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Winograd report: Lebanon war "serious" failure

Latest update : 2008-01-30

A report into Israel's 2006 war against Lebanon's Hezbollah militia cited "grave failings" at political and military level, but acknowledged that PM Olmert had acted on an "honest assessment" of Israel's interests.

Israel's war on Lebanon in 2006 was a serious failure for the Jewish state, according to a long-awaited report on the conflict that is expected to pile the pressure on Prime Minister Ehud Olmert to quit.

"This war was a big and serious failure," retired judge Eliyahu Winograd said as he read out his government-appointed commission's final report, adding that there was a "great deal of failure at senior political and military levels."

"Entering into the war without an exit strategy was a grave failure," he said.

"The ground operation did not achieve its objectives," he said, referring to a massive ground offensive launched in the dying days of the war, when the United Nations was brokering a ceasefire agreement.

Olmert has faced mounting calls to step down in the run-up to the release of the findings on the conduct of Israel's political and military leaders in the 34-day war which left more than 1,000 people dead.

The report comes nine months after an interim inquiry found Olmert and other political and military leaders responsible for "severe failures" after launching the war against Lebanon's Hezbollah militia in July 2006.

Olmert, 62, was the only senior leader criticised in the commission's preliminary report to have hung on to his job and had been quoted as saying ahead of the report that he had "absolutely no intention" of stepping down.

A minister from his centrist Kadima party said before the report was delivered that the premier, widely considered one of Israel's savviest politicians, was intent on resisting pressure to go.

"There will be no early elections, the prime minister is determined on this point and no pressure will make him change his position," Finance Minister Roni Bar-On told a Kadima meeting.

Wednesday's report was expected to focus on Olmert's controversial decision to order a massive ground offensive in south Lebanon 60 hours before a UN-brokered ceasefire agreement was due to take effect on August 14.

Thirty-three Israeli soldiers were killed in the offensive launched just one hour after the final version of UN Security Council Resolution 1701 was presented to Israel.

Major Tomer Buhadana was one of those wounded during the last 48 hours of war, which in all killed 1,200 Lebanese, mostly civilians, and more than 160 Israelis, mostly soldiers.

Buhadana is now one of the leaders of a group of reservists calling on Olmert to quit over the war, widely considered a failure in Israel for failing to stop Hezbollah rocket fire and to retrieve two soldiers whose seizure sparked the conflict on July 12.

"Our protest is an extension of the war," he told AFP ahead of the report. "Many people want to turn a new page but are unable because we believe that assuming responsibility is essential."

Speculation was running high about Olmert's future ahead of the report, with Defence Minister Ehud Barak considered to hold the key to his fate.

If Barak decides to take his centre-left Labour party out of the government, it would leave Olmert's coalition short of the 61 seats needed for majority in the 120-member parliament.

Barak has said he would decide on whether to quit only after the report is released. Although he has hinted he did not wish to bring down the government he might have no choice if public pressure is high enough, analysts say.

Such a move would likely lead to new elections, an option not welcomed by the current government since opinion polls predict they would be won by the right-wing opposition party Likud.

An opinion poll published by privately owned Channel 10 television on Tuesday had found that 58 percent of Israelis wanted Olmert to step down if the commission's criticism of his conduct of the war was "very severe," against 23 percent who said he should stay on whatever the findings.

Olmert is also embroiled in a series of corruption scandals since officially assuming his post in May 2006 after his predecessor Ariel Sharon fell into a coma.

Former army chief Dan Halutz quit a year ago and ex-defence minister Amir Peretz was ousted from the ministry and as head of his Labour party less than two months after Winograd's interim findings.

Date created : 2008-01-30