within the army, and did not alert the political leaders concerning the flaws in the decisions and the way they were made.

16. As a result of our investigation, we make a number of structural and institutional recommendations, which require urgent attention:

a. The improvement of the quality of discussions and decision making within the government through strengthening and deepening staff work; strict enforcement of the prohibition of leaks; improving the knowledge base of all members of the government on core issues of Israel’s challenges, and orderly procedures for presentation of issues for discussion and resolution.

b. Full incorporation of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs in security decisions with political and diplomatic aspects.

c. Substantial improvement in the functioning of the National Security Council, the establishment of a national assessment team, and creating a center for crises management in the Prime Minister’s Office.

17. We regard it is of great importance to make findings, reach conclusions and present recommendations on the other critical issues which emerged in this war. We will cover them in the final report, which we strive to conclude soon. These subjects include, among others, the direction of the war was led and its management by the political echelon; the conduct of the military campaign by the army; the civil-military relationship in the war; taking care of Israel’s civilian population under missile attack; the diplomatic negotiations by the Prime Minister’s office and the Ministry of Foreign Affairs; censorship, the media and secrecy; the effectiveness of Israel’s media campaign; and the discussion of various social and political processes which are essential for a comprehensive analysis of the events of the war and their significance.

18. Let us add a few final comments: It took the government till March 2007 to name the events of the summer of 2006 ‘The Second Lebanon War’. After 25 years without a war, Israel experienced a war of a different kind. The war thus brought back to center stage some critical questions that parts of Israeli society preferred to avoid.

19. The IDF was not ready for this war. Among the many reasons for this we can mention a few: Some of the political and military elites in Israel have reached the conclusion that Israel is beyond the era of wars. It had enough military might and superiority to deter others from declaring war against her; these would also be sufficient to send a painful reminder to anyone who seemed to be undeterred; since Israel did not intend to initiate a war, the conclusion was that the main challenge facing the land forces would be low intensity asymmetrical conflicts.

20. Given these assumptions, the IDF did not need to be prepared for ‘real’ war. There was also no urgent need to update in a systematic and sophisticated way Israel’s overall security strategy and to consider how to mobilize and combine all its resources and sources of strength – political, economic, social, military, spiritual, cultural and scientific – to address the totality of the challenges it faces.

21. We believe that – beyond the important need to examine the failures of conducting the war and the preparation for it, beyond the need to identify the weaknesses (and strengths) in the decisions made in the war – these are the main questions raised by the Second Lebanon war. These are questions that go far beyond the mandate of this or that commission of inquiry; they are the questions that stand at the center of our existence here as a Jewish and democratic state. It would be a grave mistake to concentrate only on the flaws revealed in the war and not to address these basic issues.

We hope that our findings and conclusions in the interim report and in the final report will not only impel taking care of the serious governmental flaws and failures we examine and expose, but will also lead towards a renewed process in which Israeli society, and its political and spiritual leaders will take up and explore Israel’s long-term aspirations and the ways to advance them.


Analysis: Shattering illusions

Anshel Pfeffer


Perhaps the most important thing to do now is to pay heed to the last paragraph of Eliahu Winograd’s public address and, for just a moment, to set aside the personal implications of his committee’s report for the prime minister and the rest of the political and military leadership, and try to understand the wider meaning of the document.

Winograd and his colleagues not only dissected the events leading up to the outbreak of the Second Lebanon War and during its first five days, they presented us with the most comprehensive critique of the decision-making process employed by Israeli governments for as far back as we can remember.

The report makes for difficult reading, and not only for its damning verdicts regarding Prime Minister Ehud Olmert, Defense Minister Amir Peretz, the cabinet and then-chief of General Staff Lt.-Gen. Dan Halutz. It is also full of didactic descriptions of how a government should conduct itself.

Some of the conclusions seem self-evident: A government should review different courses of action before making fateful decisions. The nation’s leaders must have a large team of professional aides to advise them. A prime minister cannot act on impulse when sending men into the firing-line. The defense minister has to ensure civilian control of the armed forces. The army’s commander must present the cabinet with all the relevant information. Contingency plans have to be drawn up for potential threats and periodically reviewed.

These are basics, Government 101, but as the committee pointed out, none of these rules were obeyed during the war and in the years leading up to it. That’s why the committee felt it had no choice but to set out a blueprint for governing Israel.

“A bad result is not always an indication of a failing,” says the report, “just as a good result doesn’t always prove that the conduct was correct.”

