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Last Updated: Wednesday, 30 January 2008, 22:24 GMT
Olmert survives Winograd report
By Jeremy Bowen
BBC Middle East editor

Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert in the Knesset in Jerusalem (29/01/2008)
Mr Olmert was criticised for the lack of an exit strategy from Lebanon
Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert's political opponents must be wondering what it will take to bring him down.

It looks as if it will not be the second instalment of the Winograd report into the 2006 war with Hezbollah.

Israel's official commission of inquiry, led by Justice Eliyahu Winograd, showed a degree of understanding about one of the most controversial decisions that Mr Olmert made - to launch a big ground offensive which cost 33 Israeli lives when the ceasefire was very close - that on its own should give the prime minister a better night's sleep.

Still, the report coldly exposes a saga of ineptitude and bad judgement at the highest levels of Israel's government and military.

Israel failed completely in achieving its goals
Hezbollah spokesman

Introducing the report, Mr Winograd put it succinctly: "Overall, we regard the second Lebanon war as a serious missed opportunity.

"Israel initiated a long war, which ended without its clear military victory.

"A semi-military organisation of a few thousand men resisted, for a few weeks, the strongest army in the Middle East."

No wonder a Hezbollah spokesman in Beirut said that the Winograd report confirmed what it has been saying all along.

"Israel failed completely in achieving its goals and the Israeli army suffered a military defeat at the hands of Hezbollah," he said.

'Inadequacies'

The litany of mistakes exposed by the Winograd inquiry is long.

Lebanon war inquiry panel chairman, Eliyahu Winograd at a press conference in Jerusalem, (30/01/2008)
Mr Winograd said the execution of the ground offensive was flawed

It starts well before the war, with "inadequacies" in preparation and strategic planning.

It continues through the decision made on 12 July 2006 to go to war "without an exit strategy".

But, critically for Prime Minister Olmert, "there was no failure" in the decision to launch a big ground offensive at the end of the war.

Both the prime minister and the then minister of defence, Amir Peretz (who subsequently resigned), "acted out of a strong and sincere perception of what they thought at the time was Israel's strategic interest".

For Mr Winograd, it was a decision they were entitled to make; it was the execution that was flawed.

That judgement would appear to have cut the ground from under those critics of Mr Olmert who say that he was guilty of wasting the lives of the Israeli servicemen who died in the attack.

Before the report came out, Mr Olmert -an experienced, sharp-witted and highly intelligent politician - said he was not going to resign.

No surprises there.

Israeli soldiers with a casualty during the 2006 war

After all, he rode out the storm that followed the first instalment from the Winograd committee, back in May last year.

It said that the "main responsibility for severe failures" lay with the prime minister and his senior colleagues.

It could hardly have been worse than that, and it was not.

The Olmert government could still be toppled by the defence minister Ehud Barak, if he decided to take his MPs out of the coalition government.

He suggested that he might when he replaced Amir Peretz.

But the report seems to have given him enough to stay put.



SEE ALSO
Israel probe finds war 'failure'
30 Jan 08 |  Middle East
Tough lessons for Israeli armour
15 Aug 06 |  Middle East
New phase in Mid-East power struggle
16 Aug 06 |  Middle East
Mid-East diary: A time of unease
18 Jul 07 |  Middle East
Israeli PM braced for war report
30 Jan 08 |  Middle East
Hardliners leave Israel coalition
16 Jan 08 |  Middle East
In pictures: Lebanon ceasefire
14 Aug 06 |  In Pictures



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