Israel: Ehud’s Last Stand (But Which Ehud?)

Israel: Ehud’s Last Stand (But Which Ehud?)

Wednesday's release of the much-anticipated Winograd Report on Israel's conduct of the 2006 Lebanon War is bringing the Israeli political system to the boiling point. The heat is rising quickly under the government of Prime Minister Ehud Olmert, who led the country in the war against Hezbollah, the first war in Israel's short history in which the country did not win a decisive victory. Olmert remains deeply unpopular, but he may yet survive. In the end, it could be another politician -- the other Ehud -- who ends up the loser. Nobody knows what will remain after the temperature drops under this boiling pot. By the time the flame cools, the resulting political reduction will have propelled or destroyed the careers of the country's major political figures: not only the two Ehuds, Olmert and Barak, but also Likud leader Benjamin Netanyahu and Kadima's Tzipi Livni, the current foreign minister.

The Winograd committee, headed by the respected retired judge Eliahu Winograd, was convened a few months after the end of the war that ensued in the summer of 2006 after Hezbollah gunmen crossed into Israel, kidnapping two Israeli soldiers and killing eight. Israel went to war against Hezbollah, seeking to remove the Iran-backed militia from its northern border and retrieve the captured soldiers. For the first time in Israel's history, much of the country was under direct rocket attack, with Hezbollah firing thousands of Katyusha rockets into northern cities, sending hundreds of thousands Israelis into bomb shelters. A U.N.-brokered cease-fire moved Hezbollah a few miles away from the border and demanded the release of the hostages. That release has not come, and Hezbollah is believed to have rebuilt much of what it lost in the war.

The first part of the Winograd report was unveiled last April, examining the start of the war. In that draft, the panel criticized the Olmert government for its flawed decision making process. The final report, just released, was at one time expected to deal a deadly blow to Olmert's political career. In particular, decisions made by Olmert and the military in the last hours of the war, in a final offensive that left 33 Israeli soldiers dead, was expected to come under withering criticism. Already a campaign slogan "33 Soldiers for Spin" was in place. The final report pointed to "severe failures and faults in the decision making process, both in the military and political echelons." And yet, the decision to launch that last campaign was judged to have been correct. "There was no failure in the decision itself," the panel said, "despite the limited accomplishments and painful price,"

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