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WINOGRAD COUNTDOWN

Leaks From Winograd Testimony About Military Failings Eases Pressure On Political Leader Ehud Olmert

Maariv: ' Senior IDF Commanders Warned Chief Of Staff Halutz That Hizballah Kidnapping Attempt Was Imminent & They Lacked Adequate Manpower To Cope With It '

Will Winograd Fault Prime Minister Olmert For AppointingTotally Inexperienced Defense Minister & Jeopardizing State's Security?

Olmert and Peretz

The futures of Prime Minister Ehud Olmert and Defense Minister Amir Peretz will be on the line when the Winograd Commission releases its partial report on April 30th.As previously reported by IsraCast, the chances are good that Olmert will survive the interim findings. The long awaited conclusions will deal with the period from the IDF evacuation of the security zone in southern Lebanon back in May 2000 until the first five days of the war that erupted on July 12th 2006. Leaks to the media from Winograd testimony have highlighted the responsibility of former IDF Chief of Staff Dan Halutz for failing to respond to warnings from senior officers before the war and his inexperience in conducting a war against the Hizballah guerillas.

The writing was on the wall but IDF Chief of Staff Dan Halutz failed to heed it - that was the message of several senior IDF officers to the Winograd hearing behind closed doors. Maariv newspaper today carried a banner headline quoting General Udi Adam , the Northern Front commander and Brigadier Gal Hirsh, as telling Gen.Halutz:' Chief of Staff, there will a Hizballah kidnapping operation, it's only a matter of time!' Brigadier Hirsh then warned that he did not have enough men to patrol his border sector. But General Halutz responded: ' There are manpower shortages on other fronts and you'll just have to make do. I take responsibility '. It was in the area commanded by Brigadier Hirsh that Hizballah later launched a Katyusha barrage, crossed the border, abducted two Israeli soldiers and killed another eight. The deadly operation triggered the Second Lebanon War.

Senior ground officers also testified thatChief of Staff Halutz, the former Israel Air Force Commander, flew solo insisting that air power alone could win the guerilla war with Hizballah.The highly rated fighter pilot ignored the advice of ground commanders and their contingency plan to follow up the initial air assault with a major ground operation to outflank Hizballah's fortified positions in the south. The emerging picture is that Gen. Halutz dominated the guerilla war and the political leadership followed his lead. Less than a year before, Prime Minister Ehud Olmert had been elected to office; Amir Peretz served even less time as defense minister. Therefore they cannot take the blame for allowing the Hizballah buildup along Israel's northern border for over six years.Former Prime Minister Ehud Barak and his successor Ariel Sharon acquiesced in the Hizballah move down to the very border with Israel.Nor can Olmert be held accountable for the IDF's cut in training the troops let alone devising tactics forguerilla warfare.

After the deadly July 12th raid, the entire country and the media supported a major retaliation against Hizballah with few voices warning that neither IDF nor the home front were adequately prepared. Even Shimon Peres, who told Winograd: ' I would not have gone to that war ', had kept his reservations to himself. Therefore, the partial Winograd findings may let Olmert off lightly because it deals with the run- up and conduct of the war until July 17th. Olmert and Peretz can be held responsible for not intervening in the later conduct of the war when it became more apparent that the air strategy of Gen. Halutz was failing to stem Hizballah's daily Katyusha rocketing of northern Israel.What has become apparent that a country like Israel facing various severe military threats requires that at least one of the three positions - prime minister, defense minister or IDF chief of staff must have solid experience in geo- strategic experience. In this case, both Olmert and Peretz are lacking in military matters while even the Halutz, who was an outstanding Air Force commander was found wanting,in running the necessary ground camapign to root out Hizballah. It will be interesting if the Winograd panel will address this issue. The fact Gen. Gabi Ashkenazi, a highly rated ground officer, has taken over as IDF Chief of Staff has also reduced the public clamor onWinograd to make heads roll due to the perception that Israel fumbled the Second Lebanon War because of its military and political leadership.Gen Ashkenai is now implementinga new doctrine for confrontingthe type of warfareposed byHizballah - a terror organization armed with modern and state - of - the art weaponry from Iran that exploits innocent civilians as cover for hit and run attacks.

Adding to the IDF controversy, is another unconfirmed report that a vital piece of intelligence indicating that a Hizballah kidnapping operation was imminent was never passed on by IDF intelligence to Brigadier Hirsh. The reason was that the intelligence officer was sent urgently to Gaza and his replacement did not realize the relevanceof the information. In any case, the snafus on the military level ease the pressure on the politicians.

But even if Winograd finds that Olmert's decision - making was reasonable until July 17th, how will it rule on the Prime Minister's decision to appoint Amir Peretz- a former trade union boss without any military experience - as defense minister, one of the most crucial positions in Israel? Will the panel find that Olmert jeoparized the state's security simply for his own political ease in forming a coalition government?

David Essing

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