Justice Eliyahu Winograd read aloud the findings of his government-appointed commission's partial report on the Second Lebanon War late Monday afternoon; many said that they were even harsher than had been expected.  Winograd explained that the findings are limited to the days just prior to the beginning of last summer's war against Hizbullah.

The commission found that Prime Minister Ehud Olmert bears the ultimate and overall responsibility for what it called the "faulty and improperly-judged decisions" made regarding the outbreak of the Second Lebanone War. "There was a weakness in strategic thinking... They went into war without thinking how they would get out of it."

"The entire government supported the decisions," the report states, "but it must be emphasized that these decisions were made in a faulty manner - mainly by Olmert, Peretz and Halutz... Responsibility for these decisions is shared by others, but is chiefly theirs - and primarily that of the Prime Minister, Ehud Olmert."

The report's main points include the following:

"The decision to carry out an extreme military operation [in response to the kidnapping of the two Israeli soldiers on the Lebanese border] was not based on a careful analysis of the situation in Lebanon... It was rather overly-ambitious and unrealistic... The capacity to attain genuine accomplishments was limited... Olmert said he would fight until the objectives were achieved, but the fighting was not done in a manner designed to achieve these goals... He did not ask for a detailed plan from the army..."

"Olmert bears the ultimate responsibility... He is responsible for the fact that the goals were not clearly or cautiously set, and for the fact that there was no coordination between these goals and how they might be achieved... He acted without organized consultation with other bodies, such as the National Security Council and the mini-security Cabinet... Even after he saw that the initial assumptions were not practical or implemented, he continued on. All of this adds up to a grave error and great misjudgement."

The report also castigated Defense Minister Amir Peretz and ex-IDF Chief of Staff Lt.-Gen. (ret.) Dan Halutz.  Winograd said the Defense Minister "did not have the required knowledge or the experience in security or diplomatic matters, or in how to use military strength to achieve objectives. Despite this, he made decisions without consulting others, and did not give sufficient weight to differing opinions... He did not take into account the army's lack of readiness... His influence on decisions were only on local matters; he did not try to grasp or deal with the overall picture. His lack of experience and knowledge weakened the government's ability to deal with the challenges."

The Winograd Commission did not find fault with Olmert for appointing the inexperienced Peretz as Defense Minister, leaving this "political issue" to be judged by the public.

Winograd termed the Chief of Staff as the top officer of the army and the man responsible for presenting military options to the government. "His involvement was dominant, but he was not ready when the kidnapping occurred; he acted impulsively and did not accurately present the complexity of the situation to the government.  He gave the impression that the army was ready... He did not present plans to the government, nor the fact that the army was not prepared for a ground operation, and the fact that this might be critical to its performance in a war situation. His responsibility is multiplied because of the lack of experience of Olmert and Peretz..."

"At the same time," Winograd said, "though the responsibility of the above three is supreme, many others were partner to the above problems." He noted that Hizbullah's readiness was not dependent on Israel, and its ability to "sit on our border and build up its military capabilities" was the result of our unilateral withdrawal from Lebanon in May 2000.  In addition, the lack of readiness was the responsibility of previous governments, and the fault of false and out-dated conceptions that did not take into account the entire realm of threats against Israel. 

Justice Winograd blamed the Cabinet of Israel for not fulfilling its duty and not trying to understand the threats, not delving into the issues, and wrongly depending too much on those who made the decisions.  The Commission also found fault with officers in the IDF General Staff who knew the problems but did not warn of them sufficiently.

The Winograd Commission recommended that Cabinet ministers be more fully informed and involved in decision-making; that the Foreign Ministry be more involved in issues that could have diplomatic ramifications; improvements in the National Security Council; and the formation of a Crisis Management Center in the Prime Minister's Bureau.

No specific recommendations about various persons are included in the report, but Judge Winograd did not rule out the possibility that this would not be the case when the final report is issued this summer... The Knesset will hold a special session this week on the Winograd findings... Reserve soldiers and others are planning to hold a mass protest on Thursday in Tel Aviv, calling on Olmert to resign.

Political Reactions

Prime Minister Olmert "appointed the committee and will honor its conclusions," an aide said, while emphasizing that Olmert has no plans to resign. The Prime Minister announced this morning that he will convene the ministers of his Kadima party at 6:45 PM. It is expected that he will outline his plan to rebuff calls for his resignation, including a list of quotations from opposition members and others in support of the war.

Upon receiving the report this afternoon, Olmert thanked the Commission members for their hard work, and said, "I will study the report in order to be able to learn the lessons and correct the faults and ensure that the faults will not repeat themselves."

Minister Peretz's lawyer seemed to be relieved, saying that the findings of the report are the same as that which had been leaked.

Yisrael Maimon, who served as Cabinet Secretary earlier this year and who is still close with Olmert, said, "First, this is a grave report, and it shows that the Commission was fairly appointed, and did extensive work...  No one is shunting off blame...  [but] this does not mean that the government must resign. Let me quote this sentence from the report: 'It is not clear whether a leader in Israel can afford to admit his mistakes, because the public then 'rewards' him by ousting him from power. Only those who don't do anything, don't make mistakes." Maimon neglected to mention that this sentence appears in a footnote in the report.  The Army Radio interview speaking with Maimon noted that the report did not say merely that Olmert erred, but that he continued along the same path even after he saw that it was mistaken.

MK Effie Eitam (National Union) said that Olmert must not turn "barricade himself in his office" but must resign immediately. "The decision to go to war was correct," Eitam said, "but the war was run in a faulty manner."  Labor MK Danny Yatom, MK Limor Livnat of the Likud, MK Zevulun Orlev of the National Religious Party, and others also called for Olmert to quit.

MK Benny Elon (National Union) said that new elections are required now as "a matter of national life and death."

Likud party activists protested this afternoon in Jerusalem against Olmert.