Analysis: The Winograd anticlimax

The first report should have been published while the public's anger over the war was still alive.

jp.services1 (photo credit: )
(photo credit: )
The Winograd Committee's interim report was deemed so sensitive that it was apparently printed at a secret Shin Bet (Israel Security Agency) facility. That didn't stop the newspapers and TV channels from reporting over the weekend almost everything we can expect to find there on Monday, including the number of pages and even a poem from its beginning. So what have we learned (assuming that the report is more or less accurate)? The three main protagonists don't fare very well in the document. Prime Minister Ehud Olmert made "hasty" and "faulty" decisions and allowed the IDF to lead him; Defense Minister Amir Peretz let his lack of experience cloud his judgment and then-chief of General Staff Lt.-Gen. Dan Halutz dismissed the threat of the Katyushas to the civilian population and stifled dissenting views. With different timing and under other circumstances, the panel's judgment might have been decisive, forcing the resignation of all three, but coming now, more than nine months after the war broke out and after two books and hundreds of newspaper articles saying much worse things about the war leaders, the impact isn't as devastating as it might have been. For the interim findings to have had real influence, former Tel Aviv District Court president Eliahu Winograd should have acted much sooner, immediately summoning the key witnesses and publishing the first report while the public's anger over the Second Lebanon War was still very much alive. Instead, they took their time locating work premises and deliberating over procedures before getting down to business. Now, finally, the report on the first five days of the war is ready, but it's a strange creature. On the one hand, the committee members went a step further than simply providing an inside account of affairs; they also rated the actions of the main players. But they stopped short of drawing "personal conclusions" and recommendations, preferring to postpone the rigamarole of warning letters and lawyers to the final stage. The Winograd findings can cause little damage to Halutz, who has already resigned and has temporarily disappeared from the public's view. Neither is Peretz unduly bothered, as his immediate concern is the Labor primary in four weeks. If anyone is going to eject him from the Defense Ministry, it's the Labor Party members, not Winograd and his four colleagues. Besides, over the last few weeks Peretz has admitted that he should never have taken the job and expressed a wish to move to the Finance Ministry. Which leaves only Olmert, who is trying to remain in the post he filled during the war, in Winograd's sights. Obviously, this won't be an easy week for the prime minister, but it already seems to be shaping up into a better week than he might have initially feared. The recent leaks from the report have worked in his favor, adjusting expectations accordingly. Supporters and rivals already assume that Monday's partial report will not force Olmert to resign and neither will it be the spur for an insurrection within the coalition or Kadima. The prime minister's advisers have already devised their media defense, which will be based on the claim that all the decisions taken by Olmert during those fateful days were supported by a consensus and broadly supported by the cabinet and the Knesset, including opposition head Binyamin Netanyahu. The lack of personal recommendations will also allow Olmert to wait at least four more months, if not much longer, until the committee publishes its final report, expected to be more specific in its conclusions. Sources close to the panel have said a number of times over the last few months that despite the lack of recommendations, they expect the first report to have a profound effect in the public arena, causing a backlash against the government. They might hope so, but if the way the post-war protests by reservists and bereaved families petered out in a few weeks is anything to go by, it might take more than this report to have serious a impact. The demonstration planned for next week in Tel Aviv's Kikar Rabin - organized by Maj.-Gen. (res) Uzi Dayan and a wide range of organizations calling on the government to take responsibility for the war's outcome - will be an important test of the current level of public anger. If in the aftermath of Winograd's first report, the organizers succeed in bringing more than 100,000 citizens to the square, they will have done their job. If only a meager audience shows up, Winograd will have proved to be no more than an anticlimax.