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Winograd Report revives Israeli anger over Lebanon war

Many families of Israeli victims in the 2006 conflict now plan to call for Prime Minister Ehud Olmert's resignation.

By Ilene R. PrusherStaff writer of The Christian Science Monitor / January 31, 2008

A report that hits home: Rachel and Yehoshua Meshulami have been critical of how the Israeli military handled the 2006 Lebanon war. A picture of their son, Amasa, killed in the war, hangs on their kitchen wall.

Ilene R. Prusher

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Mevoot Jericho, West Bank

For the past year and a half, Yehoshua Meshulami has been going over the details of how his son's tank unit was sent into a Lebanese village in the last two days of war in July 2006.

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As he sees it, the unit was sent in carelessly, underprepared and underinformed about the size and scope of the Hizbullah guerrilla forces that awaited them in ambush.

Mr. Meshulami's son, Amasa, never came home again, leaving behind a pregnant wife.

Now, as Israelis try to decipher the findings of the final report of the Winograd Commission, which was released Wednesday amid great anticipation and harsh winter weather, families like the Meshulamis are in the eye of the storm.

Many bereaved families have joined together in their grief and are spearheading a movement to try to get Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert to take personal responsibility for the war's failures and resign.

The ensuing political maelstrom means that ears are bent toward the voices of people who were affected most by Israel's losses during the war, which included 119 Israeli soldiers and 39 civilians; more than 1,000 Lebanese civilians and combatants died.

But eyes are also turned to leading politicians in Mr. Olmert's own cabinet, foremost among them Defense Minister Ehud Barak, the Labor Party leader and a former prime minister. Mr. Barak has said in the past that if Olmert came out looking reprehensible in the final Winograd Report, he would force Israel to hold early elections to drive Olmert from office.

In its second and final report on the Israel establishment's behavior in the war, the state-appointed Winograd Commission said it discovered "grave failings" in Israel's most senior institutions.

"We found grave failings in the decisionmaking ... both on the military and political levels," said inquiry chairman Eliahu Winograd, a retired judge, as he presented the report's main findings. He was particularly pointed in his criticism of the conduct of the ground war in the last few days of the conflict, in which Israel lost many soldiers for questionable gains.

"The ground operations at the end of the war did not bring any clear achievements ... or stop the launching of Katyusha rockets," Mr. Winograd said. "After the decision for a ceasefire there was no intelligent discussion on how to stop the ground war."

But the judge, the head of a five-member panel appointed amid great public disappointment over the war, stopped short of putting blame on any one individual – Olmert included. He suggested that a decision about what to do with the findings lay in the public realm.

Others, however, have been quick to reach their own conclusions, insisting that every time the report mentions a failure of politics or policy, it points in Olmert's direction.

The Likud Party, which is headed by rightist leader Benjamin Netanyahu, said in a statement that Olmert should resign because the report outlines "grave failings" at the political level, meaning Olmert. Eitan Cabel, chairman of the Labor party, also said that he believes that the report indicates that Olmert should take personal responsibility for the war's failings, and resign.

The partial report released by the Winograd Commission in April 2007 is viewed as having been far less forgiving of Olmert, indicating that the prime minister displayed poor decision-making skills and lack of judgment.

During the war, on the night before Amasa's fatal fight, in which Hizbullah combatants blew up his tank, he called his father. As a newlywed and expectant father, he could have been excused. As an idealistic combat soldier, he felt that would be wrong.

"He was asking for my blessing. He asked me, is it right to go to this battle?" recalls Meshulami, as his wife fries mushroom patties in a skillet for dinner, with the rain beating at the windows of their trailer home.