Wednesday, January 30, 2008

Now It's Official : Israel Lost The Second Lebanon War

The Winograd commission's final report, examining who is responsible for Israel's humiliating failure to win the Second Lebanon War, turns out to be, to no great surprise, something of a whitewash and refuses to lay blame at the feet of Israel prime minister Ehud Olmert.

The report makes one thing very clear, however. Israel lost the war against Hezbollah, and the UN resolution that brought an end to the fighting saved Lebanon's civilians and the Israeli Defence Force from further appalling losses :

The commission did not pull punches in describing the failures of Olmert's government during the 34-day conflict that, according to official figures from both sides, killed between 1,035 and 1,191 Lebanese civilians and combatants, in addition to 119 Israeli soldiers and 40 civilians.

Winograd told a packed news conference in Jerusalem that Israel did not win the war and the army did not provide an effective response to a sustained, deadly barrage of rocket fire from Hezbollah guerrillas.

Despite a heavy Israeli aerial campaign, the guerrilla group rained nearly 4,000 rockets on northern Israel. Israeli reservists returning from the battlefield complained of poor training and a lack of ammunition and key supplies.

"The overall image of the war was a result of a mixture of flawed conduct of the political and military leadership ... of flawed performance by the military, especially the ground forces, and of deficient Israeli preparedness," the 81-year-old Winograd said. "We found serious failings and flaws in the lack of strategic thinking and planning."

Winograd said the committee had decided not to assign personal blame for the war's shortcomings, preferring to search for ways to prevent similar mistakes in the future. "It should be stressed that the fact we refrained from imposing personal responsibility does not imply that no such responsibility exists," he said.

A large section of the report was devoted to the last-minute offensive that stirred controversy because it was ordered just as the U.N. truce was about to take effect. More than 30 Israeli soldiers were killed in that fighting.

Winograd said the 11th-hour offensive "failed" in its mission, did not improve Israel's position and that the army was not prepared for it.

However, he said the operation's goals were legitimate. "There was no failure in that decision in itself, despite its limited achievements and its painful costs." Winograd said both Olmert and his then-defense minister, Amir Peretz, acted in "what they thought at the time was Israel's interest."