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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.

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Also working in favor of Olmert's survival are fears in the centrist Kadima Party and on the left that rightist former prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu would emerge as victor in an election battle.

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"It's a very paradoxical situation, because on the one hand, this government, especially Olmert, doesn't have any public support – he has about 3 percent, and today it's probably even worse," says Moshe Lissak, professor emeritus at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem and an expert in military-civilian relations. "But the coalition, in terms of the numbers, is frightened of having an election because they know it will be another revolution and they won't be in power anymore."

Olmert's coalition includes parties that account for 77 of the Knesset's 120 seats, including the ultranationalist Yisrael Beitenu party, normally a prime candidate to join forces with Mr. Netanyahu's Likud Party to topple the government. But parliament members from the party said they would not rush to judgment.

Opinion polls predict that if elections were held today, Olmert's Kadima Party would win only a fraction of its 29 seats while Netanyahu would return for a second tenure as prime minister.

"Most of the public has lost confidence in the government,'' charged Gilad Erdan, a parliamentary member of the Likud Party in an interview with Israel Radio. "This government is incapable of any moves, neither rightward nor leftward.''

A key indicator of the government's short-term viability will come on Thursday, when an anti-Olmert demonstration is planned for Tel Aviv.

But some are skeptical of its impact. "I don't think it will work,'' Tvi Raviv, a member of the reservist protesters, told Israel TV. "I don't think he's the type that would [resign] even if 1,000 people stood under his window.''

In the longer term, however, the report will be another factor in hampering the government, making it even more shaky amid corruption investigations. To restore confidence, Olmert is expected to reshuffle top members of his cabinet.

Among the council's recommendations are "substantial improvement in the functioning of the National Security Council, the establishment of a national assessment team, and creating a center for crisis management in the Prime Minister's Office."

Parliamentary member Avshalom Vilan says he believes Olmert will embark on a peace initiative with the Palestinians or neighboring Arab states to boost his ratings. "If he doesn't reshuffle the government, he'll lose his public legitimacy,'' he said. "And the status quo will topple him.''

For many Arabs, the unfolding recriminations against Olmert and top Israeli military commanders reinforce the belief that Hizbullah triumphed. But, analysts say, beyond the reaction of instinctive delight at the woes of the Israeli government, there is little interest in the details of internal Israeli investigations.

Timur Goksel, a Beirut-based security consultant who served with UN peacekeepers in south Lebanon from 1979 to 2003, questioned if people would absorb the war's tactical and strategic lessons.

"Apart from Hizbullah, no one is looking at the technical aspects of the report and what that entails for the future. The reaction is all emotional," he says.

For Hizbullah, the war was another demonstration of the efficacy of armed resistance against Israel. "The model of resistance is out there and everyone is looking at it," says Nawaf Mussawi, Hizbullah's foreign-affairs adviser. "Now is the time of resistance – in Iraq, Lebanon, Palestine, other places."

"Hizbullah thinks the Winograd commission itself is the main proof of Israel's defeat , says Amal Saad-Ghorayeb of the Carnegie Endowment's Middle East Center in Beirut, "and it will continue to use it to refute skeptics who think Hizbullah lost."

Nicholas Blanford in Beirut and Josh Mitnick in Tel Aviv contributed.

Winograd Commission on Israel's war performance

• "Primary responsibility for these serious failings" in last summer's war against Hizbullah falls to Prime Minister Ehud Olmert, Defense Minister Amir Peretz, and outgoing chief of the military, Lt. Gen. Dan Halutz.

• The war was not based on a thorough military plan and did not fully consider alternate responses.

• Though it became clear some declared goals were poorly defined and unattainable, political leaders failed to adjust plans accordingly.

• The military was "not ready for this war" and has not felt the need to update Israel's "overall security strategy."

•The government's "quality of discussions and decisionmaking" requires "urgent attention."

Source: Winograd Commission Partial Report