Interim Winograd report will take aim at Olmert, Peretz, Halutz

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The Winograd committee announced Tuesday that it would publish a "partial" report in the second half of April focusing on the decision-making process during the first six days of the fighting in Lebanon last summer and the personal responsibility of the prime minister, the defense minister and the chief of General Staff for the decisions taken during those days. The report will cover the days between July 12, when two IDF soldiers were kidnapped in a Hizbullah cross-border ambush, and the prime minister's Knesset speech on July 17.
  • Light, not leaks (March 12 editorial)
  • The second Lebanon war: special report The committee said it would release an unclassified copy of the report to the public and classified copies to Olmert and Peretz. Should the committee's findings be critical of Olmert and/or Peretz, either one or both might be forced to resign from office. Peretz, who is currently in Washington, refused to comment on the announcement. However, defense officials close to the minister claimed Peretz had been behind the decision to attack Hizbullah's long-range missile system on the first night of the war, a move that succeeded in eliminating the guerrilla group's ability to fire rockets deep into Israel. They also claimed that as a civilian, Peretz brought a "fresh way of thinking" to the decision-making process during the war. As for the IDF's lack of preparedness, Peretz's associates placed the blame on his predecessor as defense minister, former chief of General Staff Shaul Mofaz. Meanwhile, the Winograd Committee announced that the partial report due next month would not include criticism of other individuals involved in the war and, consequently, that it did not intend to send out letters of caution to anyone. On the other hand, it did not rule out the possibility of finding fault with other figures in its final report, even though such individuals would not be given advance notice of the possibility or the opportunity to defend themselves before the committee. The partial report will include four chapters. The most important in practical terms is the fourth, which will discuss the first six days of the fighting. The third chapter will review the period between 2000, when the IDF abandoned the so-called security zone in southern Lebanon until the fighting broke out on July 12. At this point, none of those involved in these years, including former chief of General Staff Moshe Ya'alon, Mofaz and Gabi Ashkenazi - formerly the OC Northern Command but now chief of General Staff - will be singled out for responsibility. The first two chapters will present the general principles of the committee's work and the committee's concept of the rules of natural justice. According to observers, the latter chapter will present the committee's rationale for not sending out cautionary letters to those involved in the investigation, while reserving the right to hold them responsible for failures in the final report. The committee said it would make every effort to publish the final report "as soon as possible." It said the report will address matters of "supreme importance," including an analysis of the fighting in all its aspecsts such as the army's preparedness for war, the building of the fighting force, the use made of the soldiers in the force, and the training of the officers. Of particular interest will be the last two days of fighting, when dozens of soldiers were killed in a failed attempt to reach the Litani River, and the decision regarding the cease-fire terms. The final report will also include a section on the preparedness of the home front, which will be written in coordination with the state comptroller, who is preparing his own report on the topic. The Prime Minister's Office had no formal comment on the announcement, and an Olmert spokesman would only say that the Prime Minister's Office was "waiting patiently" for the report. Olmert heard of the announcement while on a tour of the Gaza border area, and did not publicly relate to the announcement. Leaks appeared in the media last week, asserting that Olmert testified to the Winograd Committee that a decision to embark on a wide-scale military operation in response to the abduction of soldiers was taken as early as March 2006, four months before reservists Regev and Goldwasser were kidnapped; as a result, Israel went to war in Lebanon. According to the reports, Olmert - during more than six hours of testimony on February 1 - was questioned over three main issues: the appointment of Peretz as defense minister, the decision to go to war on July 12, and the decision to embark on a wide-scale ground operation just 48 hours before the cease-fire. Thirty-three soldiers were killed during that final ground operation. Olmert's aides, following his testimony to the committee, said that he took responsibility for the decisions that were made and did not engage in "finger pointing." According to his aides, Olmert described for the committee the information available upon which the decisions were based, and reportedly said that, considering the circumstances, the decisions he took during the war were reasonable. Halutz and Peretz have much at stake in the report's conclusions, as well, though. Peretz has declared many times that he would resign if the committee recommended he do so - while Halutz, who is said to have political ambitions, would most likely not be able to run for office if he were slammed in the report. Concerning Halutz, the report's main points of criticism will focus on his decision to postpone a ground operation in southern Lebanon and rely instead on aerial and artillery power, a decision that failed to reduce Katyusha rocket attacks during the 34 days of fighting. During his seven-hour testimony before the committee, Halutz took responsibility for some mistakes he made during the war, foremost the decision not to immediately call up reservists. He skirted responsibility when it came to the state of the IDF's emergency warehouses and its lack of training, instead placing the blame on his predecessors as chief of General Staff, Ya'alon and Mofaz. Halutz is also thought to be responsible for the hesitant manner in which decisions were made during the war. There were times when orders were changed on an hourly basis. Most important for the committee was Halutz's decision to ignore an IDF operational plan - called "High Waters" - that prescribed the military response to a scenario exactly like the July 12 abduction of reservists Eldad Regev and Ehud Goldwasser. The plan, which was drilled several months before the war, was not implemented. Peretz, who IDF officers have said was "inconsequential" during military discussions, will also likely be blamed for not calling up reservists or pushing for a ground operation earlier than was ultimately decided in the last few days of the war. He was asked extensively during his testimony about his relationship with Olmert and Halutz. Following the announcement of the partial report's coming release, Kadima coalition head MK Avigdor Yitzhaki told Army Radio he didn't believe that Olmert was likely to resign as a result of the Winograd report. Within Kadima, lawmakers and party sources told The Jerusalem Post they were adopting a wait-and-see attitude until the actual report is released. But the question of what comes next was not far from their minds. Some party sources said that if push came to shove and Olmert did in fact resign, they would look for a replacement rather then head to another party , such as the Likud. Among the names that were dropped as potential party leaders were Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni and Internal Security Minister Avi Dichter. A party source said the question is not who would lead, but to ensure that the party has set out a process by which to appoint a successor. Talks to firm up party rules to create such procedure are underway, the source said. Meanwhile, Knesset members from the opposition parties pounced on the April date of the partial report's release as the "day that the current government will go home." "For all those who thought that they had a few more months of quiet ruling, they are in for a surprise," said Silvan Shalom (Likud). "A political earthquake is approaching." Meretz chairman Yossi Beilin said the prime minister has not been able to do his job for months. "Even if he is found clear of all guilt - even if that is the case, he has had to defend himself against Winograd for months now. He could not fully function as a prime minister," said Beilin. Gilad Erdan (Likud) said that if the Winograd Committee fails to decide to "send the prime minister and defense minister home," it will "only prove that the Winograd people weren't living in Israel during the war." Tovah Lazaroff and Sheera Claire Frenkel contributed to this report.