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Israeli Report Criticizes Olmert for Lebanon Action

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Israeli Report Criticizes Olmert for Lebanon Action

Middle East

Israeli Report Criticizes Olmert for Lebanon Action

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From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Robert Siegel.


And I'm Melissa Block.

There's been some sharp criticism today for Israel's senior leaders and their handling of last summer's war with Hezbollah in Lebanon. A report from the Israeli government cites severe failures in the country's wartime leadership that deals another political blow to Prime Minister Ehud Olmert.

Fierce public condemnation of his handling of the war combined with a string of corruption allegations have sent Olmert's public approval rating to historic lows.

From Jerusalem, NPR's Eric Westervelt reports.

ERIC WESTERVELT: The strongly-worded interim report by the government-appointed Winograd Committee says the prime minister rushed to a full-blown war with Hezbollah after the militant Shiite group attacked a military patrol in a deadly cross-border raid and captured two Israeli soldiers last 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.

Former judge and committee leader Eliyahu Winograd.

Mr. ELIYAHU WINOGRAD (Chairman, Winograd Commission; Former Israeli Supreme Court Judge): (Through translator) All of these add up to a serious failure in exercising judgment, responsibility and caution.

WESTERVELT: Political analyst Yaron Ezrahi says today's report paints a grim picture of missteps and miscommunications of a prime minister almost blindly following his generals into one of Israel's biggest armed conflicts since the 1973 Yom Kippur War.

Mr. YARON EZRAHI (Political Analyst): Which add up to a general picture of incompetence of the chief leader of Israel.

WESTERVELT: Olmert took the helm of the brand-new centrist Kadima Party after former Prime Minister Ariel Sharon suffered a massive stroke. Olmert 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 points out 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.

Mr. EZRAHI: The Israeli public sees here a reckless leader. 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 of why the Israeli public distrusts this leadership.

WESTERVELT: The Winograd report also sharply criticizes Defense Minister Amir Peretz. The report notes the former labor leader'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 any 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 comes in for tough censure. 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, the report says, also failed to take the threat from Hezbollah's short-range artillery seriously enough.

Hezbollah rained down 122 mm Katusha rockets across northern Israel throughout the war. In all, 158 Israelis, including 39 civilians and more than 1,000 Lebanese - the majority civilians - died in the month-long conflict.

General Yossi Kuperwasser recently retired as the head of Israel's Military Intelligence analysis. Kuperwasser calls the commission's findings a grave report, which underscore major, systemic shortcomings in the process of communication and decision making between the military and political echelons.

General YOSSI KUPERWASSER (Former head, Israeli Military Intelligence Research Division): We have to much better integrate intelligence and decision making and we got to have the intelligence perform a full, comprehensive, deep learning process with the decision makers.

WESTERVELT: This interim report recommends an urgent overhaul of what it calls the quality of discussions and decision-making within the government. In addition to his war woes, Olmert is facing half a dozen investigations linking him to allegations of corruption, cronyism and favoritism.

Late tonight in a short televised address, Prime Minister Olmert said he recognizes the severity of the report and will work quickly to correct mistakes and he rejected the growing calls from opposition leaders and others for him to resign and call new elections.

Eric Westevelt, NPR News, Jerusalem.

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