Background: Living up to its mission

We must consider whether it's realistic to believe a different gov't would have managed the war better.

olmert nervous 224 88 (photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski)
olmert nervous 224 88
(photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski)
The Winograd Committee's Final Report on the handling of the Second Lebanon War likely underlines the dissonance between the committee's perception of its duties and the expectations of the public, or at least that part of the public that wants to punish leaders whom they hold responsible for the war's failures. The committee, as it made clear many times over the past year, did not regard itself as authorized to call for the dismissal of the prime minister or any other leader. Nor did it consider that its mission. It maintained that it was responsible for presenting all of the relevant facts in a critical and analytical manner. Given the caliber of its five members, and seeing the outcome of their efforts in the highly detailed 600-page report, the committee has lived up to the mission it set for itself. It is by no means an insipid document. It is highly critical of both the army and the government. Unlike the Interim Report, which dealt almost exclusively with the top echelon of the government and the army, the current report considers the role of the senior commanders who led the fighting both in the first phase of the war - in the limited ground operations close to the border - and the second phase in the last two days of fighting. The IDF is the big loser in this report. While the committee found that the government continued to make the same kinds of mistakes pointed out in the Interim Report - faulty decision-making, indecisiveness and capitulation to military pressure - it was the army that failed to accomplish the military aims of the war and to deliver to the government the conditions in the field that were needed to achieve the optimal diplomatic outcome. Those who hoped the Final Report, and particularly the report's assessment of the controversial ground campaign in the last two days of the war, would seal the political fate of Prime Minister Ehud Olmert are bound to be disappointed. Even though they found that the government decision came too late, it concluded it had been the right decision and that the motivations of both Olmert and then defense minister Amir Peretz had been based on their genuine assessments of Israel's best interests. Nevertheless, the report by no means guarantees Olmert's political future. As the members of the committee said, it is for the public and its representatives in the Knesset to determine the government's fate. The government's opponents will find enough ammunition in the report to wage their campaign for its downfall. On the other hand, the committee not only had the advantage of hindsight in assessing the facts of the war, it also had the luxury of comparing the handling of the war, especially the decision-making process, to an ideal model. There is no question that the government fell far short of the model to which the committee compared it. But political calculations aside, the public ought to consider how far below this ideal model the government's conduct fell and whether it is realistic to believe a different one would have conducted itself any better.