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January 11, 2001


Lebanon Pullout Left 'Impossible Situation'

by Amos Harel

The army's withdrawl from South Lebanon last year left the Israel Defense Forces with a "virtually impossible" situation on the northern border, concluded an IDF committee set up to probe the October kidnapping of three soldiers on the Lebanese border.

Nonetheless, the committee said, the kidnapping of Benny Avraham, Omar Su'ad and Adi Avitan would not have been possible without serious failures at every level of the Northern Command.

"The operational reality that has been forced on the Northern Command is virtually impossible," Major General (reserve) Yossi Peled, who headed the committee, told reporters in presenting the commitee's findings yesterday.

"Hezbollah sits on the [border] fence and plays with the IDF," he said. "It touches the fence and then studies the direction of our approach and the response time. This reality deprives us of the possiblity of discerning warning signs [regarding planned attacks] and puts most of the initiative and most of the advantages into Hezbollah's hands."

Though the committee did not recomend any sactions against the officers involved, IDF Chief of Staff Shaul Mofaz said he will consider imposing such sanctions. "The kidnapping could have been prevented, had all the steps mandated by the situation analysis been implemented," Mofaz said at the news conference.

The committee investigated two main questions: whether the IDF had intelligence information that could have prevented the kidnapping, and whether the necessary operational steps to prevent such an event had been taken.

On the first point, Mofaz said, the committee's findings were clear: There was no intelligence failure. There was plenty of inteligence indicating Hezbollah planned a kidnapping in the Har Dov area, even though it lacked the exact timing of the attack.

There was however, Mofaz said, a sever operational failure: "Despite awareness of the threat, [this awareness] was not translated into an operational solution on the ground."

Following are the main flaws cited in the report:

Despite the fact that senior officers knew of the kidnap threat, had correctly identified the Har Dov area as a potential trouble spot and even drafted operational countermeasures, these orders were never implemented. Soldiers continued to travel in one vehicle patrols rather than in two vehicles, and other soldiers did not provide them cover from higher ground. It is not even clear that the members of the Hermon Brgade knew these orders even exsisted. Contrary to the rumor circulated by some senior officers at the time, however the soldiers were authorized to be in that area.

The kidnap zone was on the border between two units' areas of responsibility. The paratroops unit (Galilee Brigade) was reasonably careful about proper security when entering the region. The same was not true of Hermon Brigade's engineering corps, in which the kidnapped soldiers served.

The Hermon Brigade had simulated a kidnap attempt two and a half weeks before the incident occured, but the conclusions drawn from this simulation were never implemented. In real life, the brigade did not even follow the security procedures used during the exercise.

IDF response to the kidnapping was too slow. Some 17 minutes elapsed from the time of the explosion (which Hezbollah set off to injure the soldiers and facilitate the kidnapping) and the time the first IDF patrol arrived at the site.

David Ratner adds:

Ya'akov Avitan, the father of one of the kidnapped soldiers, said that while he was not pleased with the investigations conclusions, "We were relieved that the army has no complaints regarding the behavior of our sons. Those senior officials who spread malicious rumors reagrding the soldiers' performance and questions regarding their presence at the site of the kidnapping should now beg our pardon."

Avitan added, however, that he is not demanding that senior officers involved in the affair be punished. "That doesn't interest me at this stage," he said.

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