Analysis: The Winograd Committee and the blame game

The five-member panel now begins a month of review before publishing its interim findings.

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February 1, 2007 23:14
3 minute read.
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The Winograd Committee wrapped up the first stage of its work Thursday, with the seven-hour testimony of Prime Minister Ehud Olmert the grand finale to five months of intensive work. The committee read through piles of classified army and government documents and heard testimony from 70 of the country's most important military and political figures. The five-member panel now begins a month of review before publishing its interim findings. Meanwhile, those who testified will live in a state of apprehension, awaiting the results which will determine if they are cleared or blamed for the failures of the Lebanon war. The panel has reportedly yet to decide if it will issue letters of warning to those it finds responsible, as other government-appointed committees have done in the past. But even if it doesn't, plenty is riding on its report, including the future of Israel's top military and political leadership. Defense Minister Amir Peretz declared on Thursday that he views himself - a civilian without significant military experience - as an asset within the defense establishment. "My civilian background," he said, "is an advantage, not a disadvantage." This is what Peretz told the committee when he appeared before it last week. He claimed that as a "civilian defense minister," he was able to "think out of the box," and that he brought a fresh and innovative way of thinking to the table during briefings and discussions on the military's course of action during the war. Peretz was asked about the decision-making process during the war and his relationship with Olmert. Defense officials have claimed that Peretz was behind the decision to attack Hizbullah's long-range missile array on the first night of the war. As for the IDF's lack of preparedness, Peretz placed the blame on his predecessor, Shaul Mofaz. He has, however, reason to be concerned. IDF officers have said Peretz was "inconsequential" during military discussions and that his contribution was "marginal and almost unfelt." Winograd could prove fatal for Peretz, who has said he would resign from his post if the committee recommended he do so. Olmert also has a lot hanging on the report. With his popularity dropping from day to day, if Olmert is found responsible for the failures of the war and for leading a negligent and indecisive decision-making process, he could be looking at the end, not only of his term as premier, but of his political career. As the last witness to appear, Olmert went in knowing he was up against the testimony of IDF officers and Peretz, all prejudiced against him. While recognizing the failures of the war, Olmert tried diverting the committee's attention to its successes, particularly Security Council Resolution 1701, which for the first time distanced Hizbullah from Israel's northern border. While IDF Chief of General Staff Lt.-Gen. Dan Halutz submitted his resignation before appearing before the panel, the report is still crucial for his future. Once tipped as a potential defense minister, or even a prime minister, Halutz is said to be still toying with the idea of entering politics sometime down the line. If he is to so, he needs to be cleared by the committee. During his testimony last week, Halutz took responsibility for some mistakes he made during the war, foremost the decision not to immediately call up reservists. However he skirted responsibility when it came to the state of the IDF's emergency warehouses and its lack of training, placing the blame on his predecessors, Lt.-Gens. (res.) Moshe Ya'alon and, once again, Mofaz. Halutz blamed the hesitant manner in which decisions were made during the war - there were instances when orders were changed on an hourly basis - on the political echelon, which he claimed made decisions without fully realizing the implications. The OC Northern Command during the war, Maj.-Gen. (res.) Udi Adam, did the same. In his letter of resignation, he passed the blame and called for examinations of the overall preparedness of the IDF, the timing of the reservist call-up and the launching of the ground operation. Others followed suit, including Brig.-Gen. Gal Hirsch, head of the Galilee Division and commander of most of the fighting during the war. He claimed that he performed well during the war - despite the abduction of reservists Eldad Regev and Ehud Goldwasser under his command The Winograd Committee has turned into a blame game, in which all the participants passed the blame on to those below or above them. As it prepares its interim report, the committee members are left with mountains of data, piles of documents and hours of recorded testimonies. Their job will be to sift through it all and help this country's leadership realize its mistakes and prevent them from recurring.

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