The Winograd Report reveals devastating information on the war in Lebanon

By Mario Sznajder (for Safe Democracy)

Mario Sznajder believes that the preliminary report from the Winograd Commision es a red card not only for the prime minister, Ehud Olmert, but also for Israel‘s political class as a whole.

Mario Sznajder is a Leon Blum chair and professor of political science at Hebrew University in Jerusalem. He is a researcher for the Truman Institute for the Advancement of Peace. He has published hundreds of articles in scientific journals on fascism, human rights, democracy, and the Middle East.

THE PARTIAL CONCLUSIONS OF THE WINOGRAD COMMISSION, which reviewed the time period before fighting began this past summer 2006 and the first five days of the Second Lebanon War, are devastating. In sporting terms, the report is a red card, practically of expulsion, for the Prime Minister Ehud Olmert, Defense Minister Amir Peretz and for Dan Halutz, the ex Chief of Staff of Israel’s Armed Forces. Halutz has already resigned; Amir Peretz has clearly announced his decision to leave the Defense Ministry following the Labor Party’s primary elections (coming up on May 28th), leaving Ehud Olmert the only one insisting to continue executing his job as Prime Minister as if nothing had happened.

Judge Winograd unreservedly expressed the commission’s preliminary results, by saying the following: Israel’s political and military leaders failed to manage the crisis provoked by Hezbollah in July of 2006 by killing eight Israeli soldiers and taking two hostages, the status of whom remains unknown.

Ehud Olmert’s attempts to take on the initial conclusions reached by the Winograd Commission, via a TV-Radio discourse in which he urges the country to look to the future to correct the outcome of past mistakes-amen from the public appearances by Olmert’s spokespeople who are trying to maximize the positive points of the report-few and far between as they may be-don’t seem to have taken effect on the Israeli public. A survey realized after the publication of the commission’s results shows that between 70 and 80 percent of those interviewed believe Peretz and Olmert must resign.

The argument for waiting until the Winograd Commission publishes its final conclusions in July is pretty ineffective, especially having in mind that after analyzing the war and its internal impact on the country, the final results regarding Olmert and Peretz will likely be worse than the preliminary findings.

How can one explain Ehud Olmert insisting on staying put as Prime Minister? First off, it needs to be understood that among Israeli politicians, only a very small minority of Parliament members are interested in a new election. Many believe they won’t be re-elected, since the 2006 crisis has translated itself into a major loss of public confidence not only in the Prime Minister and his Government, but in politicians in general.

Secondly, one must take into account that the big political winner of the crisis would be ex Prime Minister of Likud, Benjamin Netanyahu, the character what reached popularity levels of about 30 percent. That said, such a percentage translated into parliamentary votes could only produce a future coalition of weak and probably unstable government. Moreover, Israel’s weaker socio-economic sectors don’t forget that Netanyahu imposed severe neo-liberal economic policies, contributing to an increase in poverty and the growth of the social gap.

Solutions? Not many come to mind. Public protests have begun. Massive manifestations, declarations and interviews demanding that Amir Peretz and Ehud Olmert resign, reserve groups that protest publicly hoping to replicate the same kind of social movement that ended up crushing the Golda Meir administration in 1974, days after the Agranat Comission-that investigated the failures during the War of Yom Kippur in October of 1973-published its conclusions. The groups formed by the families of those killed in the war, like those living in the punished northern region of Israel-Galilea and Haifa-that have watched too many months pass since the end of the conflict without signs of the state of defense improving, all of them will surely centralize the pressure against Olmert and Peretz and against the current government as a whole.

Even worse: there are rumors circulating internally in Kadima, the party founded by Ariel Sharon and headed by Ehud Olmert. Tzipi Livni, the minister of Foreign Affairs, supported by ministers of parliament of Kadima, is waiting.

The attempt by Tzipi Livni to provoke the resignation of Ehud Olmert failed, for now at least, proving that the minister possesses a high level of political immaturity that, for the most part, disqualifies her as a possible national leader in Israel.

For the Kadima conspirators, their political survival and the survival of the Kadima party, is more important than Olmert’s leadership, and maybe they will end up bringing him down. Many are prepared to do anything necessary to avoid early elections that would bring Netanyahu and Likud to power.

In the middle of the crisis, the positive points of the Israeli situation go in two directions: the military seems to have learned its lessons from Lebanon 2006 and the level of training and preparation have improved greatly. The second direction lies in the vitality and effervescence of the civil society and Israeli democracy, which will also survive this crisis. And that’s a lot.

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