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Friday, January 18, 2008

Twelve days to the Winograd Report on the Lebanon War

It's twelve days to the final report of the Winograd Commission, which will not make 'personal recommendations' or even name names so as to avoid spending months giving everyone named time to respond. The media started heating up yesterday with a couple of conflicting stories as to what the consequences may or may not be.

For example, YNet yesterday quoted an anonymous member of the commission as saying that the report could have 'drastic ramifications' for the political system and could bring about the government's collapse.
"The final report of the Winograd Commission is expected to be dramatic and decisive," a member on the commission told Ynet Thursday, ahead of the report's publication in two weeks' time.

The member also stated that the report could have "drastic ramifications" for the political system, and could even lead to a toppling of the government.

The commission's spokesman refused to comment on the statements at this point.


While the commission said it would not include individual recommendations in its conclusions, the member stated that the report would contain "difficult findings" regarding the deaths of 33 soldiers during the final operation of the war. These conclusions, he said, "will, at the very least, move up the general elections."
The focus of this report is expected to be different than the focus of the interim report that came out in April.
Winograd's preliminary report, which was released in April 2007, strongly criticized Prime Minister Ehud Olmert, then-Defense Minister Amir Peretz, then-Chief of Staff Dan Halutz and the government as a whole for their functioning during the first five days of the campaign.

The final report is set to focus on the period leading up the ceasefire agreement, signed on August 12, 2006, and also cover the years that preceded the war, since Israel's withdrawal from Lebanon in 2000.

The report is also expected to spotlight the last 48 hours of the fighting, which took place parallel to diplomatic efforts to finalize the UN Security Council ceasefire resolution.
Meanwhile the Jerusalem Post reported last night on a dispute within the commission over whether to 'slam' Prime Minister Ehud K. Olmert.
The Winograd committee has elected not to take an overly harsh tone with Prime Minister Ehud Olmert in its final report after going through a serious dispute on the matter, Channel 2 reported Thursday.

According to the news report, committee member Prof. Yehezkel Dror demanded a harsh stance, which would "place a loaded gun on Olmert's table" and force him to resign. The other four members agreed that a harsh report was required, but argued that most of the responsibility for Israel's performance lay with the army, not the prime minister.

Dror then insisted that his opinion be noted in the final report as a "minority position," but this was also rejected by the others. Channel 2 reported that the dispute escalated to the point where some of the members threatened to disband the committee. However, Dror eventually accepted the majority's ruling, the report stated.
I don't see how anyone reading this account of the war's last sixty hours - which was in last weekend's Jerusalem Post - can place responsibility anywhere other than on the political echelon:
When Olmert finally gave the IDF the green light for the operation it was Friday, August 11 at around 4:30 p.m. Several hours later, the Security Council passed a draft of the resolution that was favorable to Israel and even mentioned the kidnapped soldiers in the preamble. According to the resolution, a cease-fire would go into effect on Monday, August 14; UNIFIL would be reinforced from 2,000 soldiers to almost 15,000; and the LAF would deploy in southern Lebanon.

Despite the UN vote, on the ground the situation did not change. Late Friday night, just hours before the resolution was passed, Armored Brigade 401 began moving its tanks across the Litani - facing fierce Hizbullah resistance - in what has become known as the "Battle of the Saluki."

Crossing the Saluki required that the troops and tanks climb a steep hill overlooked by mountains in every direction. Understanding the risk at which he would be putting his tanks, Brig.-Gen. Zur deployed the Nahal Brigade on the outskirts of the villages of Andouriya and Farun to take up positions on the high ground and to provide cover for the armored column moving below.

Under the command of Col. Moti Kidor, then commander of Brigade 401, the Merkava tanks had been waiting for the push to the Litani for close to a week. They had received orders to begin rolling twice. When they began to move, however, they were immediately ordered to stop. But on Friday, August 11, at close to 5 p.m., the orders came again, and by 8 p.m. the tanks began rolling.

Hizbullah had meanwhile made its preparations. Kidor's men had been in the field on standby for almost a week and Hizbullah knew that the only passage West was through the Saluki. At least 100 guerrillas took up positions with the most advanced anti-tank missile - the Russian-made Cornet - and waited.

By early Sunday morning, just 24 hours before the cease-fire went into effect, Kidor had finally succeeded in crossing the wadi and climbing the hill - albeit after paying a heavy price. Twelve soldiers were killed - eight in tanks and four infantry - and 44 were wounded. In other battles over the weekend, an additional 19 soldiers were killed.

But then came the orders to stop the advance and to begin returning. Kidor and his men were left wondering what they had been sent out to achieve in the first place. Why were they dispatched to cross the Saluki when it was clear that the cease-fire would pass? What did these 33 soldiers die for?

THE BATTLE of the Saluki is a microcosm of possibly all of the mishaps that occurred during the war. For a week, soldiers were like sitting ducks waiting for orders that were received and twice cancelled, signifying a total lack of clarity and confidence on the part of the diplomatic echelon in general, and particularly its head - Olmert.

When the orders finally came, they made no sense. Why push to the Litani hours before the UN was set to approve a cease-fire? What was the point of the brief and very bloody operation, especially considering that two days after crossing the Saluki, they crossed it again - this time heading home?

