- The Washington Times - Sunday, February 10, 2008


Amidst a rare Jerusalem snowstorm, the Winograd Commission, named after its chairman, retired Tel Aviv District Court President Judge Eliyahu Winograd, has finally publicized its much-expected final report about the performance of the Israeli government and armed services during the war with Hezbollah in the summer of 2006.

However, this storm may not sweep Prime Minister Ehud Olmert from office, at least not for now. The media is focusing on the fact that the commission did not explicitly recommend that Mr. Olmert take personal responsibility for the grave mistakes and mismanagement that characterized Israel’s Second Lebanon War and resign.

The media is missing, however, that a mature and robust democracy is unafraid of systematic self-examination, and how this orderly effort may prevent the disastrous mistakes that cost hundreds of lives in 2006 — and could cost more in the future.

It is inconceivable that such a commission would be allowed to function freely and publicly anywhere else in the Middle East. However, it is also inconceivable that in a modern parliamentary democracy a popularly elected leader who so ineptly plunged his country into a war and demonstrated a total lack of strategic skill and judgment could nevertheless stay in office. Yet, this is what is happening so far.

The interim Winograd Commission report released in May last year specified that Mr. Olmert bears overall responsibility for his Cabinet’s and the military’s poor performance. He made “mistaken and hasty judgments and did not manage the events, but was dragged along by the army. Mr. Olmert did not ask the army for alternative plans to those presented and did not ask the right questions,” the report stated.

The Winograd report diagnosed — correctly — the main disease of the Israeli politico-military elite: lack of a strategic doctrine “in the fullest sense of the term.” Israel has suffered from this malady since facing the deathly strategic surprise of the 1973 Yom Kippur War.

The Commission also pointed a finger at former Labor Prime Minister Ehud Barak, who presided over the hasty pull-out from Lebanon in 2000, which led to Hezbollah’s unchecked presence on Israel’s northern border. Mr. Barak is orchestrating his comeback as a future Labor prime minister — after mishandling the Camp David II peace process and being singularly ineffective in the early days of the Second Intifada.

So far, Mr. Olmert has survived despite the fire from the Commission and other quarters, including multiple police investigations and State Comptroller Micha Lindenstrauss. Accusations against Mr. Olmert range from abuse of power and corruption to illegal real estate transactions.

Israel’s current political leadership is endangering the nation’s precarious security. The country’s secular leftist elites live amidst dreams of a “peace process” shared by the cocktail circuit with their diplomatic counterparts from the European Union and the United Nations.

Israel’s tony Tel Aviv-centric elite, including generals, journalists, politicians and academics well-meaning and idealistic though they may be, are ignoring the rising tide of political Islam — both Sunni and Shia — which is sweeping the region, as seen with Hamas and Hezbollah. Israel has also failed to design an antidote to their effective propaganda machines.

Finger-pointing has prevented the Israeli military from implementing the lessons learned from the two Hezbollah wars. The Second Lebanon war and U.S. and NATO troubles in Iraq and Afghanistan demonstrate how hard it is for Western nation-states to defeat radical substate and transnational actors.

Nevertheless, the Winograd Commission had some words of wisdom that should resonate anywhere in the world as free, modern — and moderate — societies are threatened by those who want to destroy them and impose harsh and fanatical ways in their stead:

The Second Lebanon War has brought again to the foreground for thought and discussion issues that some parts of Israeli society had preferred to suppress. Israel cannot survive in this region, and cannot live in it in peace or at least nonwar, unless people in Israel itself and in its surroundings believe Israel has the political and military leadership, military capabilities and social robustness that will allow her to deter those of its neighbors who wish to harm her, and to prevent them — if necessary by use of military force — from achieving their goal.

Israel today is led by a prime minister who sorely lacks the public trust and is barely capable of functioning. His approval is in the single digits. A large majority of Israelis want him to resign. The Bush administration, however, is clinging to Mr. Olmert even in his flagging coalition. The administration hopes Mr. Olmert will deliver on the Annapolis process and that an agreement with Palestinian National Authority President Mahmoud Abbas can be reached before Mr. Bush leaves office.

The chances of this actually happening are not good. But even if an agreement is reached, the contours of the next war — against Hamas and Hezbollah — unfortunately are already on the horizon.

Ariel Cohen is senior research fellow at The Heritage Foundation.

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