Middle East

Israeli Report Criticizes Olmert for Lebanon Action

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Left-wing Israelis call for Prime Minister Ehud Olmert's resignation outside his house in Jerusalem.

Left-wing Israelis call for Prime Minister Ehud Olmert's resignation outside his house in Jerusalem. Brian Hendler/Getty Images hide caption

toggle caption Brian Hendler/Getty Images

A report issued Monday cites "severe failures" in the way Israel's leaders handled last summer's war in Lebanon against the Hezbollah guerrillas.

The preliminary report from the government-appointed Winograd Commission sharply criticizes Israel's senior war-time leaders, dealing yet another blow to Prime Minister Ehud Olmert. Severe public criticism of his handling of the war combined with a string of corruption allegations have sent Olmert's public approval rating plummeting to historic lows.

The strongly worded report says the prime minister rushed into a full-blown war with Hezbollah after the militant Shiite group attacked a military patrol in a deadly cross-border raid, capturing two Israeli soldiers on July 12.

The report says Olmert failed to adequately assess the Israel Defense Forces' war-readiness, did not have a clear exit strategy, did not consider alternatives to a full-scale conflict and outlined unattainable goals.

"All of these add up to a serious failure in exercising judgment, responsibility and caution," said former judge and committee leader Eliyahu Winograd.

Political analyst Yaron Ezrahi said the report describes missteps and miscommunications – and a prime minister almost blindly following his generals into one of Israel's biggest armed conflicts since the 1973 Yom Kippur War – that "add up to a general picture of incompetence by the chief leader of Israel."

Olmert took the helm of the brand-new centrist Kadima Party after former Prime Minister Ariel Sharon suffered a massive stroke. He was elected to the top post just over one year ago, largely on a platform advocating a unilateral withdrawal from the occupied West Bank.

Now, Ezrahi said, the prime minister's West Bank plans have been scrapped, the peace process with Palestinians remains stalled, and Olmert's public approval rating is the lowest ever for a sitting Israeli head of state.

"The Israeli public sees here a reckless leader," Ezrahi said. "And this juxtaposition of recklessness in using the army and so much hesitations and foot dragging when it comes to peace negotiations, I think speaks volumes as to why the Israeli public distrusts this leadership."

The report also sharply criticizes Defense Minister Amir Peretz, noting the former labor organizer's almost total lack of experience and knowledge of security and military affairs prior to the war.

It says Peretz failed to check the fitness of the military he's responsible for overseeing and failed to adequately review operational plans for a war he was, in theory, helping to direct.

Former military chief of staff Dan Halutz, who resigned under pressure following the war, also is censured.

The report says the air force general responded impulsively to the Hezbollah attack and failed to communicate the full strategic picture to political leaders. Halutz also downplayed the threat from Hezbollah's short-range artillery.

Hezbollah rained down 122mm "Katusha" rockets on northern Israel throughout the war. In all, 158 Israelis, including 39 civilians, and more than 1,000 Lebanese - mostly civilians - died in the monthlong conflict.

Gen. Yossi Kuperwasser recently retired as the head of Israel's military intelligence analysis department. He called the commission's findings a grave report that underscores major, systemic shortcomings in the process of communication and decision-making between the military and political echelons.

"We have to much better integrate intelligence and decision-making, and we have to have the intelligence perform a full, comprehensive and deep learning process with decision-makers," he says.

The interim report recommends an urgent overhaul on what it calls "the quality of discussions and decision-making within the government."

In addition to his war woes, Olmert faces a half-dozen investigations linking him to allegations of corruption, cronyism and favoritism.

In a short televised address late Monday night, Olmert said he recognizes the severity of the report and will work to correct the mistakes. He rejected calls from opposition leaders and others for him to resign and have new elections.

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