2006 War Called a ‘Failure’ for Israel
But Panel Refrains From Direct Rebuke of Premier
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.
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.