Tuesday, May 01, 2007

The Winograd Report

Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert is vowing to stay on the job, despite the release of a scathing report on his leadership during last summer's Lebanon War. Associates of the Prime Minister say he has no plans to step down, although an official government inquiry into the conduct of the war--the Winograd Report--assails his leadership, stating that Mr. Olmert's actions represent a
"serious failure in exercising judgment, responsibility and prudence." The report is equally harsh in its assessment of Defense Minister Amir Peretz, and Lieutenant General Dan Halutz, the Israeli Defense Forces Chief of Staff during the conflict. General Halutz retired earlier this year; Mr. Peretz, like his boss, has no plans to resign.

Despite his desire to hang on, it is difficult to see how Mr. Olmert (and his Kadima government) can survive the Winograd inquiry. Named after the retired Israeli judge who headed the investigation, the Winograd panel spent months probing Olmert's handling of the Second Lebanon War, the name now given to last year's conflict. While the report does not call on Olmert or Peretz to resign, its criticism is much stronger than expected, and it pulls no punches in assigning blame for Israeli failures against Hizballah.

Among the critical mistakes cited by the Winograd inquiry:

A) The decision to respond with an immediate, intensive military strike was not based on a detailed, comprehensive and authorized military plan

B) In making the decision to go to war, the government did not consider the whole range of options, including that of continuing the policy of 'containment', or combining political and diplomatic moves with military strikes below the 'escalation level', or military preparations without immediate military action -- so as to maintain for Israel the full range of responses to the abduction.

C) Support in the cabinet for this move was gained in part through ambiguity in the presentation of goals and modes of operation, so that ministers with different or even contradictory attitudes could support it.

D) Some of the declared goals of the war were not clear and could not be achieved, and in part were not achievable by the authorized modes of military action

E) The IDF did not exhibit creativity in proposing alternative action possibilities, did not alert the political decision-makers to the discrepancy between its own scenarios and the authorized modes of action, and did not demand - as was necessary under its own plans - early mobilization of the reserves so they could be equipped and trained in case a ground operation would be required.

F) [Political Leaders] failed to adapt the military way of operation and its goals to the reality on the ground. On the contrary, declared goals were too ambitious, and it was publicly states that fighting will continue till they are achieved. But the authorized military operations did not enable their achievement.

In other words, Mr. Olmert and his national security team rushed to war without a viable plan for prosecuting the conflict, without considering alternate possibilites, without the necessary preparation of reserve forces, and without calibrating military action to achieved stated goals. That's a damning indictment, by any standard.

In many respects, the Winograd Report seems to mirror an earlier assessment, conducted by retired Israeli Major General Giora Romm. General Romm's analysis, which was released last fall, concluded that Israel suffered from "conceptual collapse" during the Second Lebanon War, by failing to define strategic objectives, understand the importance of time, and never developing an exit strategy. Romm also faulted Israeli leaders for not understanding the importance of Hizballah's Katyusha rockets, which became a symbol of the conflict--and a barometer for battlefield success:

"One of the amazing phenomena of this war was the very low important that the political and military echelon gave to Katyusha deployments...it was only toward the last week of the war that both the IDF and the government truly understood that this Katyusha story would determine the whole issue of who won the war."

As we noted last August, the real issue is whether Israel's political and military leaders have absorbed the lessons of the Lebanon conflict, and will avoid similar mistakes in the future. Two-thirds of Mr. Olmert's national security team remains in place, and they have yet to articulate a coherent strategy for dealing with the Hizballah threat, so the answer to that question appears to be "no." Reading between the lines of the Winograd Report, it seems clear that panel members have no confidence in Mr. Olmert or Mr. Peretz. Nor should they; almost a year after the Second Lebanon War, it is painfully clear that Israel suffered from calamitous failures of leadership, mistakes that can be corrected only through the selection of a new Defense Minister--and a new Prime Minister.

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