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WINOGRAD FALLOUT

Winograd Commission: 'Prime Minister Olmert, Defense Minister Peretz & Former IDF Chief Of Staff Halutz Guilty Of Grave Failings In Second Lebanon War'

Olmert Sources: 'The Prime Minister Is Studying The Report & Has No Plans To Resign'

Likud Opposition Calls For Early Election & Launches Campaign To Oust Kadima-Lead Coalition

Prime Minister Olmert (Photo: Amit Shabi)

All bets are off after the Winograd Inquiry published what amounts to a condemnation of Prime Minister Ehud Olmert's handling of last summer's 'Second Lebanon War'. Also hauled over the coals were Defense Minister Amir Peretz, former IDF Chief of Staff Dan Halutz, the entire cabinet and successive Israeli governments that ignored the Hezbollah threat after the IDFs unilateral evacuation of southern Lebanon in May 2006. IsraCast reports that after the dust settles, public opinion and its impact on Israel's domestic politics will apparently determine what happens next.

Eliahu Winograd

The Winograd Inquiry launched a scathing indictment of Prime Minister Ehud Olmert, Defense Minister Amir Peretz and former IDF Chief of Staff Dan Halutz for their handling of the Second Lebanon War last summer.It castigated all three for decision-making which was described as both 'irresponsible and unprofessional'. Since the war, Prime Minister Olmert has argued that he acted on the basis of professional military advice of Chief of Staff Halutz and with the full support of his cabinet. But the Winograd panel charged the Prime Minister bore ultimate responsibility for what most Israelis view as a botched war. Gen. Halutz was forced to resign due to public outrage after the war.The panel found that he had ' dominated ' the inexperienced prime minister and defense minister and like his two political masters, Israel's top commander had exhibited poor judgment.As for Defense Minister Amir Peretz, he was also hauled over the coals; his total lack of experience resulted in his exerting influence on only ' marginal issues'. Reading a precise of the partial report at a Jerusalem news conference, Judge Winograd said the commission was mandated to draw personal conclusions but not make personal recommendations about changing the country's political echelon. But the panel's findings are so damming they do everything but say that Prime Minister Olmert and Defense Minister Peretz should resign immediately.

Peretz and Olmert (Photo: Amit Shabi)

The fact is that the interim report is not a revelation for the Israeli public. Olmert enjoys a 3% approval rating, Peretz remains defense minister only because he is Labor party leader and the IDF has a new Chief of Staff. However, the codification of failures at the highest political levels that cost the lives of over 170 Israelis, is bound to send new shock waves through the country.

The Winograd Commission will continue its investigation and publish its final report in August when it might make personal recommendations about Olmert and Peretz if they are still in office. In the meantime, public opinion and domestic politics will take over.

The Likud party is hoping that hundreds of thousands of Israelis will turn out for a protest demonstration in Tel Aviv on Thursday night to call for Olmert's resignation. The Prime Minister himself called a special session of Kadima cabinet ministers hoping they will rally behind him.The big question in Kadima is whether Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni will now make her bid to topple Olmert. Livni, although critical of Olmert's handling of the war, has been demonstratively silent when it comes to supporting Olmert since the war.Until now, Kadima's big guns such as Shimon Peres, Avi Dichter, Meir Sheetrit have remained loyal. But fearing for their own political careers, will the Winograd broadside now shake their support of Olmert. What amounts to an impartial condemnation of the Prime Minister could trigger a move inside Kadima to dump Olmert, appoint Tzipi Livni as party leader and prime minister at the helm of the existing coalition.Although the commission reprimanded the entire cabinet for blindly following Olmert's lead, who was himself led by a high-flying fighter pilot, Livni's Foreign Ministry was complemented. The Foreign Minister had sought to end the war by diplomatic means. Winograd recommended that one lesson was that the Foreign Ministry must be more deeply involved in decision-making in times of war.

Likud: Public opinion polls consistently show that party leader Binyamin Netanyahu is the most popular candidate for prime minister. Sensing there might be a move to run Livni for new prime minister with the existing coalition, the opposition party is mounting the barricades demanding an early election. At present, the Kadima lead coalition enjoys a more than 70 seat majority in the 120 member Knesset. Its coalition parters are leery of going to an early elections after the last ballot about a year ago. Some opponents of an early election are rallying behind the argument of " Anyone But Bibi' warning that Netanyahu was a colossal failure before and will be again, if he becomes next prime minister. Again, Olmert's prospects of survival depend largely on how public opinion reacts to the government's report card of 'F's in just about everything it did in the last war?

Will the coalition partners feel they have no choice but to part company with Olmert and/or Kadima?

Not only the current cabinet, but also the former government's going back to the IDF's unilateral withdrawal from southern Lebanon in May 2006 were lambasted for not confronting the Hezbollah military buildup along Israel's northern border. Prime Minister Ehud Olmert of Labor was responsible for that

original sin and it could harm his run for Labor party leadership in the May 28th primary. If it does, the other front runner Ami Ayalon could be home free. The Winograd findings highlight the lack of strategic and military expertise by both the Prime Minister and Defense Minister that enabled the IDF Chief of Staff to run the show.This will tend to boost the weight attached by Israeli voters to the strategic image of political candidates in future elections.Current Labor party leader Amir Peretz was already trailing far behind in the primary before today's report. However, former Prime Minister Ariel Sharon of Likud and Kadima also bears responsibility for what the Winograd panel faults as a major strategic blunder over a period of years.

David Essing

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