Report on '06 war spares Olmert

The Baltimore Sun

JERUSALEM -- An official panel of inquiry found yesterday that Israel's failure to win the 2006 war in Lebanon stemmed from "flawed conduct" and "serious failings" by its political and military leadership, but it concluded that Prime Minister Ehud Olmert acted in what he thought was the country's best interests.

The final report on the panel's 16-month investigation cast no blame on any leader. Critics of the embattled prime minister said that made it less likely he would be forced to resign.

Olmert has been struggling to stay in office since the 34-day war against Hezbollah, Israel's first failure to vanquish an Arab foe in battle, and yesterday's judgment was a crucial test. His political survival is essential to President Bush's goal of an accord to end the decades-old Israeli-Palestinian conflict before the end of his second term.

Aides to the Israeli leader said he was relieved after a cursory reading of the report. A statement from his office said he would "thoroughly study" its recommendations and lead the Cabinet in a discussion of how to apply them.

The report's immediate fallout will be clearer in the coming days as Olmert's coalition partners study the 629-page document and decide whether to quit the government.

Political analysts said the coalition leaders were likely to stay in their positions for now.

The fighting erupted July 12, 2006, after Hezbollah guerrillas based in southern Lebanon killed eight Israeli soldiers and captured two others in a cross-border raid. It ended Aug. 14 with a U.N.-brokered cease-fire that left the militant Islamic group separated from the border by a multi-national peacekeeping force.

But Israel's military was unable to retrieve its captured soldiers, destroy Hezbollah or prevent the group from firing about 4,000 rockets into northern Israel. Israeli bombardment of civilian areas in retaliation was strongly condemned by the international community, as was Hezbollah's onslaught.

"A semi-military organization of a few thousand men resisted, for a few weeks, the strongest army in the Middle East," said a summary of the report read on national television by Eliyahu Winograd, the retired judge who led the government-appointed panel.

That setback, he said, resulted from "a mixture of flawed conduct of [Israel's] political and military leadership ... of flawed performance by the military, especially the ground forces, and of deficient Israeli preparedness.

"Israel did not use its military force well and effectively, despite the fact that it was a limited war initiated by Israel itself."

Richard Boudreaux writes for the Los Angeles Times.

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