1. On September 17th 2006, the Government of Israel decided, under section 8A of The Government Act 2001, to appoint a governmental commission of examination "To look into the preparation and conduct of the political and the security levels concerning all the dimensions of the Northern Campaign which started on July 12th 2006". Today we have submitted to the Prime Minister and the Minister of Defense the classified interim report, and we are now presenting the declassified report to the public.
2. The Commission was appointed due to a strong sense of a crisis and deep disappointment with the consequences of the campaign and the way it was conducted. We regarded this difficult task both as a duty and a privilege. It is our belief that the larger the event and the deeper the feeling of crisis - the greater the opportunity to change and improve matters which are essential for the security and the flourishing of state and society in Israel. We believe Israeli society has great strength and resilience, with a robust sense of the justice of its being and of its achievements. These, too, were expressed during the war in Lebanon and after it. At the same time, we must not underrate deep failures.
3. This conception of our role affected the way we operated. No-one underestimates the need to study what happened in the past, including the imposition of personal responsibility. The past is the key for learning lessons for the future. Nonetheless, learning these lessons and actually implementing them are the most implications of the conclusions of the Commission.
4. This emphasis on learning lessons not only follows from our conception of the role of a public commission. It also follows from our belief that one of Israeli society's greatest sources of strength is its being free, open and creative. Together with great achievements, the challenges facing it are existential. To cope with them, Israel must be a learning society - a society which examines its achievements and, in particular, its failures, in order to improve its ability to face the future.
5. Initially we hoped that the appointment of the Commission would serve as an incentive to accelerate learning processes in the relevant systems, so that we could devote our time to study all of the materials in depth, and present the public with a comprehensive picture. However, learning processes have been limited. In some ways an opposite, and worrying, process emerged - a process of 'waiting' for the Commission's Report before energetic and determined action was taken to redress the failures that have been revealed.
6. Therefore we decided to publish initially an Interim Report, focusing on the decisions related to the start of the war. We did this in the hope that the relevant bodies would take urgent action to change and correct all the implications. We would like to reiterate and emphasize that we hope that this Partial Report, which concentrates on the functioning of the highest political and military echelons in their decision to move to war will not divert attention from the troubling overall picture revealed by the war as a whole.
7. The interim report includes a number of chapters dealing with the following subjects:
a. The Commission's perception of its role, and its attitude to recommendations in general and to recommendations dealing with specific persons in particular (chapter 2). We see the main task of a public commission of inquiry (or investigation) as determining findings and conclusions, and presenting them - with its recommendations - before the public and decision makers so that they can take action. A public commission should not, in most cases, replace the usual political decision-making processes and determine who should serve as a minister or senior military commander. Accordingly, we include personal conclusions in the interim report, without personal recommendations. However, we will reconsider this matter with regards to our Final Report, in view of the depiction of the war as a whole.
b. The way we balanced our desire to engage in a speedy and efficient investigation with the rights of those who may be negatively affected to 'natural justice' (chapter 3). The special stipulations of the Commissions of Inquiry Act in this regard do not apply to a governmental commission of Examination, but we regard ourselves, naturally, as working under the general principles of natural justice. The commission notified those who may be affected by its investigation, in detailed letters of invitation, of the ways in which they may be negatively affected, and enabled them to respond to allegations against them, without sending "notices of warning" and holding a quasi-judicial hearing before reaching out conclusions. We believe that in this way we provided all who may be negatively affected by our report with a full opportunity to answer all allegations against them.
c. The processes and developments in the period between the withdrawal of the IDF from Lebanon until July 11, 2006 which contributed to the background of the Lebanon War (chapter 4). These processes created much of the factual background against which the decision-makers had to operate on July 12th, and they are thus essential to both the understanding and the evaluation of the events of the war. Understanding them is also essential for drawing lessons from the events, whose significance is often broader than that of the war itself.
