- The Washington Times - Thursday, May 3, 2007

The interim report of the panel set up to critique the performance of the Israeli government during last summer’s war in Lebanon is a sobering document. The report, which covers only the first five days of the war itself, could prove to be a political body blow to Prime Minister Ehud Olmert and Defense Minister Amir Peretz. But the report is more than that. In many ways, it is, albeit indirectly, a cautionary note for citizens living in democracies at war — and specifically, about what happens when a large segment of the electorate convinces itself that national security can take a back seat to “more pressing” concerns, such as economic bread-and-butter issues.

But clearly, the most immediate impact is on Mr. Olmert, who is in grave political trouble. Many in his Kadima Party have called for his resignation in the wake of the report, released on Monday, which concluded that the prime minister was guilty of “a serious failure in exercising judgment, responsibility and prudence” in running the war.

The report, which is the work of the the Winograd Commission, was similarly scathing in its conclusions on the wartime performance of Mr. Peretz. As with Mr. Olmert, the report notes that the Labor Party leader lacked any background on military issues prior to becoming minister of defense several months before the war broke out on July 12. But the Winograd report said Mr. Peretz “did not put on the table — and did not demand presentation — [of] serious strategic options for discussion with the Prime Minister and the IDF.” It added that “the minister of Defense failed in fulfilling his functions. Therefore, his serving as Minister of Defense during the war impaired Israel’s ability to respond well to its challenges.”

So, the report understandably criticizes Messrs. Olmert and Peretz for failing to do a thorough enough job of consulting people with military experience about other alternatives available to them in confronting the Hezbollah threat after the July 12 kidnapping of two Israeli soldiers on Israeli soil. It is very likely that the complete analysis, which is expected later this year, will be even more scathing in its criticism of the wartime leadership of Messrs. Olmert and Peretz.

But in many ways, Israel’s problem has less to do with the failings of individuals than it does with the decisions that the electorate made on March 28, 2006, when it voted to make a Kadima/Labor coalition government all but inevitable. Exit polls suggested that one reason why Labor and some smaller parties did so well was the fact that they downplayed their dovish views on security, while emphasizing left-wing economic populism and campaigning against unpopular but necessary cuts in public subsidies.

By contrast, parties who focused on the security threats posed by Hezbollah tended to perform poorly. In many ways, the shortcomings noted by Winograd are the logical result of a decision made months earlier by the Israeli electorate. It will now be up to the Israeli public to decide if it wants to be led by these same parties and politicians when Hezbollah starts the next war.

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