The committee is coming close to saying here that by losing 163 lives in the war, we paid the price for failings that could have cost us much more. The malaise at the highest levels of leadership existed long before the war, in successive governments. The political-military relationship was critically misbalanced and prime ministers made decisions without any set process of consultation and accountability.

Interestingly, the committee did not criticize Olmert for appointing a politician with virtually no military experience as defense minister. The report stresses repeatedly that Olmert and Peretz should have acknowledged their inexperience and acted accordingly, but it does not say at any point that they shouldn’t have been in their jobs.

The committee members were essentially saying, “This is a democracy and any citizen can be elected, but for God’s sake, take democracy seriously. The public entrusted you with a sacred responsibility. Don’t decide in two hours to go to war.”

As the panel writes, national decision-making takes “leadership, responsibility, care, knowledge of the facts, determination, clarity, deliberation and an ability to observe long-range complexities.” Simple, yet apparently totally lacking in our leadership.

The committee blasted Israel’s culture of inconsistency and improvisation. It criticized the IDF for incessantly playing around with its strategic doctrine instead of settling first on a basic set of principles. “There is an opportunity here” the panel writes. “If the results had been different, the army’s conduct wouldn’t have been examined and we would still be under the illusion that everything is fine with our army.”

A battalion commander in 1967 who went on to fill senior national security positions said this week, “The Six Day War was too successful. We were in such euphoria from the results that we never checked what went wrong and we’ve been paying the price ever since.” Winograd’s message is that a serious accounting is long overdue.

The elected government must never trust the military to do the accounting itself. Winograd blames not only Olmert and Peretz for neglecting their responsibility but the entire cabinet. “The cabinet might have taken the decision [to go to war] but it did so as a political body giving backing to the prime minister, defense minister and the IDF.”

All the ministers share the blame for a hasty decision taken without information on the scale or risks of the campaign.

It is no exaggeration to say that the committee performed a historic task in setting out the basics for any government dealing with what it calls “our existential dilemmas as a Jewish and democratic state.” Long after this government is gone, the report should be compulsory reading for Israel’s leaders upon assuming their responsibilities. Any future government should be judged accordingly.

The reports on Arab news channels were of jubilation in Beirut, Damascus and Teheran at the humiliation of Israel’s leadership at the hands of the committee, but if anything, Monday’s performance by Winograd and his colleagues was a triumph for Israeli democracy. Few countries are capable of judging their leaders in such a serious and timely fashion.

We should almost be thanking Hizbullah for forcing us to take a long hard look in the mirror. As the report says, “If this examination lead to an improvement in our preparation for fateful decision making in the future – out of the tragedy might come a blessing for us.”


How Israel Bungled the Second Lebanon War

by Efraim Inbar

Middle East Quarterly, Summer 2007

Israel’s leadership was ill-prepared for the summer 2006 war against Hezbollah. Israeli politicians and planners displayed strategic blindness. While denying the Israel Defense Forces (IDF) victory, they squandered an opportunity to destroy the bulk of Hezbollah’s military presence in southern Lebanon, settle regional scores, enhance Israel’s deterrence, and strengthen Jerusalem’s alliance with Washington.

The Failure of Deterrence

For more than six years, between Israel’s May 2000 unilateral withdrawal from Lebanon and the outbreak of war in July 2006, Israeli officials sought to contain the Hezbollah threat. Preoccupied with a renewed Palestinian uprising in the West Bank and Gaza and a protracted terrorist campaign, Israel policymakers hoped restraint would suffice. They stuck to their policy despite such Hezbollah provocations as soldier abductions, Katyusha barrages, and cross-border terrorist attacks.[1] Not only would a tough response against Hezbollah risk a second front and perhaps escalation with Syria but Israeli politicians were loath to disrupt the economic development in northern Israel that followed the Lebanon withdrawal.[2]

This does not mean that Israeli officials did not take Hezbollah seriously. After leaving southern Lebanon, Israeli officials considered the group to be a nuisance, but in recent years, their assessment changed, and they acknowledged Hezbollah to be a strategic threat.[3] In July 2003, outgoing IDF chief of staff Lt. Gen. Shaul Mofaz, who subsequently became defense minister, warned of the growing Hezbollah threat.[4] His successor, Lt. Gen. Moshe Yaalon, cautioned that much of northern Israel was vulnerable to Hezbollah’s missiles.[5] Politicians and former intelligence officers also said that they had warned the government.[6]

