In the Hope They Get the Hint

In the past, when people sent regards via radio broadcasts, there was usually a hesitant wish for the soldier recipient: Hopefully, he would get the hint. The Winograd Committee left the senior leadership without a clear message, hoping that the government and senior officers would understand the hint - and if not them, then the public. This is a problematic approach, which is reminiscent of public reports during Elyakim Rubinstein's tenure as attorney general: harsh words with no practical bottom line.

The Winograd report is a juggling act that includes mutually contradictory statements. In the guise of a partial report, it presents absolute conclusions that cannot be softened in the final report. The report claims to stop at July 17, but draws its insights from the knowledge that after roughly one month, the fighting would reach its forlorn conclusion - a fact that was not obvious after the fifth day. It expresses reservations regarding Ehud Olmert's and Amir Peretz's limited military and diplomatic experience, but also blames prime ministers, defense ministers and military commanders with abundant experience - Ehud Barak and Ariel Sharon, Shaul Mofaz and Moshe Ya'alon. This is an internal contradiction that cannot be explained.

Under the cover of a declared aversion to changing "political decision-making processes" and "senior military commanders," as Committee Chairman Eliyahu Winograd said yesterday in an apparent nod to democratic processes, the report forcibly intrudes into areas that do not concern it, in an unprecedented intervention into elections for the Knesset and the formation of the government. If Olmert and Peretz were unqualified to be prime minister and defense minister solely based on the fact that they lacked a background in strategy and the integrated deployment of military and diplomatic means, then they and all those like them were, are and automatically will be unfit to be candidates for these positions. Like positions and benefits that were designed to discriminate against entire segments of Israeli society, this gives priority to former Israel Defense Forces commanders - from the rank of brigadier general up, and preferably from the ground forces - with a quota for former members of the Mossad and Shin Bet security service.

The Winograd Committee members, who are between 60 and 80 years old and have lived through the entire history of the state, revealed their selective memory of the failures of acclaimed officers such as Moshe Dayan, Yitzhak Rabin and Sharon - some as chief of staff, others as defense minister - in prior wars. Not all of these wars were investigated, and of those that were, not all were investigated properly and fully.

The determination that the summer 2006 campaign in Lebanon was the first war that ended without a clear Israeli military victory was also unfounded in principle, because in the period with which the report dealt, the campaign was far from over. The proper wording of that conclusion is that Israel's wars should end within a week, like the Sinai Campaign and the Six-Day War - before any negative results begin to be evident. Then there would be no public pressure to form a committee of inquiry, and in any event, the failures would not be exposed and those responsible would not be condemned.

A moral, conscientious, self-respecting individual who read the severe conclusions leveled at him in the report could be expected to translate them into recommendations. But politicians are not like everyone else. Olmert's battle to hold onto his position, as desperate and as hopeless as it may be, may take many forms. The three most basic ones: fictitious war, fictitious peace and national unity.

Fictitious war would resemble the sudden tension with Syria in the spring of 1974, which provided Dayan with a pretext to stay on as defense minister in Golda Meir's government just before the Agranat Commission's report. Fictitious peace would resemble Menachem Begin's May 1983 edict to Lebanon following the publication of the Kahan Commission's report. A unity government would include an emotional appeal by Olmert to Benjamin Netanyahu to serve in his government as vice premier and defense minister, in a double blow to Tzipi Livni and the Labor Party.

Israel's citizens are thinking about the next war; their elected officials are thinking about the next elections. No tricks will help Olmert. They did not save Golda, despite Agranat's kind words, nor did they save Begin, who was painfully stung by justices Kahan and Barak. The end is already a foregone conclusion; the only remaining questions are the timing and how painful it will be.