In his testimony before the Winograd Committee, Olmert argued that Operation Changing Direction 11 was instrumental in pressuring the Security Council into passing a resolution in Israel's favor. Halutz made this argument in a meeting he held several days after the war with the senior commanders of Division 162, including Kidor, who had lost 12 soldiers during the push to the Litani.

The end result was that Changing Direction 11 did not achieve its goal. In the last 24 hours of the war, Hizbullah succeeded in firing 250 Katyusha rockets, the most fired in one day throughout the 34 days of fighting. Olmert's attempt to end the war with a victory had failed.
Remember the name "Saluki" - it should figure prominently in the report on January 30.

But the government is not going to go quietly into the night. Olmert has already said he will not resign regardless of what the report says - a measure of arrogance that is unseen even in Israeli politics. And so, the soldiers who fought their war and their families are planning to force Olmert to resign:
Parents of soldiers who fell in the Second Lebanon War are planning to block roads and stage mass protests and hunger strikes from January 31, the day after the Winograd Committee publishes its final report on the war, until the prime minister "goes home," members of the Bereaved Parents Forum said on Thursday.

While protests failed to topple the government following the publication of the committee's interim report on April 30, 2007, forum members said they were determined to continue their demonstrations until Prime Minister Ehud Olmert resigned.

"We paid the heaviest price an Israeli civilian can pay," said Haim Tzemah, whose son, St.-Sgt. Oz Tzemah, 20, of Maccabim-Reut, was killed on August 12, 2006, during the war's last 48 hours. "We will do everything we can - within the framework of the law - to make Olmert understand that he needs to resign."

The last 48 hours of the war will feature prominently in the final Winograd Report. The document is expected to be particularly damaging to Olmert, who ordered the IDF to launch a final offensive when he knew that a cease-fire was almost certainly hours away. Thirty-three IDF soldiers were killed during that final ground operation.

Tzemah said that he recently received a letter from committee chairman Judge Eliahu Winograd assuring him that the report would deal extensively with those last 48 hours. The committee, Winograd said, had sent staff to the United Nations in New York to check the exact timeline of the Security Council vote on Resolution 1701, which led to the cease-fire.

"We will abide by the law but will do what it takes to bring down Olmert and his government," Tzemah said. "We paid the price of the war and it is time that Olmert pays his price."

On Wednesday, forum members plan to meet with various political parties at the Knesset to present a report that includes a chapter on practical recommendations written by Maj.-Gen. (res.) Uzi Dayan, chairman of the Tafnit party, who has been an outspoken opponent of Olmert since the war.

"The moment the Winograd Report comes out, we will call on Olmert to resign," Dayan said Thursday. "Since he already said he won't resign, we will call on the Knesset to remove him."

I agree that Olmert needs to go. But the only disaster worse than Olmert staying is Olmert leaving and the current Knesset remaining in power with foreign minister Tzipi Feigele Livni as Prime Minister. Feigele, who was responsible for the poor drafting of UN Security Council Resolution 1701, which is paving the way for the next war in Lebanon, is willing to take even more risks with the 'Palestinians' than Olmert himself:
Haaretz is reporting Sunday morning that Olmert is all that is standing between Israel and a planned cooked up by Secretary of State Condaleeza Rice and supported by Feigele to grant the 'Palestinians' a 'political horizon.' Under the Rice-Livni plan, Israel will enter into a 'shelf agreement' with 'moderate' 'Palestinian' President Mahmoud Abbas Abu Mazen that will not be implemented immediately because Abu Mazen is 'too weak' to implement it. Given that the 'Palestinians' have already rejected an agreement that gave them the 'eastern half' of Jerusalem, including the Temple Mount, Gaza, and 95% of the 'West Bank,' you can imagine what kind of agreement Abu Mazen would get this time.
In Rice's view, merely reaching such an agreement in principle would provide the Palestinians with a "political horizon" and hope, thereby encouraging them to fight terror and to establish governing institutions in preparation for an independent state.
Even Olmert is smart enough to realize that this is a trap. But Feigele doesn't get it....
Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni shares Rice's approach, but Olmert is strongly opposed to the idea. He believes that any settlement reached should be implemented, and fears a situation in which Israel approves the agreement, but Abbas fails to sell it to the Palestinian public. In that event, Israel might be pressured to make further concessions to make Abbas' task easier.
It should be clear to everyone that the current Knesset no longer reflects the political makeup of the people of Israel - if it ever did. After the disaster of the Lebanon War is brought to a close by the Winograd Report, the slate must be wiped clean. New elections must be held, and a new government must be installed that reflects the nation's current reality. While Olmert's resignation would be a service to the country, it's not enough to resolve all that ails us. The empty 'principles' of Kadima Achora must depart with Olmert. And if the party falls apart and leaves the political scene altogether, all the better.

The rest of us need to do all we can (within the limits of the law) to bring about new elections.


At 10:42 AM, Blogger NormanF said...

A government with only eight percent support can hardly invoke a national mandate to remain in power. The politcians would like to keep blaming the army to save their skin but they were the ones who gave the orders.

Even if Winograd does not name Ehud Olmert, the IDF reservists are going to remind him that assumption of responsibility begins at the top and a Prime Minister who lacks the confidence of the troops is not the one to lead them into battle. Olmert might not care about that but there is little he can do by remaining in office. He no longer enjoys the country's support.


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