Still, many IDF leaders believed that minimal force if not diplomacy would suffice to minimize the threat. Chief of the Northern Command Maj. Gen. Udi Adam, for example, said, “There is nothing that can be solved just by the military … There is a need for a diplomatic solution,” adding, “I do not believe that anyone wants to go back into Lebanon.”[7]

Restraint ended on July 12, 2006, when Hezbollah terrorists attacked an Israeli patrol on the Israeli side of the border and abducted two soldiers.[8] The attack came just nineteen days after Palestinian terrorists staged a similar cross border raid from Gaza.[9] Israeli prime minister Ehud Olmert and defense minister Amir Peretz ordered a forceful reaction.[10] IDF chief of staff Dan Halutz, who had not even mentioned Lebanon in his tour d’horizon at the Herzliya Conference seven months earlier, acknowledged that “the way we finish this [operation in Lebanon] will have ramifications for the entire Middle East.”[11] He was right. The end of military operations on August 14, 2006, with the passage of United Nations Security Council Resolution (UNSCR) 1701[12] had implications not only in Israel and Lebanon but also across the region.

Failure to Prepare

As soon as the guns fell silent, Israeli officials began to take stock of their new situation. There was unease. Declarations of victory rang hollow. While politicians and military officials squabbled over responsibility, the government appointed an inquiry committee headed by judge Eliyahu Winograd to sort the situation out. Still, the fact that there were serious strategic errors was clear.

Israel’s highest political and military echelons committed serious strategic errors in preparation for, during execution, and in the aftermath of the 2006 Lebanon campaign. Together, these errors enabled Hezbollah to persevere against the larger, better-equipped Israeli military and emerge as perhaps an even greater threat.

Failure to prepare undercut Israeli operations from the start. Before the war, Israeli planners had unrealistic expectations about armed conflict with Hezbollah. They planned for small skirmishes, not for a large-scale, conventional military campaign. Some of Israel’s reluctance to plan for action inside Lebanon might have been rooted in former prime minister Ariel Sharon’s legacy. As defense minister, Sharon presided over the 1982 Lebanon war, and many Israelis consider him responsible for the subsequent imbroglio.[13] In 1983, the Kahan Commission found Sharon negligent for his failure to predict and stop a Lebanese militia’s massacre of Palestinian refugees at Sabra and Shatilla.[14] Sharon’s subsequent attempts to rehabilitate his image during his premiership (2001-06) would be undercut if he again involved Israeli forces in Lebanon.

Inattention by the General Staff toward Lebanon reflected Israeli assumptions about the unlikelihood of any land war on its borders. Udi Adam complained that the highest military forum hardly discussed the Lebanese front.[15]

Perhaps as a result, the IDF failed to estimate adequately its needs prior to the war. Effective March 2007, Shaul Mofaz, defense minister between November 2002 and March 2006, had scheduled a gradual reduction in conscript military service and also initiated a new law shortening reserve duty and reducing training. According to Maj. Gen. Benny Ganz, chief of Israel’s ground forces, the government had cut allocations for training reserve units by US$800 million since 2001.[16] Budgetary constraints also led the IDF to reduce the size of tank formations, and budgetary officials pressured the Israeli military to discontinue production of its top-line Merkava tank. In addition, because of cost, the IDF declined to install the Trophy antimissile system on most tanks and did not provide the Israeli air force with bunker buster bombs.[17] Only a number of special forces received training geared to operations in southern Lebanon, but even these units lacked the latest intelligence when ordered across the border because the heads of military intelligence refrained from transferring data collected on Hezbollah positions in southern Lebanon to the units in the field.[18]

Further underlying Israel’s lack of preparation was the failure of its leadership to acknowledge the operation against Hezbollah to be a war rather than a retaliatory raid or more limited military action. The Israeli government, for example, never declared a state of emergency, nor did it enact its wartime administrative and legal powers. Delays in mobilization of reserve forces reflected the military leadership’s failure to realize it faced a war.

