"The Second Lebanon War constituted a great and dangerous missed opportunity," the head of the Winograd Committee said Wednesday in summarizing the conclusions of its 600-page Final Report on the the government's and army's handling of the war. The members of the committee - retired judge Eliahu Winograd, Professors Ruth Gavison and Yehezkel Dror and Major-Generals (res.) Haim Nadel and Menahem Einan - delivered a written statement to the public after presenting the report to Prime Minister Ehud Olmert and Defense Minister Ehud Barak at the Prime Minister's Office. Criticizing both the government and the army for "serious failings and flaws," the report stopped short of blaming Olmert personally for the shortcomings. The report described a UN-brokered cease-fire as an "achievement for Israel" and said Olmert, in ordering a widely criticized last-minute ground offensive, acted "out of a strong and sincere perception" of what he thought was in "Israel's interest." The decision to start the ground operation, and its goals, "were legitimate," it said. "There was no failure in that decision in itself, despite its limited achievements and its painful costs." The Final Report stood in sharp contrast to the strongly worded Interim Report last April, which criticized Olmert personally for "severe failure" in "hastily" going to war. The members of the committee sat on the dais in front of an estimated 300 journalists. Winograd spoke in Hebrew and Gavison in English. "Israel embarked on a prolonged war, which it initiated itself and which ended without it winning a clear military victory," Winograd said. "A quasi-military organization numbering some thousands of fighters withstood for several weeks the strongest army in the Middle East, an army which enjoyed absolute aerial supremacy and advantages in size and technology. The rocket fire by Hizbullah at the Israeli home front continued throughout the war, and the IDF did not provide an effective solution to it. Civilian life in the North, which was under the threat of rockets, was seriously disrupted, and many residents temporarily left their homes or huddled in shelters. After a long period in which the army sufficed with returning fire and conducting limited ground operations, very close to the time when a cease-fire agreement was reached, Israel launched a broad ground attack which did not achieve any military gains and was not completed." Winograd said the Final Report, which covers the period between July 13 and August 24, should be regarded as an integral continuation of the Interim Report released on April 30, 2007. In this period, too, he said, "we found very troubling facts," which he summarized as follows:
We found serious failings and shortcomings in the decision-making processes and staff-work in the political and the military echelons and their interface.
We found serious failings and flaws in the quality of preparedness, decision-making and performance in the IDF high command, especially in the Army.
We found serious failings and flaws in the lack of strategic thinking and planning, in both the political and the military echelons.
We found severe failings and flaws in the defense of the civilian population and in coping with its being attacked by rockets.
According to the committee, the government's decision to go to war against Hizbullah left it only two choices - either to launch a heavy, painful artillery and air strike that would last a few days, or to try and change the state of affairs in southern Lebanon by sending in ground troops.
The problem was, according to the committee, that for most of the war, the government and the army could not make up their minds between the two options.
"This 'waffling' worked against Israel," the committee wrote. "Even though there was an awareness of this situation, there was no orderly discussion or decision on this central question for several long weeks."
Winograd added that the choice of options and the strategy of ending the fighting should have been worked out before the decision to go to war was made.
Furthermore, the fact that it took so long to decide on the ground operation meant that it only began once the diplomatic process leading to the August 14 cease-fire was close to fruition, leaving insufficient time for the army to achieve its war aims. Thus, "Israel did not win a diplomatic achievement as a result of a military one, but relied on a diplomatic achievement... to end the fighting."
According to the committee, the war's outcome was determined to a large extent by the fact that it was conducted without a comprehensive knowledge of the conditions in the theater of operations, without proper preparation by the army and without an understanding of the basic principles of how to use military might to achieve political ends.
In the final analysis, the committee blamed the army for failing to deliver the military results that could have provided the the right conditions for the government's diplomatic efforts.
As for the ground operation launched in the last two days of the war, not only did it not achieve its aim of stopping the Katyusha attacks, but it was also not clear whether it had an impact on the cease-fire terms or the willingness of the Lebanese government and Hizbullah to accept the agreement. The committee noted that "the way the ground operation was conducted raises very serious questions."
The committee was not critical, however, of the decision to launch the attack. In fact, it determined that the decision was "almost a necessity... The aims of the military operation were legitimate and involved more than just an attempt to speed up the diplomatic process or improve its terms. The decision itself did not constitute a failure, despite its limited achievements and painful price."
Having said that, the committee added that neither the government nor the army had given any serious consideration to the fact that the operation was limited to 60 hours. (Then-chief of General Staff Lt.-Gen. Dan Halutz had originally insisted on 96 hours.) Furthermore, neither the army nor the government had sufficiently monitored the fighting after it began.
In summing up its assessment of the ground operation, the committee emphasized that it was up to the public and the politicians to reach their own conclusions about the government's performance.
The committee added that not everything about the war was negative. The IDF, and particularly its reserve forces, had displayed great courage, dedication and fighting ability. The air force also performed well. However, even here, the committee added that both the army and the government had overestimated the IAF's ability to win the war.
Winograd added that UN Security Council Resolution 1701 constituted a diplomatic achievement for Israel, even though some of its provisions had already been undone and it was obvious that others would not be implemented at all.
The committee made recommendations on how to correct the failures it found in the war's management, and stressed that it required "a persistent and prolonged effort, on many levels, to achieve crucial improvements in the modes of thinking and acting on the part of the government and military systems."