8. The core of the interim report is a detailed examination of the decisions of senior political and military decision-makers concerning the decision to go to war at the wake of the abduction of the two soldiers on the morning of July 12th. We start with the decision of the government on the fateful evening of the 12th to authorize a sharp military response, and end with the speech of the Prime Minister in the Knesset on July 17th, when he officially presented the campaign and its goals. These decisions were critical and constitutive, and therefore deserve separate investigation. We should note that these decisions enjoyed broad support within the government, the Knesset and the public throughout this period.
9. Despite this broad support, we determine that there are very serious failings in these decisions and the way they were made. We place the primary responsibility for these failures on the Prime Minister, the minister of defense and the (outgoing) Chief of Staff. All three made a decisive personal contribution to these decisions and the way in which they were made. However, there are many others who share responsibility for the mistakes we found in these decisions and for their background conditions.
10. The main failures in the decisions made and the decision-making processes can be summed up as follows:
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. A meticulous examination of these characteristics would have revealed the following: the ability to achieve military gains having significant political-international weight was limited; an Israeli military strike would inevitably lead to missiles fired at the Israeli civilian north; there was not another effective military response to such missile attacks than an extensive and prolonged ground operation to capture the areas from which the missiles were fired - which would have a high "cost" and which did not enjoy broad support. These difficulties were not explicitly raised with the political leaders before the decision to strike was taken.
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 the commencement of 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 would continue until they were achieved. But the authorized military operations did not enable their achievement.
11. The primary responsibility for these serious failings rests with the Prime Minister, the minister of defense and the (outgoing) Chief of Staff. We single out these three because it is likely that had any of them acted better - the decisions in the relevant period and the ways they were made, as well as the outcome of the war, would have been significantly better.
12. Let us start with the Prime Minister.
a. The Prime Minister bears supreme and comprehensive responsibility for the decisions of 'his' government and the operations of the army. His responsibility for the failures in the initial decisions concerning the war stem from both his position and from his behavior, as he initiated and led the decisions which were taken.
b. The Prime Minister made up his mind hastily, despite the fact that no detailed military plan was submitted to him and without asking for one. Also, his decision was made without close study of the complex features of the Lebanon front or of the military, political and diplomatic options available to Israel. He made his decision without systematic consultation with others, especially outside the IDF, despite not having experience in external-political and military affairs. In addition, he did not adequately consider political and professional reservations presented to him before the fateful decisions of July 12th.
c. The Prime Minister is responsible for the fact that the goals of the campaign were not set out clearly and carefully, and that there was no serious discussion of the relationship between these goals and the authorized modes of military action. He made a personal contribution to the fact that the declared goals were over-ambitious and not feasible.
d. The Prime Minister did not adapt his plans once it became clear that the assumptions and expectations of Israel's actions were not realistic and were not materializing.
e. All of these add up to a serious failure in exercising judgment, responsibility and prudence.
13. The Minister of Defense is the minister responsible for overseeing the IDF, and he is a senior member of the group of leaders in charge of political-military affairs.
a. The Minister of Defense did not have knowledge or experience in military, political or governmental matters. He also did not have good knowledge of the basic principles of using military force to achieve political goals.
b. Despite these serious gaps, he made his decisions during this period without systemic consultations with experienced political and professional experts, including outside the security establishment. In addition, he did not give adequate weight to reservations expressed in the meetings he attended.
c. The Minister of Defense did not act within a strategic conception of the systems he oversaw. He did not ask for the IDF's operational plans and did not examine them; he did not check the preparedness and fitness of IDF; and did not examine the fit between the goals set and the modes of action presented and authorized for achieving them. His influence on the decisions made was mainly pointillist and operational. He did not put on the table - and did not demand presentation - of serious strategic options for discussion with the Prime Minister and the IDF.
d. The Minister of Defense did not develop an independent assessment of the implications of the complexity of the front for Israel's proper response, the goals of the campaign, and the relations between military and diplomatic moves within it. His lack of experience and knowledge prevented him from challenging in a competent way both the IDF, of which he was in charge, and the Prime Minister.
e. In all these ways, 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.