Israel’s leadership also failed to understand the strategic significance of the cumulative Katyusha strikes. An IDF statement of its strategic goals presented to the Israeli government at the beginning of the conflict failed to even mention home-front defense.[19] Over the course of several years, Israel’s intelligence organs had neglected to collect intelligence regarding Hezbollah’s short range Katyushas.[20] Military officials had considered such rockets as weapons of little consequence because of their inaccuracy and small warheads. In the initial stage of the war, Halutz said that “short range rockets are not a decisive weapon.”[21] But the war showed Israel’s northern population to be ill-prepared to withstand a large rocket barrage. Most of the short-range Katyushas fell in empty fields and caused little damage, but 25 percent of the nearly 4,000 missiles launched hit urban areas and paralyzed the whole of northern Israel, its main port, refineries, and many other strategic installations.[22] Over one million Israelis lived in bomb shelters and about 300,000 temporarily left their homes and sought refuge in the south. Olmert was very wrong in stating on August 3, 2006, that the war could not be measured by counting the number of missiles falling on Israel.[23] The continuous barrage of Katyushas at Israel’s northern cities supported Hezbollah’s claim to victory. Only in the last stages of the war did the attempt to limit the Katyusha salvoes become an operational goal.

Israel’s failure to allocate sufficient funds towards the development of an adequate missile defense system to provide protection against the Hezbollah threat was a strategic mistake. While Israeli military industries mastered several technological responses against short-range missiles, Israel had refrained from turning them operational. Only after the war, in February 2007, did the Ministry of Defense approve the development of defensive weapon systems against short- and intermediate-range missiles. The newly-approved Rafael Armament Development Authority’s Iron Dome and Magic Wand systems will eventually defend against Qassam rockets, short-range Katyushas, and medium-range Iranian-made Zelzal missiles while existing Arrow missiles can protect Israel from longer-range Syrian and Iranian missiles.

Over-reliance on airpower was another strategic folly. While the IDF had long invested in its airpower, until the 1990s, it believed land forces to be critical for victory. Yet, after the 1991 Kuwait war, many military strategists, not only in the United States, but also elsewhere, began to consider airpower to be seductive.[24] Among political leaders, airpower is especially tempting. It offers great destructive capability without high risk in home casualties. Maj. Gen. (res.) Eitan Ben-Eliyahu, former chief of the Israeli air force, admitted that the fixation with new technologies was addictive and obscured thinking.[25]

The Israeli Air Force leadership convinced Israeli politicians that they could expand their military role beyond traditional air missions and cope effectively with new security challenges. Halutz had commanded the air force between April 2000 and July 2004, and his enthusiasm for airpower was unequivocal.[26] As chief of staff, Halutz planned cuts in the IDF’s ground forces and emphasized reliance on the air force.[27] The IDF sought to tackle low-intensity conflict with a combination of airpower and special forces.[28] Yuval Steinitz, former chair of the Knesset (parliament)’s Committee on Security and Foreign Affairs, questioned the wisdom of giving airpower such a high priority on both a budgetary and a doctrinaire level,[29] but he was the exception rather than the rule.

Over-sensitivity to casualties also hampered Israeli operations. Maj. Gen. Elazar Stern, head of the IDF’s manpower branch, complained after the war that the IDF did not complete some missions due to casualties, [30] an assessment with which Maj. Gen. (res.) Yoram Yair, head of one of the postwar IDF inquiry committees, agreed.[31]

During the war, Halutz opposed a ground incursion into Lebanon as anything but the last resort.[32] Even when Olmert and Peretz decided to insert special forces into Lebanon to deal with the Katyusha threat, Halutz resisted a large-scale land operation.[33] His hesitation enabled Hezbollah to continue its rocket salvoes into Israel for a month.

The reluctance to commit ground troops to battle betrays a gap between Israel’s leadership and its people. Both political and military leaders misjudged the resilience of Israeli society. At the beginning of 2004, Yaalon asserted that the weakest link in Israel’s national defense was the lack of public stamina.[34] While vice premier in 2005, Olmert said, “We are tired of fighting; we are tired of being courageous; we are tired of winning; we are tired of defeating our enemies.”[35] The current chief of the Northern Command, Maj. Gen. Benny Ganz, said that while worried about Hezbollah’s missiles, he was more concerned about the ability of Israeli society to withstand the pressures of war.[36]

Such concerns were misplaced. Israeli society demonstrated high stamina, even during wars of attrition. Israelis did not surrender to the post-September 2000 Palestinian terror campaign,[37] a sentiment reflected in recent polls.[38] Israeli society would have been willing to absorb greater casualties to bring an effective end to the Hezbollah threat. Even parents who had lost a child in the Hezbollah war backed its expansion. Nor did combat unit recruitment suffer because of the war.[39]

