Thursday, 7 February 2008

Winograd: Final ground op 'did not achieve military goals', but approving it was essential step

Haaretz - Israel News
The full Winograd report has been released. A summary in English in the link.

By Haaretz Service and Reuters

The Winograd Committee released its final report on the Second Lebanon War on Wednesday, saying the decision in principle to launch a major ground offensive in the waning hours of the 2006 war was essential, despite the fact that the offensive failed to achieve any military objectives.

The committee called the war, which Israel launched against Hezbollah on July 12, 2006 after the militant group abducted two Israel Defense Forces soldiers and killed three others, a "major missed opportunity."

"Israel embarked on a prolonged war that it initiated, which ended without a clear Israeli victory from a military standpoint," Justice (ret.) Eliyahu Winograd told a press conference in Jerusalem.

"A paramilitary organization withstood the strongest army in the Middle East for weeks," he said.

"Hezbollah rocket fire on the Israeli home front continued throughout the war, and the IDF failed to provide an effective response," he continued. "Daily life was disrupted, residents left their homes and entered bomb shelters."

"These results have far-reaching consequences for us and our enemies," he continued.

Winograd assailed the final, large-scale ground operation launched in the final 60 hours of the war in which dozens of IDF soldiers were killed, saying it "did not achieve any military objectives nor did it fulfill its potential."

"The ground operation did not reduce the Katyusha fire nor did it achieve significant accomplishments, and its role in accelerating or improving the political settlement is unclear," said Winograd. "Also unclear is how it affected the Lebanese government and Hezbollah regarding the cease-fire."

"The manner in which the ground operation was conducted raises the most difficult of questions," he continued.

However, the panel found that the decisions that motivated the political echelons to approve the offensive were acceptable.

"The decision in principle of the security cabinet on August 9to approve the IDF's recommendation for a ground offensive, subject to the diplomatic time-table, was a practically essential decision," said Winograd. "It provided Israel with necessary diplomatic flexibility."

"The decision to actually launch the ground operation was within the framework of decision-makers' political and professional judgment based on the information they had available," the retired justice continued. "The objectives of the military push were legitimate and were not confined solely to accelerating or improving a political settlement."

"There was no failure in the decision itself, despite the limited accomplishments and painful price," he said, referring to the 33 IDF soldiers killed in the offensive.

"We are persuaded that both the prime minister and the defense minister operated out of a strong and honest assessment and understanding of what, to them, was seen as necessary for Israel's interests," he continued.

'Grave faults' in decision-making process

The panel nonetheless "found grave faults and failings in the decision-making process and the preparatory work both in the political and military levels and the interaction between them," Winograd said.

"We found grave faults and failings in the senior military command echelon, particularly in the ground forces, the quality of preparedness and readiness of the forces, and of the execution of orders," he said.

"We found grave faults and failings both in the political and military echelons in the lack of thinking and strategic planning," he continued. "And we found grave faults and failings in everything concerning the defense of the civilian population and the challenges presented by the blows it suffered."

"Though it was a war of our own initiative and waged in a defined territory, Israel did not use its military power wisely or effectively," he said.

'Israel went to war without discussing alternatives, objectives'

"The failures began long before the Second Lebanon War," said Winograd. "Ambitious goals were chosen for the war, after which Israel was left with only two main alternatives - the first was a short, severe strike [on Hezbollah], the second was to fundamentally alter the reality in southern Lebanon through a wide-scale ground operation."

"The manner in which the original decision to go to war was made, without discussing the alternatives, and the manner in which Israel embarked on the war prior to determining which of the alternatives it had chosen, or an exit strategy - these were severe failures that impacted the entire war, which were contributed to by both the political and the military echelon," said Winograd.

"The indecisiveness continued into the war itself," the retired justice continued. "There was no proper discussion or decision on the war's objectives for several weeks."

"There was also a serious delay in preparing for a wide-scale ground operation, reducing Israel's options," he said.

"The result was that Israel did not make do with maximizing immediate military achievements, but rather was dragged into a ground offensive only after a cease-fire [decision] made it impossible to effectively fulfill its potential. Both top military and political leaders are responsible for this."

The committee handed Prime Minister Ehud Olmert, Defense Minister Ehud Barak, and the IDF copies of the 500-page report, shortly before the press conference in which the panel presented the report's primary conclusions.

The first, partial Winograd report was released in April 2007 and focused on the opening days of the war. The report found that Olmert and the government had displayed poor decision-making skills and lack of judgment.

It said that, "The decision to respond [to the cross-border attack] with an immediate, intensive military strike was not based on a detailed, comprehensive and authorized military plan..." and that "The primary responsibility for these serious failings rests with the Prime Minister, the [then] minister of defense [Amir Peretz] and the (outgoing) Chief of Staff."

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