2006 War Called a ‘Fail­ure’ for Is­rael

But Panel Re­frains From Di­rect Re­buke of Pre­mier

The Washington Post - - World News - By Ellen Knick­meyer

JERUSALEM, Jan. 30 — Is­rael’s in­con­clu­sive 33-day war with Hezbol­lah fight­ers in Le­banon un­der­mined the mil­i­tary de­ter­rence Is­raelis con­sider in­dis­pens­able to their sur­vival, a gov­ern­ment-ap­pointed panel con­cluded Wed­nes­day in its fi­nal re­port.

The five-mem­ber Wino­grad Com­mit­tee, ap­pointed to ex­am­ine Is­rael’s con­duct of the 2006 war, did not di­rectly re­buke Prime Min­is­ter Ehud Olmert, in con­trast to its in­terim find­ings last year ac­cus­ing him of “se­vere fail­ure” in “hastily” go­ing to bat­tle.

As a re­sult, Olmert, who ap­pointed the com­mit­tee un­der pub­lic pres­sure in the fall of 2006, is likely to weather the re­port’s re­lease at a time when his gov­ern­ment is pur­su­ing peace ne­go­ti­a­tions with the Pales­tini­ans.

But the panel did con­clude that the war “was a big and se­ri­ous fail­ure” for Is­rael, Eliyahu Wino­grad, the re­tired judge who led the com­mit­tee, told re­porters.

The com­mit­tee’s fi­nal re­port said Olmert and his for­mer de­fense min­is­ter, Amir Peretz, “acted out of a strong and sin­cere per­cep­tion of what they thought at the time was Is­rael’s in­ter­est.”

Peretz re­signed af­ter the re­lease of the in­terim re­port and later lost his post as head of the La­bor Party. The chief of Is­rael’s mil­i­tary at the time of the war, Lt. Gen. Dan Ha­lutz, has also re­signed. Al­though Olmert is still in of­fice, his pub­lic ap­proval rat­ings have re­mained very low since the war ended.

Olmert pledged in a state­ment af­ter the re­port’s re­lease to be­gin work im­me­di­ately on the panel’s rec­om­men­da­tions for “sys­temic” change within the mil­i­tary and civil com­mand.

Yo­hanan Plesner, a law­maker in Olmert’s Kadima party, said he felt “re­lief” af­ter hear­ing the com­mis­sion’s fi­nal judg­ment.

“I felt there was a moral ab­so­lu­tion of the prime min­is­ter,” Plesner said.

But Gabriel Sh­ef­fer, a po­lit­i­cal science pro­fes­sor at He­brew Univer­sity in Jerusalem, said the fi­nal re­port was “am­biva­lent and con­fus- ing” be­cause it failed to de­ter­mine in­di­vid­ual re­spon­si­bil­ity for the war’s flawed con­duct. Is­rael pushed into south­ern Le­banon on July 12, 2006, hours af­ter Hezbol­lah guer­ril­las in Le­banon killed three Is­raeli sol­diers and cap­tured two oth­ers in a cross-border raid. Is­rael pros­e­cuted much of the war with airstrikes.

But in the last days of the con­flict, the gov­ern­ment sent thou­sands of ad­di­tional ground troops into south­ern Le­banon to knock out Hezbol­lah rocket-launch­ing sites be­fore a U.N. cease-fire took hold.

The war killed 119 Is­raeli sol­diers, many of them in that fi­nal push into Le­banon, and more than 40 Is­raeli civil­ians. More than 1,000 Le­banese died over the course of the fight­ing, most of them civil­ians.

Is­rael did not se­cure the re­lease of the two sol­diers or de­stroy Hezbol­lah’s mil­i­tary wing. Is­raeli lead­ers had stated those as the war’s goals.

The fi­nal re­port cited fail­ures in pre­pared­ness, strate­gic think­ing and de­ci­sion-mak­ing by civil­ian and mil­i­tary lead­ers. The panel con­cluded that Is­rael had failed “to achieve what had been the nec­es­sary and pos­si­ble mil­i­tary achieve­ment in view of the cir­cum­stances of the war and the bal­ance of power” be­tween the two sides.

In the end, the com­mis­sion mem­bers said, Is­rael’s diplo­matic ef­forts al­lowed the coun­try “to stop a war which it had failed to win.”

Even be­fore the fi­nal re­port was re­leased, Olmert ruled out re­sign­ing. “I have no in­ten­tion of let­ting go, no mat­ter what the po­lit­i­cal and per­sonal cost,” he said in a speech last week.

But po­lit­i­cal an­a­lysts said the re­ac­tion of De­fense Min­is­ter Ehud Barak, leader of the La­bor Party, Olmert’s largest coali­tion part­ner, may be key in de­ter­min­ing Olmert’s next steps. If Barak, a for­mer prime min­is­ter, calls on Olmert to re­sign or to hold elec­tions two years early, it would in­crease pres­sure on Olmert.

In Le­banon, Hezbol­lah law­maker Hus­sein Hajj Has­san told the As­so­ci­ated Press, “The Wino­grad re­port is an ac­knowl­edg­ment of Is­rael’s re­spon­si­bil­ity for the war and its de­feat.” Spe­cial correspond­ent Samuel Sockol con­trib­uted to this re­port.

BY ARIEL SCHALIT — AS­SO­CI­ATED PRESS

Rel­a­tives of Is­raeli sol­diers killed in the war with Hezbol­lah in Le­banon watch a tele­vised news con­fer­ence by the panel that in­ves­ti­gated the con­flict. The panel re­leased its fi­nal re­port yes­ter­day.

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