The cost of the Israeli leaderships’ miscalculation of societal strength goes beyond opportunities lost. Israel’s reluctance to commit troops to battle signaled weakness. The widespread perception within the Arab world that Israeli society is sensitive to the loss of human life invites aggression. It was such a perception that motivated Palestinians to renew their terror campaign in September 2000.[40]

Unrealistic Goals

Unrealistic goals compounded poor preparation. Israeli political and military leaders erred in their belief that Israeli pressure on Hezbollah and the weak Lebanese government could generate a political process in which the Lebanese army could achieve a monopoly over the use of force in Lebanon.[41] From the earliest stages of the war, Israeli leaders insisted that they could encourage Lebanon to become a regular state and that the Israeli army could crush Hezbollah’s Lebanese state-within-a-state. Prime Minister Ehud Olmert saw force as instrumental to implementing UNSCR 1559, which called for strengthening the central government in Lebanon by both removing foreign forces and disbanding militias.[42] He stated that the military operation constituted “an almost unique opportunity to change the rules in Lebanon.”[43] Israeli foreign minister Tzipi Livni declared that the goal of the campaign was “to promote a process that will bring about a long-term and fundamental change in the political reality” and to create a regime in Lebanon that would be responsible for its entire territory.[44] She argued that the harder the IDF hit Hezbollah, the easier it would be for the Lebanese government and the world to implement UNSCR 1559.[45] Peretz’s statement that Israel would not end its campaign until reality changed in Lebanon reflected the broad view of the Israeli political leadership.[46]

The military from at least the time of Yaalon’s tenure as chief-of-staff accepted the same logic. Both Maj. Gen. Gadi Eizencott, chief of operations in the general staff, and Brig. Gen. (res.) Yossi Kuperwasser, former director of research at the IDF intelligence branch, believed that Israel’s use of force could change the political equation in Lebanon.[47]

From the first day of the campaign, Halutz advocated attacking infrastructure beyond southern Lebanon to pressure the Lebanese government to counter Hezbollah.[48] This logic of transformation through force was reminiscent of the earlier attempt to transform Lebanese society through force. In 1982, Israeli officials sought not only to expel the Palestinian Liberation Organization but also to normalize relations with Beirut and its newly-empowered government.

In the contemporary Middle East, though, force seldom creates a new political environment.[49] For years after signing the Oslo accords, Israeli politicians turned a blind eye to Palestinian Authority actions rather than acknowledge that Yasir Arafat’s administration did not live up to its agreements. In Lebanon, Israeli leaders might have adopted more modest goals. Rather than seek to change Lebanon’s reality, they might have instead sought only to eviscerate Hezbollah’s ability to harm Israel.

Fear of escalation clouded Olmert’s strategic judgment. On the first day of the conflict, Mossad chief Maj. Gen. Meir Dagan recommended that the Israeli air force target Syrian sites.[50] Instead, Olmert sought to placate. Israeli leaders repeatedly said that Israel had no intention of expanding its military activities to target Syria.[51] Peretz even called for a renewal of peace negotiations with Syria.[52] Even when Hezbollah was launching Syrian missiles at Israeli cities, Israeli military officials announced that retaliating against Syria was not under consideration.[53] Rather than pressure Damascus to stop its resupply of missiles to Hezbollah, such statements, in effect, blessed the Syrian government’s proxy warfare.

Such rhetoric contrasted sharply with past practice when the threat of escalation coerced Israel’s adversaries into accepting its conditions. The Syrian government was susceptible to such pressure. After the February 14, 2005 assassination of former Lebanese prime minister Rafik Hariri, apparently at the Syrian leadership’s behest, joint condemnation by Washington, Paris, and Riyadh reverberated through Damascus.

Israeli officials enjoyed similar sympathy after Hezbollah initiated the summer 2006 conflict. At the Group of Eight (G8) heads of states meeting in St. Petersburg, Russia, on July 17, 2006, an open microphone caught U.S. president George W. Bush saying that they needed “Syria to get Hezbollah to stop doing this shit.”[54]

But, the Israeli military’s restraint cost it an opportunity to eliminate Syria’s long-range missile capability. The risks of regional escalation were minimal. Iran was in no position to intervene directly. Tehran, rushing to complete its nuclear program, did not want to create a pretext for international action against it.

