The Winograd Report on the Second Lebanon War: key lessons

Published: 7 May 2007
Briefing Number 194

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Summary: This Briefing summarises the key findings of the Interim Winograd Committee investigation into Israel 's conduct of the Second Lebanon War in 2006. We highlight four lessons:

- Israel 's democracy remains strong

- most Arab societies lack mechanisms for recognising their mistakes

- Israel 's decision-making structure is likely to be strengthened as a result of Winograd, and

- Winograd is not a ‘victory' for Palestinian human rights, and moves towards a diplomatic solution have been set back for the time being

The Interim Winograd Report

On Monday 30 April 2007 the Winograd Committee, set up to investigate Israel 's conduct of the Second Lebanon war in Summer 2006, presented its findings. This was an Interim report covering the build-up to the war, the decision of 12 July to go to war, and its first five days. A further report is due in the summer. The Report's criticisms set shock waves across Israel :-

•  Prime Minister Ehud Olmert displayed a “serious failure in exercising judgment, responsibility and prudence” in his decision to go to war without sufficient planning or preparation

•  Defence Minister Amir Peretz “failed in fulfilling his functions… his service as Minister of Defence during the war impaired Israel 's ability to respond well to its challenges”

•  Then Chief of Staff Dan Halutz (who resigned weeks before the report was published) “failed in his duties as commander in chief of the army and…. exhibited flaws in professionalism, responsibility and judgment”

•  The Israel Army was not ready to fight the war, and its ground forces lacked sufficient training

•  No detailed military plan existed for how the war could be conducted, nor were different options analysed, despite the fact that the Hizbollah threat on Israel 's northern border had been growing since 2000

•  No debates were conducted among senior military and political figures at the time the war started regarding the campaign, its objectives and the way to achieve them, despite the fact that senior politicians lacked the knowledge and experience necessary to conduct a war by themselves

In the words of Jerusalem Post editor David Horovitz, the findings of the Report expose “complacency and amateurishness” in Israel 's government, and “defy belief”. He argues that Israel will only survive in the region if it “overhauls the way it governs and defends itself” (Jerusalem Post, 4 May 2007 ).

Four lessons

While most commentators have focused on whether Prime Minister Ehud Olmert will stay in office, here are four broader lessons from the Report:

Israeli democracy remains strong: Winograd contains severe, public criticism of the Israeli Prime Minister, Defence Minister and Chief of Staff of the Army, and of the operations of the security establishment. Israel 's leaders have been held to account, openly and without fear. A huge rally was held on 3 May in Tel-Aviv calling on the Prime Minister to resign. Public debate has been vigorous and passionate. Israel 's citizens have demonstrated that they have the resilience to recognise mistakes, and to demand that lessons are learnt.

Most Arab societies lack mechanisms to recognise mistakes: The way Israel's political leaders have been held to account contrasts, ironically, with the lack of accountability of Hizbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah, who triggered the war in July 2006 but who admitted a month later that “if I had known that the operation to capture the Israeli soldiers would lead to this result, we would not have carried it out….” (quoted on Lebanese TV, 27 August 2006 - see Beyond Images Briefing 183). The issue was best summed up by Arab columnist Hassan Khader: “We in Palestine and the Arab world are weak because we have failed to stop our governments, establish commissions of inquiry, point a blaming finger at our leaders and draw conclusions from our mistakes…. Our failure to investigate the way decisions have been made in the past is the reason why we have reached a stage where gangs and militias are popping up as fast as mushrooms and hijacking our cause…..” (quoted from Arab newspaper Al-Quds, by Khaled Abu Toameh in the Jerusalem Post, 1 May 2007 ).

Israel 's decision-making structures are likely to be strengthened: The Winograd findings appear certain to bring about an overhaul of Israel 's decision-making structures and processes on matters of war. But wider changes may also be triggered. In the words of Amotz Asa El (Jerusalem Post, 4 May 2007 ), “ Israel has shown a remarkable ability to look failure in the eye and emerge invigorated. This is what it must now do, again….We need to reinvent our political leadership….”

Winograd is not a ‘victory' for Palestinian human rights: Ehud Olmert was elected Israeli Prime Minister in March 2006 on a pledge to create a Palestinian state and agree a two-state solution – either unilaterally or by negotiation. But the current crisis in Israel has set back diplomatic moves at least for the time being. Supporters of Palestinian human rights should not gloat over Olmert's difficulties. Hizbollah's provocation of 2006, and the course of events it has triggered, has harmed the Palestinians. In the words of former UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan: “Hizbollah's actions, which it portrays as defending Palestinian and Lebanese interests, in fact do neither. On the contrary, they hold a nation hostage and set back prospects for negotiation of a comprehensive Middle East peace….” (see Beyond Images Briefing 183).