Lebanon War report lets Olmert off the hook

Thursday, January 31, 2008 |  by Staff Writer

The publication of the Winograd Commission investigation into the handling of the 2006 Second Lebanon War on Wednesday appeared to ensure Prime Minister Ehud Olmert's political survival after it laid much of the blame for Israel's wartime failures on the army.

Critics and opponents of the increasingly unpopular Olmert had been counting on the report to paint a damning picture of his leadership, prompting coalition partners to quit the government.

Summarizing the report, committee chairman Eliahu Winograd criticized both the government and the military for quote "serious failings and flaws" during the 34-day conflict that prevented Israel from defeating an inferior enemy.

However, the retired judge agreed with Mr. Olmert's repeated assessment that the UN-brokered ceasefire that brought the war to an end was an achievement for Israel, even if it did not delivery the equivalent of a military victory.

The final version of the report also asserted that Mr. Olmert had the best intentions when he ordered a major offensive in the final 60 hours of the war that resulted in the deaths of 33 Israeli soldiers while achieving few if any of its goals. The blame for that offensive's shortcomings was laid primarily on the army, which the committee accused of being unprepared.

That final costly push has been the focus of a campaign by Israeli army reservists to force Olmert to resign. Leaders of that campaign insist Olmert ordered the surge, and therefore knowingly sacrificed the lives of Israeli soldiers, to salvage his own political image as a strong wartime leader.

Other opponents pointed out that the final version of the Winograd report differed greatly from an interim report released last April that harshly criticized Olmert for hastily going to war and then conducting the military effort against the small Hizballah terrorist militia in a less-than-competent manner.

The interim version of the report also echoed reservists' condemnation of Mr. Olmert for setting lofty goals for the war and then failing to allow the army a free hand to achieve them.

In Lebanon, Hizballah leaders celebrated the release of the Winograd Report, saying that it had confirmed Israel's defeat at the hands of the Islamic terror group.

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