A successful campaign against Syria could have weakened Hezbollah and might even have strengthened the Lebanese government more than destroying Lebanese infrastructure did. An Israeli strike against Syrian targets would have signaled Israel’s determination to deal with terrorist and proxy threats, enhancing Israeli deterrence. It would have also diminished both Iranian influence in the region and Tehran’s ability to retaliate through Hezbollah in the event that its nuclear installations were attacked.

Bungling the Aftermath

How Israel ended the war augmented its failure. UNSCR 1701 marked the first time in Israeli history that Jerusalem had sought a U.N. resolution to end a war. Jerusalem’s involvement in drafting the Security Council resolution reflected a new, misplaced faith in the U.N. Israeli foreign minister Livni said that prevention of Syrian arms transfers to Hezbollah,[55] the group’s disarmament, and an overhaul of the U.N. forces in southern Lebanon were among Israel’s requirements for a cease-fire. The Israeli foreign ministry sought to replace the ineffective United Nations Interim Force in Lebanon (UNIFIL), deployed there since 1978, with a more “robust” international force,[56] at least in the interim period before the Lebanese army could deploy southward and exert its authority over all Lebanese territory.[57] According to Livni, the Israeli government expected the U.N. contingent to have coercive military capability to enable it “to control the passages on the Lebanese-Syrian border, to aid the Lebanese army in deploying properly, and to fully implement UNSCR 1559, particularly in disarming the Hezbollah.”[58]

Olmert initially sought to have the Lebanese army deploy its forces southward. In a meeting with Israeli diplomats on July 18, he said that the idea of an international force was “a good headline” but that Israel’s experience “shows that there is nothing behind it.”[59] Yet, after learning of the weakness of the Lebanese army, he agreed to deploy a U.N. force instead. The Israeli military concurred that an international force in south Lebanon and a U.N.-imposed arms embargo could be effective.[60]

But the U.N. mandate determines that in the event that UNIFIL personnel come across caches of weapons or gunmen, they should call upon the Lebanese army to handle the situation. The European-enhanced UNIFIL not only shows little inclination to use force to implement UNSCR 1701 but also hampers Israeli monitoring of weapons trafficking across the Lebanese-Syrian border. The French government, for example, denounced Israeli flights over Lebanon to monitor continuing violations of the arms embargo by Hezbollah. On October 19, 2006, the French commander of UNIFIL even threatened to shoot at Israeli planes if they came too close to his troops.[61] A few days later, Berlin complained that Israeli planes had taken aim at one of their ships.[62]

Unfortunately, the U.N. favors ineffectiveness over conflict. Secretary-general Kofi Annan advocated “flexibility” in the deployment of UNIFIL along the Syria-Lebanon border,[63] in effect blessing non-enforcement. Damascus has continued to funnel arms to Hezbollah, something that both prominent Lebanese officials and the U.S. government acknowledge.[64]

By November 2006, according to Israeli military officials, Hezbollah had replenished nearly half of its prewar stockpiles of short-range missiles and small arms.[65] In December 2006, Mossad chief Meir Dagan told the Knesset’s Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee that Syria continued to arm Hezbollah and sought to overthrow the independent-leaning Lebanese government of Prime Minister Fouad Siniora.[66]

While the new UNIFIL might be no more effective than its pre-2006 incarnation, its damaging impact is greater. It now not only restricts possible Israeli action against Hezbollah but also creates a precedent for an international force in the West Bank and/or Gaza, a move long sought by the Palestinian Liberation Organization that successive Israeli governments have resisted.


When war erupted in summer 2006, Israel enjoyed overwhelming military superiority and favorable political conditions. However, its strategic follies and operational deficiencies resulted in a faltering, indecisive war. The Israeli military could have administered a serious blow to Hezbollah from the air during the first few days of the war or, alternatively, destroyed most of Hezbollah’s military presence in southern Lebanon with a large land invasion. Unfortunately, Israel’s political and military leadership had no clear concept of what victory over Hezbollah entailed.

Israel squandered an important opportunity to settle regional scores. It left unchecked Iran’s apparent efforts to expand Shi‘i influence in Lebanon and left untouched Syria’s potential for mischief in Lebanon. Hezbollah’s resilience against the Israeli bombardment emboldened it to withstand future Israeli assaults, and Israel’s failure to succeed emboldened regional radicals.

