Israeli leaders face scathing report on war
Last summer's war on Hizbullah is now reaping a wave of critiques, led by the findings of the Winograd Commission.
Israel's leaders faced the first wave Monday of what is likely to be a torrent of official criticism over last summer's war with Lebanon, as a special commission laid out a plethora of military and political failures not easily tolerated in a country known for never having lost a war.Skip to next paragraph
Subscribe Today to the Monitor
The impact of the Winograd Commission report, initial findings to be followed by a final report in July, is likely to be strongly felt both at home – as politicians use it to gauge whether Prime Minister Ehud Olmert can survive – and in the region, where some will view it as further proof of an Israel no longer invincible. Also, it is coming amid concern that another confrontation could easily be triggered.
Mr. Olmert failed "severely," the report states, to show good judgment. "We find the prime minister ministerially and personally responsible for the faulty decisions taken and the problems in the decision-making process.
"The prime minister had formulated his opinion without being presented with a detailed plan, and without demanding that such a plan be presented, and therefore he could not have analyzed its details and approved it," the commission found.
Olmert, upon receiving the report, said that he would "act immediately ... to correct failures and ensure that in every possible future threat facing the state of Israel, the failures and the defects that you point to will be remedied."
By the end of the war in August, launched soon after Hizbullah killed three Israeli soldiers and kidnapped two others, few Israelis could say it was a success. International opinion turned against Israel following so much death and destruction in Lebanon – more than 1,000 died – and 120 Israeli soldiers lost their lives. Israel found its homefront susceptible to rockets. Indeed, reservists, who went into battle unprepared and underequipped, were the most active in calling for the commission.
Among Israeli critics, some fault a snap judgment to plunge into war without studying the consequences and checking into the army's level of preparedness; others suggest that the war should have been fought more intensively, not just with airpower but with ground troops, which were sent in only in the last week of the war.
The commission faulted the army's former chief of staff, Dan Halutz, who resigned last fall in the wake of outrage among the public and the military. It also took Defense Minister Amir Peretz to task for inexperience that "impaired Israel's ability to respond well to its challenges." Mr. Peretz, already facing a fight for his seat this month as head of the Labor Party, is expected to be ousted.
The organization of bereaved families from the war has said that both Olmert and Peretz should resign. A poll taken immediately after the Winograd report's release found that 69 percent of Israelis said that Olmert should resign, while 74 percent thought Peretz should.
Decades ago, it was huge protests that propelled Israel's Golda Meir and Moshe Dayan to resign after a commission reviewed the 1973 Yom Kippur War, in which Israel was caught unprepared.
Although Olmert is deeply unpopular, other senior officials in the leading Kadima Party will be loath to try to oust him just yet. To do so, they would need to call new elections, risking their place as a ruling party. Moreover, Kadima's focus on unilateral withdrawal from occupied Palestinian territory has lost support in the nearly two years since former prime minister Ariel Sharon pulled Israel's soldiers and 8,000 Jewish settlers out of Gaza.
Eyal Arad, a Kadima adviser, says it's too early to judge Olmert's longevity. "It's certainly a very tough ... report," he says, adding that, T]hey're suggesting an overall change ... vis-a-vis security.... The departure of one person or another doesn't seem to be what they're looking for."