The Winograd Commission, established by Israeli PM Ehud Olmert to investigate Israel’s notably unsuccessful performance in last summer’s war against Lebanon, today issued a first “Partial Report” in Jerusalem. The report covered only the period leading up to the war and the first six days of what turned out to be a 33-day war. It attributed “primary responsibility” for what it described as “very serious failings” in Israeli decisionmaking in this period to Prime Minister Ehud Olmert, the defense minister Amir Peretz, and the then-Chief of Staff Dan Halutz.

Paragraph 10 of the report’s Executive Summary detailed the main strategic failings thus:

    a. The decision to respond with an immediate, intensive military strike was not based on a detailed, comprehensive and authorized military plan, based on careful study of the complex characteristics of the Lebanon arena…

    b. Consequently, in making the decision to go to war, the government did not consider the whole range of options, including that of continuing the policy of ‘containment’, or combining political and diplomatic moves with military strikes below the ‘escalation level’, or military preparations without immediate military action — so as to maintain for Israel the full range of responses to the abduction. This failure reflects weakness in strategic thinking, which derives the response to the event from a more comprehensive and encompassing picture.

    c. The support in the cabinet for this move was gained in part through ambiguity in the presentation of goals and modes of operation, so that ministers with different or even contradictory attitudes could support it. The ministers voted for a vague decision, without understanding and knowing its nature and implications. They authorized to commence a military campaign without considering how to exit it.

    d. Some of the declared goals of the war were not clear and could not be achieved, and in part were not achievable by the authorized modes of military action.

    e. The IDF did not exhibit creativity in proposing alternative action possibilities, did not alert the political decision-makers to the discrepancy between its own scenarios and the authorized modes of action, and did not demand – as was necessary under its own plans – early mobilization of the reserves so they could be equipped and trained in case a ground operation would be required.

    f. Even after these facts became known to the political leaders, they failed to adapt the military way of operation and its goals to the reality on the ground. On the contrary, declared goals were too ambitious, and it was publicly stated that fighting will continue till they are achieved. But the authorized military operations did not enable their achievement.

The report detailed four specific ways in which Olmert had failed and concluded that, “All of these add up to a serious failure in exercising judgment, responsibility and prudence.” Of Peretz, it said, “the Minister of Defense failed in fulfilling his functions. Therefore, his serving as Minister of Defense during the war impaired Israel’s ability to respond well to its challenges.” And of Halutz it concluded, “the Chief of Staff failed in his duties as commander in chief of the army and as a critical part of the political-military leadership, and exhibited flaws in professionalism, responsibility and judgment.”

Of these three men who stood at the top of Israel’s national command and decisionmaking apparatus during the war, only Halutz has so far resigned.

This evening, as widely predicted beforehand, Olmert once again vowed to hang on in office. In a brief televised statement he said, “It would not be correct to resign… and I have no intention of resigning.” In a very non-committal way he admitted that “mistakes were made” and promised to start work this week on implementing some of the Commission’s procedural recommendations.

The harsh judgments made by this will add significantly to the pressures that have been building up on Olmert. A police inquiry into the terms on which he transacted a profitable property deal some years ago intermittently threatens to bring him to the brink of resignation. But prior to running in last year’s national elections Olmert (and his political mentor Ariel Sharon) had cleverly re-configured Israeli politics by establishing a new centrist party that split Labor down the middle. Now, the strongest opposition to him comes from his right-wing–former comrades in the Likud Party and their allies even further to the right.

But a large proportion of Israel’s political elite has been in a funk since the unexpected defeat of last summer’s war. Neither Olmert’s Kadima Party nor any of the smaller parties in the present ruling coalition wants to risk forcing the country into a fresh general election by leaving the coalition.

Last July’s decision to escalate very harshly indeed in response to Hizbullah’s capture of two Israeli soldiers was taken by Olmert and Halutz according to the concept that Israel’s use of massively destructive and lethal force against Lebanon would rapidly force Hizbullah to cry “uncle” and agree to the dismantling of its very experienced militia force. (For more details, see here.) That concept built on the alleged effectiveness of stand-off– primarily airborne– firepower, which some hawkish strategic thinkers had seen demonstrated by US military operations in Kosovo, Afghanistan, and Iraq. But in none of those three other theaters did the “decisive” early records of the US war effort led to stable, and stably pro-western outcomes. And in Lebanon, the massive application of stand-off firepower for 33 days did not even succeed in its first-stage goal of either decapitating Hizbullah or forcing the organization to bow to Israel’s demands.

For the advocates of stand-off firepower, the “promise” of this approach had always lain in the idea that using hi-tech gadgetry from high altitudes could enable the military to cut down, in particular, on the enormous burden that maintaining a ready ground-combat capability imposes on the manpower of a country. (This is the case even with a heavily reserves-reliant force, as Israel’s is, since the reserves do have to be trained and retrained every year or so.)

Now, Jewish Israelis as a group are faced with the momentous choice of whether they want to continue to live as an embattled, isolated outpost within a predominantly Arab part of the world, and an outpost that is prepared to pay the heavy costs–particularly in terms of the conscription burden for young people– associated with that… Or, are they prepared to look to other, more creative and potentially long-lasting ways to assure their security, primarily through building relationships of peace and cooperation with their neighbors in Palestine, Syria, and Lebanon?

The peace initiative adopted by the Arab League in 2002, and recently re-committed to by all the Arab states and parties, including the Palestinians, provides one very worthwhile route to explore. But with Washington’s Arab-Israeli policy still firmly controlled by unreconstructed neocon Elliot Abrams it is very unlikely that the Bush administration– which does, after all, also have quite a few woes of its own– will do anything to help Israelis to decide to “Make love not war.”

(Cross-posted to Just World News.)