14. The Chief of Staff (COS) is the supreme commander of the IDF, and the main source of information concerning the army, its plans, abilities and recommendations presented to the political echelon. Furthermore, the COS's personal involvement with decision making within the army and in coordination with the political echelon was dominant.
a. The army and the COS were not prepared for the event of the abduction despite recurring alerts. When the abduction happened, he responded impulsively. He did not alert the political leaders to the complexity of the situation, and did not present information, assessments and plans that were available in the IDF at various levels of planning and approval and which would have enabled a better response to the challenges.
b. Among other things, the COS did not alert the political echelon to the serious shortcomings in the preparedness and the fitness of the armed forces for an extensive ground operation, if that became necessary. In addition, he did not clarify that the military assessments and analyses of the arena was that there was a high probability that a military strike against Hezbollah would make such a move necessary.
c. The COS' responsibility is aggravated by the fact that he knew well that both the Prime Minister and the Minister of Defense lacked adequate knowledge and experience in these matters, and by the fact that he had led them to believe that the IDF was ready and prepared and had operational plans fitting the situation.
d. The COS did not provide adequate responses to serious reservations about his recommendations raised by ministers and others during the first days of the campaign, and he did not present to the political leaders the internal debates within the IDF concerning the fit between the stated goals and the authorized modes of actions.
e. In all these 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.
15. Concomitantly we determine that the failures listed here, and in the outcomes of the war, had many other partners. ...
Israeli Ministry of Foreign Affairs:
On Monday, April 30, the Inquiry Commission into the military campaign held in Lebanon in summer 2006, headed by former Justice Dr. Eliyahu Winograd, submitted to the Prime Minister and Minister of Defense an interim report relating to the time from the IDF's exit from Lebanon to the soldiers' abduction on July 12, 2006 and to the time between July 12 and July 17, when the decision to move into war was taken. ...
"The prime minister had formulated his opinion without being presented with a detailed plan, and without demanding that such a plan be presented, and therefore he could not have analyzed its details and approved it.
"Furthermore, he did not demand to be presented with genuine alternatives to his own opinions, or exhibit due skepticism regarding the military's positions. In this he failed.
"The prime minister also failed when he had his government approve such decisions ... and by declaring unattainable objectives to the war, and that the fighting should continue until they were achieved."
Members of the Winograd Commission arrived at Olmert's Jerusalem office at 4 p.m. on Monday -- one hour before the report's release to the public -- and gave the Prime Minister and Defense Minister Amir Peretz copies of the report, for their inspection before its publication.
Upon receiving a copy of the report, Olmert thanked the members for their hard work and assured them, "We will study the report and act immediately ... so that we can implement the lessons, fix the failures, and make sure that in any future scenario of the State of Israel, the failures you have indicted are corrected."
... Then, too, the Olmert government's handling of the Lebanon War last summer came in for scathing criticism in the interim report submitted Monday, April 30 by the team led by Judge Eliahu Winograd. But no demands were made for heads to roll. The final report due out in August 2007 is expected to be less kind to individual decision-makers. So the prime minister and his government can only count their future in months – not years.
The Belmont Club:
... The debacle experienced by Israel last summer was consequent to two fundamental mistakes. The first is that ceding the initiative to the enemy and withdrawing from contact while he is still advancing increases rather than decreases vulnerability. It does not "take troops out of harms' way". It sets them up for the slaughter. The second error is more fundamental. Disengagement is an act in which the enemy gets a vote. The Israeli public's desire for peace, which manifested itself in unilateral withdrawal, the abandonment of its allies and in the reluctance to give the give the slightest offense to its enemies could only have succeeded in ending the fighting if it had been matched by a similar desire on the part of its enemies.
... As it was, Israeli passivity only encouraged enemy boldness while it withered the sinews of the IDF. The crisis, when it came, consisted of a rain of unstoppable missiles deep within the territory of Israel itself. Not only was Israel sucked back into Lebanon, from which it had hoped never to return; but it was drawn back under conditions of the enemy's own choosing. Far from removing its soldiers the battlefield, the retreat had brought the battlefield back to its soldier's homes: to Israel itself. Most ironical of all, the appeasement, the concession, the attempts to win "world opinion" to Israel's side brought it no sympathy in the end. All it purchased was contempt for Israel and admiration for its enemies.
