Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert faces new pressure to resign after an extensive investigation into the war in Lebanon last summer accused his administration of incompetence. Olmert has called for a Kadima party conference to address his opposition while the Winograd report gets released this afternoon:
The Israeli prime minister, Ehud Olmert, and defence minister, Amir Peretz, faced further calls for their resignation yesterday after leaks of a report into their management of last summer’s Lebanon war which suggests they made a series of errors.
The Winograd report, to be published today, directs strong criticism at the government’s conduct in the first days of the war, according to leaks in the Israeli media yesterday. In particular, Mr Olmert and Mr Peretz are rebuked for not seeking proper consultation and for accepting the army’s recommendations without question. The politicians’ lack of experience in military matters, the report says, meant they accepted the belief of Dan Halutz, the former chief of staff, that the war could be won by air power alone.
The report also criticises Mr Olmert for setting out his war aims – which were broadly to free two captured Israeli soldiers and expel Hizbullah from southern Lebanon – without checking to find if they were attainable. Aides of both men said they had no intention of resigning but the lack of confidence in the politicians may leave them no choice.
For a war of choice, Israel had shockingly poor preparations. The government, according to the Winograd report, had not prepared air raid shelters, despite knowing that Hezbollah would attack primarily with missiles and rockets. Their tanks were not properly fitted to repel anti-tank missiles. Food and other necessities for the IDF had not been sufficiently stocked. The Israelis were unprepared for war in a land of hostility, and that will surprise many Israelis who see no higher role for their government.
The Winograd committee will apparently call Olmert a “failure”, but he hasn’t played out the string yet. In the first place, this is an interim report. The final report will come in July, and it is expected to be even more critical, and in more detail, than the summary being released today. All of Olmert’s opponents, even within Kadima, have an interest in waiting until then to make a move on the Prime Minister. Both Olmert and Peretz have publicly stated that they will not resign their posts, at least not now, and both hope to show dramatic improvements in the deficiencies that Winograd will expose. (Peretz has admitted that he shouldn’t have accepted the position of Defense Minister, and will try to take the Treasury portfolio instead.)
By July, though, Olmert may have no choice. The Winograd committee will recommend sanctions on those who failed in their duty, and as PM, Olmert cannot hope to escape that. Also, the interim report will only focus on the events leading up to the war and the first six days of fighting, while the July final report will be much more wide-ranging. Among the questions will be why Olmert and Peretz did not act more aggressively in the sub-Litani region from the beginning and, hopefully, why they directed the attack against Beirut instead of Damascus, which supplies and supports Hezbollah.
In any case, Olmert is running on fumes, his political fuel exhausted. His opponents, such as Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni, aren’t going easy on him as much as they await the most propitious moment to finish him.
UPDATE: Here is the summary of the Winograd report. It appears harsher than analysts expected, and it rakes both Olmert and Peretz over the coals, as well as the Chief of Staff. Here’s the “ouch::
11. The primary responsibility for these serious failings rests with the Prime Minister, the minister of defense and the (outgoing) Chief of Staff. We single out these three because it is likely that had any of them acted better – the decisions in the relevant period and the ways they were made, as well as the outcome of the war, would have been significantly better.