A panel investigating Israel's war in Lebanon last year has accused the country's wartime leaders of "very severe failures" in their handling of the conflict in an interim report. The report capped a six-month investigation into the war, which has been widely perceived as a failure by the Israeli public. Olmert appointed the five-member investigative panel in September to stave off criticism, but it has no authority to force anyone to resign.
The long-awaited report said Olmert hastily led the country into conflict against Hezbollah guerrillas without a comprehensive plan, exercised poor judgment and bore ultimate responsibility for a war that Israelis widely fear has emboldened the country's enemies.
The war erupted July 12 when Hezbollah guerrillas killed three soldiers and captured two others in a cross-border raid. In 34 days of fighting, Israel failed to retrieve the captured soldiers, destroy Hezbollah or prevent the group from firing thousands of rockets into Israel.
Between 1,035 and 1,191 Lebanese civilians and combatants were killed in the fighting, as were 119 Israeli soldiers and 39 civilians, according to official figures from the two sides.
During the 34-day conflict, the government was criticized for its failure to halt the Hezbollah rocket fire and Israeli soldiers returning from the battle front complained of poor preparations, conflicting orders and shortages of food and supplies.
The Winograd Committee's partial report, which covers the first five days of the war, accused Olmert of "severe failures" both in deciding to go to war on July 12 and in managing the early days of the fighting.Olmert, it said, "bears supreme and comprehensive responsibility for the decisions of 'his' government and the operations of the army." The commission criticised what it called Olmert's "severe failure in judgment, responsibility and caution" in going to war last July and found that he did not have a "well-processed plan" when he launched the campaign against Hezbollah.
The report, said that Olmert "made up his mind [to go to war] hastily, despite the fact that no detailed military plan was submitted to him, and without asking for one. He made his decision without systematic consultation with others, especially outside the Israeli Army despite not having experience in external-political and military affairs." It also censured the premier for failing to "adapt his plans once it became clear that the assumptions and expectations behind Israel's actions were not realistic and were not materializing." "All of these," the report concluded, "add up to a serious failure in exercising judgment, responsibility and prudence."
The report also slammed Defense Minister Amir Peretz for being unaware of the Israeli Army lack of preparedness, which he should have been. Peretz "did not have knowledge or experience in military, political or governmental matters. Peretz "did not have knowledge or experience in military, political or governmental matters," it said.
He also did not have good knowledge of the basic principles of using military force to achieve political goals," it said. Yet despite this, "he made his decisions during this period without systemic consultations with experienced political and professional experts, including outside the security establishment." Overall, the panel found, "his serving as minister of defense during the war impaired Israel's ability to respond well to its challenges."
Dan Halutz, then the Israeli Army chief of staff during the war, was criticized for entering the war "unprepared" and failing to inform the cabinet of the IDF's lack of preparedness. . Halutz "failed in his duties as commander in chief ... and exhibited flaws in professionalism, responsibility and judgment," it added.
Halutz also failed to "present to the political leaders the internal debates within the Israeli Army concerning the fit between the stated goals and the authorized modes of actions." Olmert and Peretz, despite their lack of experience, did not request help or question the plan Halutz presented, Winograd added. Moreover, "some of the declared goals of the war were not clear and could not be achieved, and in part were not achievable by the authorized modes of military action," the report said.
The committee also criticized the entire government for having voted to go to war without understanding the implications of such a decision. According to the report, "the government did not consider the whole range of options, including that of continuing the policy of 'containment,' or combining political and diplomatic moves with military strikes below the 'escalation level,' or military preparations without immediate military action, so as to maintain for Israel the full range of responses to the abduction."
Israel went to war after Hezbollah fighters killed three soldiers and captured two others in a cross-border raid. In 34 days of fighting, Israel failed to return the captured soldiers, destroy Hezbollah or prevent the group from firing thousands of rockets into Israel.
The full commission report is to be released in a couple of months.
A rally calling for Olmert and his government to quit was planned for Thursday in Tel Aviv. The demonstration was being organised by a former general, military reservists who fought in the war and parents of soldiers killed in the conflict.
Ze'ev Schiff, Haaretz Correspondent on his commentary on the reporet said that the key question arising from the Winograd Committee's partial report is not the level of personal responsibility for the failed management of the war. That is a question that relates in principle to the past.
The more important question is the one that relates to the future: Can this government headed by Ehud Olmert lead the nation in the next war - which according to intelligence estimates could take place - and win. The conclusion drawn from the inquiry's report is a clear no, and therefore this government must step down in one way or another. “Many politicians are not dealing with this because they see the Winograd Committee's report as part of an election campaign in which they must utilize the situation to help their party” he added. “The public is constantly being told that another war with Hezbollah and Syria is expected, and maybe soon. A clash with Hamas and the Palestinians is definitely expected. In this war, the important question is the Olmert government capable of properly managing the war that could be imposed on Israel? Are they capable of managing a war in which better protection for the home front is ensured? Based on the Winograd report it appears that the current leadership is not suited for this”. He concluded.
Yossi Sarid, one of the noticeable Israeli political leader called on article in Haaret, to throw out Ehud Olmert and Amir Peretz and save Israel ¬ that's the battle cry now, that's the urgent mission of every citizen. “It's time for a national emergency operation in which all those involved will be thrown onto the ash heap of history. This nation has a large garbage bin, but it also has a large human stockpile from which new, clean people can be brought”. He added.
In Lebanon, Hezbollah welcomed the critical findings. The report "confirmed the inability of the Israeli political and military leadership to take the appropriate decision to confront Hezbollah during the summer war," said Sheik Hassan Ezzeddine, Hezbollah's most senior political officer in southern Lebanon.