Key Finding: 'We Are All Guilty'

"We are all guilty" is an effective summary of the final Winograd Committee report. But the committee also ranks the guilty according to the severity of their actions, their major failures and their mistakes.

The panel places responsibility first and foremost with the Israel Defense Forces. After this comes the political echelon - the cabinet, and at its head the prime minister and the defense minister, and afterward every Israeli government since the withdrawal from Lebanon in 2000, governments headed by Ehud Barak and Ariel Sharon.

Because this was not its mandate, the committee did not place responsibility with individuals, but in elegant language more reminiscent of English understatement than speech in Israel, it made very harsh rulings.

The report addresses every one of the 34 days of war with great thoroughness, and devotes chapters to the various Israel Defense Forces branches, including the Israel Air Force, the intelligence services, the Israel Navy and the ground forces.

The panel stresses that in its comprehensive assessment, the war ended as "a major missed opportunity," despite the fact that Israel initiated it, and had complete air superiority and the strongest army in the Middle East. In spite of all this, the war "ended without a military win for Israel."

Emphasizing that the IDF was not appropriately prepared in the years preceding, the committee added that the government that went to war did not hold an "orderly discussion" and decision-making process beforehand, and was highly defective as the war developed.

The report and the comments that the committee chairman, retired judge Eliyahu Winograd, made at the press conference, which was more like the reading of a verdict, noted also that "faulty IDF operation" was discovered when the war began, and that "the war was not conducted based on wide knowledge of the region."

However, in its stinging criticism of the IDF, the committee also tried to differentiate between the ground forces, which failed, and the air force, which the panel praised and said made vast achievements, while stressing what has already been said by commentators and experts: "Vain hopes that the air force would determine [the conflict] were fostered, and in the end the IAF's achievements were also 'eroded by the failures.'"

The committee recalled one grave incident - the Iranian missile that hit the INS Hanit - which "blemished" the navy's operations throughout the conflict, but added that the navy "contributed to the sea blockade."

With regard to the subject upon which Prime Minister Ehud Olmert's associates pinned great hopes, the decision to launch the ground operation in the final 60 hours - during which approximately a quarter of the war's casualties were killed - the committee ruled that the decision was reasonable and even "almost necessary," and earned Israel "political and military flexibility." The committee said that the decisions by the prime minister and former defense minister Amir Peretz on this issue were "practical and well-founded," and that the operation's goals were legitimate.

The committee also addressed the problem of media leaks from within the IDF. It dealt with the weakness of the IDF censor in curbing the leaks and gave its opinion on why the censor may not have been required to do so, as this is a question of Israeli society's strength.

On this issue, the committee attempted to say that there are "truths" important to repeat to the public. These truths include "fitting military leadership, military ability and public fortitude," without which Israel cannot deter its enemies. In other words, the panel is trying to object to the pleasure-seeking, hedonist tendency sweeping Israeli society, which is not prepared to make sacrifices and requests immediate, speedy satisfaction and wars of luxury.

Israel must, therefore, adopt a policy that strives "for peace with its neighbors even at the cost of compromise. But the arrangements need to come from a place of military power and public strength," it stated.