Olmert personally responsible for decision-making flaws; Peretz failed.
By DAN IZENBERG
The Winograd Committee lays the primary blame for the "grave failures" of the Second Lebanon War on Prime Minister Ehud Olmert, Defense Minister Amir Peretz and former chief of General Staff Lt.-Gen. Dan Halutz, in a stinging report presented to them on Monday afternoon and then, in censored form, to the public.
"The main responsibility for the grave failures belongs to the prime minister, the defense minister and the former chief of General Staff because it is reasonable to assume that had any one of them done a better job, the decisions and the way they were taken in the period under study, as well as the final outcome of the campaign, would have been better," the panel said.
During an appearance before local and foreign journalists, the committee chairman, retired judge Eliahu Winograd, flanked by his colleagues, Prof. Ruth Gavison, Prof. Yehezkel Dror, Maj.-Gen. (res.) Menahem Einan and Maj.-Gen. (res.) Haim Nadel, read out a statement summarizing the committee's 250-page interim report. The panel members refused to answer questions and left the room immediately after reading the statement.
Winograd presented the six main failures of the war involving the decisions that were taken and the decision-making process:
The decision on July 12 to respond to the Hizbullah ambush with an intensive military strike was not based on a detailed, comprehensive and authorized military plan taking into account the complexities of the Lebanese theater of operations.
The government did not consider the entire range of options at its disposal.
The plan was deliberately presented in an ambiguous way so that the entire cabinet would support it.
Some of the war's goals were unclear and unachievable.
The army did not come up with creative alternative plans and did not demand the mobilization of the reserves so that they could be properly equipped and trained in case a ground operation was needed.
As the war progressed, the government did not make operational adjustments or change its goals in keeping with the realities of the situation.
The committee wrote that Olmert bore "supreme and comprehensive responsibility" for these failures both because of his position and because of his actions.
He made operational decisions even though the army did not present him with detailed plans. He did not ask the army for such plans. He did not hold regular consultations with military and diplomatic experts despite his inexperience in both fields. And Olmert did not define the goals of the campaign clearly and carefully or analyze in an orderly way whether the means applied could achieve the declared aims.
"All these," the committee said, "add up to a serious failure in exercising judgment, responsibility and caution."
As for Peretz, the panel found that he lacked knowledge and experience in diplomatic, military and governmental matters. Despite this, he made his decisions without orderly consultations with experts and failed to give sufficient weight to dissenting opinions raised in the meetings he attended. He did not have a strategic perspective and the influence he had on decisions was limited to specific points.
"In these matters, the minister of defense failed to fulfill his duties," the committee concluded. "His position as minister of defense and his functioning in that capacity during the war diminished the government's ability to cope with the challenges it faced."
The panel found that Halutz was unprepared for the abduction of the two reservists on July 12 and did not present the cabinet with all the contingency plans that had been prepared for such an event. He also did not tell the government that the army was not ready for a ground offensive. The chief of General Staff's responsibility was all the greater because he knew both Olmert and Peretz lacked experience in military matters.
Halutz also did not inform the civilian leaders that there were differences of opinion among senior officers regarding the army's strategy.
"In all these matters," the committee concluded, "the chief of General Staff failed in the fulfillment of his duties as supreme commander of the army and as a crucial element in the political-security leadership. He displayed a lack of professionalism, responsibility and exercise of judgment."
Although Olmert, Peretz and Halutz were primarily responsible for the failures of the first few days of the war, there were other factors that were not under their control, the committee wrote.
These included the fact that Hizbullah was perched on the Lebanese border and was able to strike at will because of the unilateral withdrawal from south Lebanon ordered by then-prime minister Ehud Barak in March 2000, the army's lack of preparedness and organizational problems dating back to political and military leaders who preceded Olmert, Peretz and Halutz, and the lack of proper staff work on military and diplomatic affairs inside the Prime Minister's Office, which could have helped him challenge the army's proposals.
Despite the serious faults that the committee found in the performance of the three men during the first six days of the war, it deliberately refrained from recommending taking measures against them.
"In our view," the panel wrote, "the main task of a public committee of examination is to establish the facts and reach conclusions and present them, together with our recommendations, to the public and the decision-makers for them to act on. In general, a public committee is not supposed to take the place of the regular political processes and determine who should serve as an elected representative or senior commander. And so, in our interim report, we include conclusions regarding individuals but not recommendations."
Significantly, however, the committee did not rule out changing its approach in its final report, scheduled for this summer. "We will reconsider the matter before preparing the final report in light of the total picture of the [military] campaign," the committee said.
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