The public's turn

Olmert has not learned Winograd's lesson: Hamas in Gaza has armed itself almost identically to Hizbullah.

Rabin sq rally 298.88 (photo credit: AP)
Rabin sq rally 298.88
(photo credit: AP)
In the days ahead, the Winograd Report on the Second Lebanon War will be dissected, largely from a political perspective. The prime minister and his allies will point to its positive aspects, his opponents to negative ones. Both exist and should not be ignored. The bottom line, however, has not changed. In what passes for good news, the report endorses as "almost inevitable" the fateful cabinet decision of August 9, 27 days into the war, to authorize Prime Minister Ehud Olmert and defense minister Amir Peretz to launch a major ground offensive at the moment of their choosing. We also have the committee's judgment that the debate between Peretz and Olmert over the timing of the operation was "legitimate" and backed by "evidence ... and serious support among members of the General Staff and others." This is good news because the thought that the 33 soldiers who lost their lives in this offensive "died for spin," as some placards attest, is intolerable and, evidently, not true. At the same time, the final report, like its predecessor, is a devastating indictment of both the political and military echelons. The same "serious failings and flaws" found regarding the first few days of the war continued throughout the rest of the campaign in "quality of preparedness," "strategic thinking and planning," and of course in the defense of the civilian population. To this list we would add another major and costly failure not even mentioned in the Winograd summary: the failure to anticipate and to coherently prosecute the war for international public opinion - which, as it always does, had a profound impact on the military and political latitude of the government and hence on the outcomes of the war. The summary read by the committee's chairman did not go into much detail, but to the extent it did, it tended to contradict the relatively sanguine assessment of decisions taken toward the end of the war. The committee, for example: 1) found no "serious consideration" of whether any of the goals of the ground operation were achievable in the 60 hours allotted to it, 2) saw no discussion, at the military or political level, of whether to stop the operation after the UN Security Council resolution was adopted, and 3) found no explanation of "the tension between the effort to obtain additional time for a ground operation and the decisions not to go on fighting until the cease-fire itself." These examples illustrate the fundamental tension that the report attributes to the entire war: an inability to decide between the "only" two coherent options available once an immediate military response was decided upon. One was a "short, painful, strong and unexpected blow against Hizbullah, primarily through standoff firepower." The other was "to bring about a significant change in the reality in south Lebanon with a large ground operation ... in order to destroy Hizbullah's military infrastructure." Instead, Israel did neither. This led to Winograd's conclusion, widely shared by the public, that the war was "a serious missed opportunity," "did not result in military gains," and therefore "had far-reaching implications for us, as well as for our enemies, our neighbors, and our friends in the region and around the world." After the interim report, this newspaper concluded that Prime Minister Ehud Olmert needed to take personal responsibility for these failures and resign. We see nothing in the final report - including its partial exoneration of some of the most egregious public charges - that would change this conclusion, and much that would reenforce it. Our conclusion would stand even if Olmert had done a perfect job of learning the war's lessons, because the principle of personal responsibility is critical to the fabric of any democracy, even one not as threatened as ours. But Olmert has not learned: he has allowed the Hamas regime in Gaza to arm itself in almost identical fashion to the Hizbullah buildup that led to the last war, and will lead to the next one. No less importantly, Winograd could not have been clearer regarding how much more work there is to do, and that the nation simply cannot afford a government that has lost the trust of our public and ability to act effectively against and deter our enemies. Olmert has brought the democratic principle of personal responsibility to new lows. The question now is whether other leaders and the public will step in so that we can make real progress on the long road back to national recovery.