Unfit to run the next war
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.
This is not a conclusion drawn by the Winograd Committee. It is a question that is beyond the mandate given to the committee, but it must be at the top of the Israeli public's priorities. 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.
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 Iranians - who are seeking nuclear weapons - will certainly play a negative role against Israel. Now the important question from the nation and public's standpoint is: 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. There must be a change in the composition of the leadership and its approach to issues of war and peace.
Even before the report was published, the public's faith in the government was undermined. The Winograd report and its conclusions will certainly further undermine the government's moral and public authority. A large portion of the public will be very concerned should this government again fight a war against Israel's enemies. While Olmert's government did have three former defense ministers (Shimon Peres, Benjamin Ben-Eliezer, and Shaul Mofaz), the leading trio - Prime Minister Ehud Olmert, Defense Minister Amir Peretz, and Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni - had limited or no defense experience at all. They were not an authoritative enough of a leadership for the IDF top brass. The government had difficulties assessing army proposals, weighing proposed military maneuvers and even imposing its decisions. The Winograd Committee said the government did not ask the appropriate strategic and professional questions.
Those who say that experience is an important factor in determining the success of a prime minister during a serious crisis like war are correct. It is doubtful if past governments like the Rabin government, the Sharon government, or even the Barak government would have failed like the Olmert government failed in the Second Lebanon War. Sharon could have tried to achieve by war certain political objectives that related to the conflict with the Palestinians, but he certainly would not have immediately set out to war when a significant portion of the ground forces were not adequately prepared.
In addition, there is doubt that this government is able to correct the failures in the decision-making process and the military-political structure. The National Security Council was significantly and repeatedly removed from the center of decision-making. A year has passed and the government has not succeeded in holding a comprehensive discussion on Israel's defense outlook. The government has received a report on this issue that was compiled over a year and a half by a team headed by Dan Meridor, but time after time the discussion on the issue is postponed.
What is no less worrying is what was said about the IDF. Former chief of staff Dan Halutz did receive two compliments - for the inquiries he ordered into the IDF and his willingness to admit to some of the mistakes. Other than this, he was harshly criticized in a way that none of his predecessors were, including the chief of staff during the Yom Kippur War, David Elazar.
It is clear that also the IDF, primarily the senior command, must undergo a small earthquake. Generals are not elected by the public, but here too pressure must be applied by the public and Knesset committees. The new chief of staff, Gabi Ashkenazi, must be the one to carry out the earthquake, but closer supervision of what goes on in the IDF is needed. The Winograd Committee pointed to the fact that an incorrect evaluation of Israel's strength had developed, along with a lacking evaluation of the our enemies' learning ability. This is not necessarily an intelligence mistake; it is due to deep social processes the committee believes Israel is undergoing, including even changes in the national ethos.