PM: Winograd report 'lifts moral stigma' from me
Final report on Second Lebanon War: IDF 'failed to meet most missions and challenges they were assigned'.
Feeling exonerated over his decision to order a major ground operation during the final 60 hours of the Second Lebanon War, Prime Minister Ehud Olmert characterized the Winograd Committee's report as "lifting the moral stigma from me."
Sources close to Olmert said that the prime minister was "moved to tears" by the chapters that dealt with the ground operation.
Retired judge Eliyahu Winograd, who headed the committee assessing Israel's shortcomings in the Second Lebanon War 18 months ago, said in a statement, "The decision in principle authorized by the cabinet to embark on the ground operation was almost inevitable."
Labor sources close to Barak said Wednesday that he is unlikely to resign but would likely evaluate alternatives, including calling for early elections.
The final Winograd Committee report on the Second Lebanon War has categorically laid blame for the failings in the war on the Israel Defense Forces - criticizing nearly every arm and unit. With particular reference to the ground forces, the committee wrote, "They failed to meet most of the missions and challenges they were assigned."
Winograd, speaking Wednesday evening after the committee's final report on the war was released, said that, "Our refraining from pinpointing individual responsibility should not be interpreted as concluding that such responsibility does not exist."
Winograd read from a prepared text for around 30 minutes, flanked on both sides by the other committee members. Professor Ruth Gavison followed with a similar statement in English.
"In an overall assessment of the war, we can say that it was a major and serious missed opportunity. Israel embarked on a long war, which it initiated, and which ended without Israel achieving a clear military victory," he read.
"A paramilitary organization of several thousand fighters stood for a number of weeks before the most powerful army in the Middle East, which enjoyed complete air superiority and great advantages in size and technology. The rocket attacks of Hezbollah against the Israeli home front continued throughout the entire war and the IDF did not provide an effective counter to this."
The full 610-page report was presented to Olmert and Barak an hour before the committee appeared before a small army of cameras and press.
In addressing one of the thorniest and most painful issues of the war, the decision to embark on a major ground offensive 60 hours before a cease-fire was declared, Winograd said: "Following a long period of making do with counter-strikes and limited ground operations, very close to the cease-fire resolution Israel embarked on a broad ground operation that did not result in any military gains and did not maximize the potential inherent in it."
The statement also discusses the committee's findings on the period between July 18 and August 14, 2006, in which serious shortcomings were found, some of which had been described in the committee's interim report in April 2007.
"We found grave faults and failings in the decision-making process and the preparatory work both in the political and military levels and the interaction between them," Winograd's statement read.
But it was in describing the serious faults and failings of the senior IDF command, and particularly of the ground forces, that the committee report was most critical.
Saying that the armed forces failed to provide a decisive response to the challenges it faced, the committee concluded that the IDF was unable to provide the political leadership with the necessary gains in the field of battle on which it could base diplomatic activity.
This failure, the committee report continues, gave the sense of disappointment and missed opportunity to the public.
"On the basis of any standard and realistic expectations, the ground forces - and thus the entire IDF - failed to carry out the missions assigned to them."
According to its findings, the committee describes a deep-seeded problem in the armed forces which it describes in terms of "basic values" that have been "undone."
The committee also warned that the lessons the IDF has learned from the war may be the wrong ones and may be preparing for past wars, instead of countering the threats and challenges of the future.
"We had the impression that along with expressions of renewal and revived commitment to completing missions [made] after the war, there is a sense of crisis in the army, both inside the [IDF] and also in its relations with Israeli society," the report states.
"The restoring of the IDF's standing needs to be based on genuine commitment," and the army, the committee writes, should once more become professional, trained and disciplined.
More specifically, the committee slammed the army for going to war lacking an approved operational plan that had been tested in exercises, and for continuing to operate throughout most of the campaign under conditions of intensive routine security operations, instead of genuine war.
The committee is critical of the failure to reach a quick decision on whether to end the fighting several days after the hostilities began, and the possibility of altering the reality in southern Lebanon through a broad and rapid ground operation that would include the use of reservist divisions.
The delay in calling up reserves is described by the committee as a serious mistake, and Winograd said in his statement that only during the final week of the fighting was the IDF in a position to carry out a major ground operation.
The report also described the General Staff's focus on an air operation against Hezbollah as inappropriate for the situation at hand.
"The power and force of the IDF was not brought into play during the war," the committee wrote.
Chastising commanders at all levels for failing to meet the declared values of the army, the committee wrote that, "The IDF conducted the war with concern for losses among its troops as a central element in the planning and its operational considerations. In spite of the sensitivity of the issue, it is difficult to accept the extraordinary effect that this consideration had on decision-making."
"We have found few instances in which there was a clear and determined insistence by individuals to stick to their decision, or of expressions of assertive initiative and commitment to the mission."
The committee condemned the IDF's in-house investigations following the war, describing them as superficial.
Criticizing the General Staff and the Northern Command for the lack of strategic thinking and planning, the committee points to a failure in communication between these two echelons.
The General Staff did not give sufficient attention to the need to defend the home front and bring the fighting to a quick end, thus lifting the threat posed to civilians.
"The command units failed to carry out most of their tasks," is the scathing conclusion of the committee.
In their criticism of specific units and their conduct, the committee pointed to the four divisions that fought the ground war and their problematic levels of readiness. It did say, however, that Division 91, under Brigadier General Gal Hirsch, who resigned to protest a caustic in-house evaluation of his performance, improved during the war, and was successful in meeting some of its tasks.
The air force is the only arm that enjoyed some praise in the report, "with very impressive achievements," particularly during the first night, in which the long-range missiles of Hezbollah were destroyed.
However, the navy was severely reprimanded, particularly for the missile strike sustained by one of its most modern vessels. The report states that the navy's attitude reflected contempt for Hezbollah's abilities and the damage to the ship could have been averted.