[The opinion piece below by Frimet Roth appears today in the online edition of the Israeli daily, Yediot Aharonot]
Time for new leaders
Failed leadership at fault for needless deaths in Lebanon, on our streets
Published: 02.02.07, 22:46
This week's Eilat terror attack was a harsh reminder of the urgent need for the Winograd Committee conclusions. A people under constant threat of attack must know that its leaders are consumed with concern for them. A nation in an ongoing state of war must be reassured that its decision-makers are never distracted from the top priority: Protecting us from our enemies.
The Winograd Committee is no mere formality. Its anticipated grim findings will impact us all. But nobody will feel the brunt more than the parents of soldiers killed in the Second Lebanon War. It is painful enough to endure the loss of a child at the hands of an enemy. But to live with the knowledge that their deaths could have been prevented by our leaders is unbearable. Far too many bereaved parents in this country carry that burden. Their conviction that many casualties were entirely avoidable will apparently soon be confirmed.
But the culprits - poor judgment, irresponsibility, indifference - did not make their debut this past August. Sadly, they have been claiming lives for several years now. Many of the more than 1,000 Israelis killed by the Palestinians in the current Intifada were victims of the very same leadership defects.
So much of what our army now knows about fighting terrorists was learned on the bodies of hundreds of precious children including my daughter, Malki. Had the tactics of our police and army been as professional and determined during the first three years of the Intifada as they are now, innumerable deaths could have been avoided.
Winograd could signal dawn of new era
Critiquing our army's and our government's conduct of the war in Lebanon is a breath of fresh air for this country. But it is long overdue. Not one leader's head rolled during the years after Arafat launched an Intifada war on Israel in September, 2000. Nobody resigned while terrorists infiltrated our borders several times a week and Israeli blood flowed in our cafes, our pizzerias and on our buses. The tactical failures were glaring then too but who was scrutinizing them? The mounting casualty list was written off as the cruel fate of having blood-thirsty neighbors.
The Winograd conclusions could signal the dawn of a new and better era, provided all the responsible parties follow in Halutz's footsteps. If he remains but a lone scapegoat, the status quo will endure. We, the everymen, will remain stuck with a deplorable reality. More of us will lose loved ones, will cry to the media – and will find we have addressed deaf ears.
It's what I've been doing for five and a half years.
On the morning of the ninth of august, 2001, our army, our government and Jerusalem's police force were all warned of the presence of a Palestinian terrorist strolling the streets of the city center. Their reaction was to conceal the information. No civilians, other than hospital personnel, were alerted to the threat.
Several days later, MK Meir Sheetrit shamelessly informed the public that the cabinet had tried to enlist, of all people, Yasser Arafat's assistance in tracking down the terrorists. There is no reason to expect our leaders to be geniuses. But can we afford for them to be that daft?
My daughter's murderer walked the streets of Jerusalem with a load of deadly explosives hidden in a guitar case slung over his shoulder. Alongside him was an accomplice – a young Palestinian woman, pretty and trendily dressed so she would blend in with the Israelis and tourists around them. The couple probably passed several unsuspecting police officers during their stroll from east Jerusalem to their target on corner of Jaffa Road and King George Street, the Sbarro restaurant.
Miki Levy, at the time head of the police force in Jerusalem, had decided to send his men onto the city's streets to find someone masquerading as, well, a terrorist. But the terrorists failed to co-operate, and the police action failed horrifically.
Days of innocence over
Several months later, when on two separate occasions similar alerts were uncovered, a drastically different approach was taken. The two city centers affected were entirely evacuated until the suspects were apprehended several hours later. No lives were lost.
Furthermore, security alerts have come to be treated as declassified information – the sort of news that is now considered worthy of being shared with us, members of the public. Too late for me, Israelis now get to know when we are gravely threatened. We - and not our leaders - get to decide when to put our lives on hold.
Other errors of judgment resulted in avoidable losses. Soldiers were often sent into risky house-to-house combat with Palestinians in order to minimize civilian enemy deaths.
The days of our innocence are over. We can no longer presume that our army, our police and our government are focused on keeping us alive. That they aren't obsessed with their stock portfolios. Or their political standing; Or their facial wrinkles.
Personally, I have never been persuaded that our lives are in competent, caring hands. For example, Olmert's unabashed involvement with his appearance has always appalled me. Last August, in the midst of war, he was seen frantically plastering several wind-blown strands of hair across his bald pate whenever he was out surveying the front-lines of battle.
Then two weeks ago, with political and security crises erupting all around him, Olmert chose to have cosmetic surgery to lift his droopy eyelids. How many hours did he spend examining his face in a mirror before deciding to go under the knife; hours that ought to have been devoted to the demanding job we elected him to do? Is it any wonder he is, as he confided in us last year, "tired of fighting"?
Sometimes I wonder what was on Mr. Olmert's mind the morning of the Sbarro massacre, when as mayor of the threatened city, thousand of lives were in his hands? Which narcissistic worry absorbed him then? What is on his mind today, as we bury three more innocent victims of Palestinian terror?
We cannot see into the souls of our leaders. The snippets of behavior that we are privy to are our only barometer of their inner thoughts and values. Let's not overlook them when we next approach the ballots. Our very lives depend on it.
Frimet Roth is a freelance writer based in Jerusalem who frequently contributes articles dealing with terrorism and with special-needs children. She and her husband founded and run (as unpaid volunteers) the Malki Foundation ( www.kerenmalki.org) in their daughter's memory. The foundation provides concrete support for Israeli families of all religions who care at home for a special-needs child. She can be reached at email@example.com