What lessons does the Winograd report have for America? None, I suspect. In Israel as in America, there are none so blind as those will not see.
Lisa Goldman - On the Face:
Also, most people seem to be ignoring the rather plentiful evidence pointing to the fact that the ground was laid for the failure of that war long before Olmert took office. For example, Aharon Ze'evi Farkash, who headed military intelligence until January 2006, told Yedioth on Monday that he warned former PM Ariel Sharon of a high risk of kidnappings on the northern border six months before the war, and that Sharon - who certainly had plenty of military experience - brushed his concerns aside. When I tagged along with Michael Totten on his April 2006 trip to the northern border, a young IDF captain told us very soberly that we really shouldn't be there, because "everything could explode at any moment." It's worth going back to read Michael's report to see that there's no way the army could have been unaware that Hezbollah was preparing to attack. And it's simply not credible to contend that the army didn't report what it saw in front of its eyes - a massive buildup of Hezbollah military force on the border - to the prime minister.
Don't get me wrong, I'm no Olmert fan. I just don't see any point in his resigning, because he's no more of a liar and a pathological narcissist than pretty much every other prominent Israeli politician (there are few less prominent politicians that I like and respect, but they're too principled and uncharismatic to go far in the shark-infested waters of high-profile politics). And besides, who would replace Olmert? The leader of the opposition, Bibi Netanyahu? Surely not!
A lot of people called Thursday's demonstration a great example of democracy in action. I saw it as a populist event without much purpose beyond the immediate goal of getting rid of the government. Finally, an issue that Left and Right could agree on! Everyone wanted Olmert out, everyone loved their country, let's forget that we usually disagree vehemently on the most fundamental issues affecting the state and go for a big group hug. I would be much more impressed if 200,000 people showed up to protest the fact that one-third of Israeli children live in poverty, or to support the striking university students who are expected to pay higher tuition whilst working for a living, after serving three years in the army, even as academic institutions are starved of funds.
Michael Totten - April 28, 2006:
“How dangerous is it here, really?” I asked the lieutenant.
“I say this to my guys every morning: Everything could explode at any moment. Just after I said it this morning a bus load of pensioners showed up on a field trip. An old woman brought us some food. It’s crazy. They shouldn’t be here. You shouldn’t be here.”
“What’s happening here is very unusual," Zvika, the Israeli Defense Forces Spokesman, said. But he wouldn't tell me what, exactly, was so unusual. Shortly after I left the country, a story broke in the Daily Telegraph that explained it.
Iran has moved into South Lebanon. Intelligence agents are helping Hezbollah construct watch towers fitted with one-way bullet-proof windows right next to Israeli army positions.
Here's what one officer said:
This is now Iran's front line with Israel.
Imshin - Not a Fish:
My feelings of betrayal are not because I think going to war with Hizballah was wrong. If anything, it was far too long coming. The Winograd Commission points to faulty decision making leading up to the war and in its first stage, but that doesn’t prove to me that the war was wrong. But then I haven’t read the full interim report, only what’s been in some of the papers.
No, my feelings of betrayal, which are completely subjective, are because I’ve got the feeling it was run all wrong; because the army was ill prepared; because the wrong people were running the show and they seem to have made all the wrong decisions; and all sorts of aggravating little details, for instance, that army intelligence seemed to have become so secretive that the people doing the job didn’t have the correct, updated information to do the job properly, and I have an unsettling fear that the information they did have was known by the enemy, and that the military equipment in emergency storage was antiquated (in a haunting reminder of 1973); and very much because of a feeling that the weaker elements of the northern population, those who couldn’t fend for themselves, were abandoned.
There was this feeling, all the time, that ordinary people were giving it their all - the young soldiers, the reservists, the families in the north, the people in the center of the country and the south that took them in - but that our leaders and our elite just couldn’t give a shit. They were too busy calling their stock brokers.
Link to complete text of Winograd interim report (PDF, 171 pages, Hebrew).