One by one, three Israeli public figures—Amir Peretz, Tzipi Livni, and Danny Halutz—took the stage on Thursday to face a packed Tel Aviv auditorium to speak to military veterans and members of the public. Also in attendance was a large contingent of research officers from the IDF’s Intelligence Corps, who are tasked with analyzing the current threats to Israel. None of them had served in the IDF during the Second Lebanon War—on July 12, 2006, the day that marked the beginning of the 34-day conflict, they were likely in summer camp.
Peretz, Livni, and Halutz had to share their thoughts at a conference commemorating the war’s decennial, hosted by the Institute for National Security Studies, a non-partisan think tank. Though much has been said about the Second Lebanon War, the people who led Israel during the campaign speak of it in public only rarely; the wounds are still fresh, and many still hold the conference’s speakers responsible for the lives lost.
Much has changed over the past decade. The IDF has waged three campaigns in the Gaza Strip, but the northern border has been relatively quiet. If the 2006 war was once seen by the public as an utter failure, it is viewed in more ambivalent terms today.
Amir Peretz, Defense Minister during the war, spoke first. “My belief is that there are no good wars,” he began. “But there are some that delay and maybe even prevent the wars to come. The Second Lebanon War, in retrospect, is one of those.” When the war began, Peretz, a “civilian” minister in a post usually reserved for former generals, had been on the job for barely two months. “It can’t all be my responsibility,” he said. “That the army hadn’t trained properly for four or five years, that the strategy was to let the [Hezbollah] rockets rust, that the army wasn’t fully equipped. But it happened on my watch, so I take responsibility. The IDF is more important than my personal future.”
After Peretz spoke, Tzipi Livni, who was Foreign Minister at the time, took the stage. During the war, she helped negotiate UN Security Council Resolution 1701, which effectively brought combat to an end on terms favorable to Israel. The war showed that warfare and statesmanship go hand in hand, she said. “That Lieberman or Bennett style of speaking—‘just let me have the Defense Ministry and I’ll give you victory’—that won’t bring victory or defense to Israel,” Livni said, referring to Lieberman and Bennett’s view that the solutions to the problems facing Israel today are solely in the military realm.
Then came Danny Halutz, who led the campaign as IDF Chief of Staff, and bore the brunt of the criticisms in the war’s aftermath. The army’s surprising, disproportionate response to the kidnapping event that started the war came after long years of a “containment” strategy which emboldened Hezbollah to make increasingly daring attacks on the border. “I advocated a pivot to a strategy of response, to build deterrence,” he said. After the kidnapping, the army had no choice but to respond forcefully, “to make clear that the rules had changed.”
Explicit in the remarks of all three was that the war, despite its heavy price and many imperfections, had somehow proven itself worthy, after 10 years of “quiet”—a word repeated by all three speakers, referring to ten years of calm. But that quiet can be misleading. Hezbollah has spent half of the past decade heavily involved in the Syrian conflict, distracting it from Israel—this is no result of the war. And besides, recent border skirmishes show that Israel’s deterrence may be on the decline. Whether or not the Third Lebanon War is imminent, the 2006 conflict still has many lessons—some of them deeply urgent—to teach the next generation of officers and statesman.