Olmert, Peretz receive war report
Prime minister, defense minister meet with Judge Eliyahu Winograd, receive copy of interim report hour before press conference is held; prime minister will hold meeting with Kadima ministers after Winograd's press conference; leaked sections of report slam Olmert for 'hasty' and 'passive' wartime leadership
Prime Minister Ehud Olmert and Defense Minister Amir Peretz are currently meeting with retired Judge Eliyahu Winograd, chairman of the commission appointed to investigate the handling of the Second Lebanon War, to receive the commission's findings.
Olmert's decision-making process during the Second Lebanon War has been described as a "substantial failure" by the Winograd Commission's partial report, Channel 1 reported. The quote from the report, taken from its 'Conclusions' section, read: "We've been told that other prime ministers acted like this in the past – but that is not a sufficient explanation."
On receiving the report, Olmert told the commission members, "You have done serious work, and I thank you on behalf of the government. I know it hasn’t been easy for you in recent months. This is hard, and sometimes ungrateful, work."
"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," he pledged.
After this meeting, Winograd will hold a press conference at which the report will be made public. The report is only a partial investigation, examining the government's management of the first five days of hostilities between Israel and Hizbullah last summer.
The partial report also examines past Israeli government policy towards Lebanon since the IDF's unilateral withdrawal from South Lebanon in the year 2000. The commission's full report, which will look at the whole of the war, will be released in August.
Media speculations on the future of the Olmert government have been rife throughout the day, and a number of senior opposition politicians have called on the prime minister to step down.
But despite these demands for him to resign, the prime minister has so far given no indication that he will do so. Instead, Olmert will hold a meeting with Kadima members after the Winograd press conference, where he will announce that he intends to stay on as prime minister, Israel Radio reported.
Olmert's team of media advisers have also assembled a number of quotes by rival politicians, made during last summer's fighting, which complimented the prime minister's wartime conduct, as an attempt to battle the damaging effects of report.
Over the weekend, sections of the 180-page partial report were leaked to Channel 10. According to the leaked text, the prime minister's wartime decisions were taken hastily, and Olmert receives scathing criticism from the Winograd Commission.
He is accused of being dragged into the war, and acting in a passive manner throughout its duration. Olmert is also charged with failing to plan the war, or of finding a way to conclude it.
Former Chief of Staff Dan Halutz receives some of the harshest criticism in the report, which, according to the leaked draft, accuses him of "forcing his decisions on the government." Halutz is also said to have underestimated the threat posed by Hizbullah's arsenal of Katyusha rockets.
Defense Minister Amir Peretz appears to have escaped with the least amount of damage in the report, which faults him for failing to have adequate experience, and of not trying hard enough to make up for his lack of experience through intensively familiarizing himself with defense issues linked to the war.
Wave of demonstrations planned
On Thursday, a mass rally calling for Olmert to quit will be held at Tel Aviv's Rabin Square, and politicians from across the political spectrum are expected to address the crowd. The protest has been organized by Maj - Gen. (ret.) Uzi Dayan, chairman of the Tafnit (turnaround) party. The event has been given support by bereaved families who lost their loved ones during the war.
Last September, following a public outcry, the government appointed former High Court Judge Eliyahu Winograd to head a commission to study the government's handling of the Lebanon war. Olmert's decision to set up a government-appointed inquiry fell short of calls to create an official state investigation into the war.
Since retiring from the High Court, Winograd has participated in a number of high-profile public committees, and is considered a top legal authority.
Other members of the commission include human rights expert Professor Ruth Gavison, and Yehezkel Dror, professor emeritus of political science, both from the Hebrew University of Jerusalem.
The commission's military expertise is drawn from retired major-generals, Dr Haim Nadal and Menachem Einan.