Israel is a strong state, but it can ill-afford such failure. It lives in a dangerous neighborhood in which military might is the guarantee for survival. Halutz has initiated an intensive and comprehensive inquiry process and resigned. In the past, the IDF has proved its capacity to learn from its mistakes and improve. Some deficiencies can be easily corrected. Increases in the defense budget could provide the means to implement some lessons learned, for example, longer training for reserve units and procurement of better weapon systems. Less easy to correct are deficiencies in strategic thinking.

Post-modern notions have blurred the strategic clarity of Israel’s political leadership and its defense and foreign affairs establishment. The economic cost of building a strong military force may be high, but it is not an optional expense. Too often, wishful thinking supplants reality.

Should Israeli officials recognize their mistakes, however, they will find much with which to restore unquestioned Israeli regional deterrence. The war demonstrated that Israel is a strong state. It has the spirit to fight. Its soldiers won each encounter with Hezbollah. The Israeli home front displayed great resilience, and Israel’s economy continued to bloom. With adequate preparation, Jerusalem might attain a clear victory in the next round, which, however unfortunate, the outcome of the 2006 war makes inevitable.

Efraim Inbar is professor of political studies at Bar-Ilan University and director of the Begin-Sadat (BESA) Center for Strategic Studies. He thanks Ian Blomberg, Sara H. Krulewich, and Tamara Sternlieb for their research assistance.

