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Israeli Report Dissects 'Failures' in Lebanon
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Israeli Report Dissects 'Failures' in Lebanon

Middle East

Israeli Report Dissects 'Failures' in Lebanon
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An Israeli report due today examines last summer's war in Lebanon. It does not provide good news for the prime minister then and now, Ehud Olmert. We go now to NPR's Jerusalem correspondent, Eric Westervelt, who's covering the story. And, Eric, who investigated him, what did they say?

ERIC WESTERVELT: Well, Steve, this is a preliminary report by a government-appointed committee called the Winograd Commission. And it only deals with the lead up to last summer's war and the first week of the conflict, but it uses very strong language, and it uses the words fail and failure more than a 150 times. It says the prime minister, Ehud Olmert, hastily rushed into a full-scale war last July 12th, after this deadly cross-border attack on and Israeli patrol by Hezbollah guerillas.

The report sys the prime minister did not have a clear or achievable war plan. It says he did not consider alternative to a full-scale war, such as containment or a combination of military and diplomatic moves. It also says he failed to adequately consult with experienced advisers, and says he outlined unrealistic objectives and on and on. The report says all of these add up to, quote, "serious failure in exercising judgment, responsibility, and prudence on the part of the prime minister."

INSKEEP: And we should mention that all this led to a war that in many people's eyes did not go well at all for Israel. Does Olmert get all the blame?

WESTERVELT: It tries to spread some of the blame around. But really, the prime minister comes in for the most blame and secondly his defense minister, Amir Peretz, and then finally the former military chief of staff, Dan Halutz, who resigned in wake of critics. The report says Defense Minister Peretz, a Labor Party leader and former Labor organizer, really took this military position, this top military post without having any military or security experience. The report paints a picture of him really as clueless when it comes to any military matters

It says he failed to check the fitness and preparedness of the Israeli military, a military he's responsible for overseeing. It also said he failed to review any operational plans for this war he was responsible for directing. Also, the chief of staff, Halutz, as I mentioned, is strongly criticized for acting impulsively and for not communicating and for downplaying the importance in the threat from Hezbollah's short-range rockets, which rained down across northern Israel for 34 days straight.

INSKEEP: I suppose none of these findings are going to be surprising to some Israelis like the reserve soldiers who actually protested after the war?

WESTERVELT: That's right. They complained bitterly, Steve, about the war shortages, of key equipment and food, about conflicting confused orders and poor leadership. Some reservists I spoke with today said they're glad the government seems to have taken a close look at itself and looked at the failures of wartime leadership. And they hope that some of the lessons learned will be implemented. But others are renewing their calls for the prime minister and his defense minister to step down. After getting a copy of the report today, Olmert pledged reportedly to, quote, "that these failures will be remedied."

INSKEEP: If he does pass this, then he only has the corruption investigations to deal with?

WESTERVELT: That's right. One political analyst I talked to today called Olmert a walking political corpse. The opposition Likud renewed calls for new elections and for Olmert to resign. His approval ratings, Steve, are in the single digits, the lowest ever for an Israeli prime minister. But officials in his office say he has no intention of resigning and there's little appetite in Israel public for new elections. So for now, anyway, his fragile coalition is holding together

INSKEEP: Eric, thanks very much.

WESTERVELT: You're welcome.

INSKEEP: That's NPR's Eric Westervelt. He's in Jerusalem where a newly released report is criticizing Israel's war against the Hezbollah guerillas in Lebanon last summer.

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INSKEEP: This is NPR News.

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