[1] For a chronology of Hezbollah attacks and incursions, see “Hizbullah Attacks along Israel’s Northern Border May 2000 – June 2006,” Israeli Ministry of Foreign Affairs, June 1, 2006.
[2] Ha’aretz (Tel Aviv), July 24, 2006.
[3] See Eyal Zisser, “Hezbollah and Israel: Strategic Threat on the Northern Border,” Israel Affairs, Jan. 2006, pp. 86-106.
[4] Ariella Ringel-Hoffman, “Time Works against Us,” Yedi’ot Aharonot (Tel Aviv), July 5, 2002.
[5] Ari Shavit, “Colleagues Undermine You,” Ha’aretz, Aug. 8, 2003.
[6] For example, see the interview with Yuval Steinitz, Defense News, Jan. 29, 2007; comments of Aharon Zeevi-Farkash, former chief of the intelligence branch of the IDF, Channel 2 (Jerusalem), Nov. 5, 2006.
[7] The Jerusalem Post, July 21, 2006.
[8] The Jerusalem Post, July 13, 2007.
[9] The Jerusalem Post, June 26, 2007.
[10] Ilan Kfir, Haadama Raasha (Tel Aviv: Ma’ariv, 2006), pp. 21, 23.
[11] The Jerusalem Post, July 17, 2006.
[12] For the resolution text, see “The Situation in the Middle East,” UNSC Resolution 1701, United Nations, New York, Aug. 11, 2006.
[13] Zeev Schiff and Ehud Yaari, Milhememet Sholal (Tel Aviv: Schocken, 1984), pp. 380-8.
[14] “104 Report of the Commission of Inquiry into the Events at the Refugee Camps in Beirut” (The Kahan Commission), Israeli Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Feb. 8, 1983.
[15] Ofer Shelah and Yoav Limor, Shvuyim Bilvanon (Tel Aviv: Miskal, 2007), p. 128.
[16] Ha’aretz, Nov. 29, 2006.
[17] Kfir, Haadama Raasha, p. 178.
[18] Ha’aretz, Nov. 4, 2006.
[19] Zeev Schiff, “Let Us Be Realistic,” Ha’aretz, Oct. 20, 2006.
[20] Ha’aretz, Feb. 16, 2007.
[21] Shelah and Limor, Shvuyim Bilvanon, p. 160.
[22] For a detailed analysis of the Katyusha attacks, see Uzi Rubin, The Rocket Attacks on Northern Israel during the Summer of 2006, Mideast Security and Policy Studies (Ramat Gan: The Begin-Sadat Center for Strategic Studies, forthcoming).
[23] Kfir, Haadama Raasha, p. 189.
[24] Eliot A. Cohen, “The Mystique of U.S. Air Power,” Foreign Affairs, Jan./Feb. 1994, pp. 109-24.
[25] Eitan Ben-Eliyahu, public lecture, Tel Aviv University, Dec. 19, 2006; Meir Finkel, “The Rites of Technology in the IDF—Return the Balance to the Land Build-Up,” Maarachot, June 2006, pp. 40-5.
[26] Biton Heil Haavir, Israeli Air Force, May 2000, p. 7.
[27] Shelah and Limor, Shvuyim Bilvanon, p. 137.
[28] Shmuel Gordon, The Vulture and the Snake, Mideast Security and Policy Studies, no. 39 (Ramat Gan: Begin-Sadat Center for Strategic Studies, Bar-Ilan University, July 1998).
[29] Yuval Steinitz, “The Sea as Israel’s Strategic Depth,” Maarachot, May 2002; idem, “It Is Missiles,” Maarachot, Dec. 2005, pp. 70-4.
[30] Ha’aretz, Nov. 4, 2006.
[31] Ha’aretz, Oct. 18, 2006.
[32] The Jerusalem Post, July 20, 2006; Kfir, Haadama Raasha, p. 293; Shelah and Limor, Shvuyim Bilvanon, pp. 118.
[33] Ha’aretz, Jan. 23, 2007.
[34] Ha’aretz, Jan. 13, 2004.
[35] Ehud Olmert, remarks, Israel Policy Forum Tribute Dinner, New York, June 9, 2005.
[36] “The Chief of the Northern Command: The Struggle of the Right Is More Dangerous than the Hezbollah Missiles,” Globes (Tel Aviv), Jan. 11, 2005.
[37] Avi Kober, “From Blitzkrieg to Attrition: Israel’s Attrition Strategy and Staying Power,” Small Wars and Insurgencies, June 2005, pp. 216-40; Meir Elran, “Israel’s National Resilience. The Influence of the Second Intifada on Israeli Society,” memorandum 81 (Tel Aviv: Jaffee Center for Strategic Studies, Jan. 2006); Nadav Morag, “The Economic and Social Effects of Terrorism: Israel, 2000-2004,” Middle East Review of International Affairs, Sept. 2006.
[38] “Maagar Mochot” poll reported by Israeli radio Reshet Bet, Dec. 28, 2006.
[39] The Jerusalem Post, Nov. 19, 2006.
[40] Amos Harel and Avi Isacharoff, Hamilchama Hashviit (Tel Aviv: Miskal, 2004), p. 54.
[41] Schiff, “Let Us Be Realistic.”
[42] Ehud Olmert, statement to the Knesset, July 17, 2006, official transcript, p. 2; UNSC resolution 1559.
[43] Ehud Olmert, statement to the heads of the municipal authorities, July 31, 2006, official transcript, p. 4.
[44] Tzipi Livni and Javier Solana, EU envoy, news conference, July 19, 2006; Tzipi Livni, statement to the Knesset, Israeli Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Aug. 8, 2006; The Jerusalem Post, Oct. 24, 2006.
[45] The Jerusalem Post, July 20, 2006.
[46] The Jerusalem Post, July 17, 2006.
[47] “Interview with Yossi Kuperwasser,” Hatzofe (Tel Aviv), Oct. 20, 2006, p. 7-8; Shelah and Limor, Shvuyim Bilvanon, p. 50; Ha’aretz, Sept. 15, 2006.
[48] Kfir, Haadama Raasha, p. 22; Shelah and Limor, Shvuyim Bilvanon, p. 50.
[49] For a discussion of attaining goals, see Avi Kober, “Israeli War Objectives into an Era of Negativism,” Journal of Strategic Studies, June 2001, pp. 176-201.
[50] Kfir, Haadama Raasha, p. 22; Shelah and Limor, Shvuyim Bilvanon, p. 51.
[51] Channel 7 News (Ofra), July 26, 2006; The Jerusalem Post, July 28, 2006.
[52] MSN News, Aug. 15, 2006.
[53] The Jerusalem Post, July 19, 2006.
[54] The Jerusalem Post, July 18, 2006.
[55] Tzipi Livni, foreign minister, statement to the Knesset, Israeli Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Aug. 8, 2006.
[56] Ha’aretz, Oct. 1, 2006.
[57] The Jerusalem Post, July 19, 2006.
[58] “Interview with Yossi Kuperwasser,” Hatzofe.
[59] The Jerusalem Post, July 19, 2006.
[60] Shelah and Limor, Haadama Raasha, p. 167; “Interview with Yossi Kuperwasser,” Hatzofe.
[61] Yedi’ot Aharonot, Oct. 20, 2006.
[62] The Jerusalem Post, Oct. 28, 2006.
[63] Ha’aretz, Aug. 31, 2006.
[64] The Washington Times, Nov. 1, 2006.
[65] Time, Nov. 24, 2006.
[66] Ynet, Dec. 18, 2006



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