Waiting for Winograd

Almost six months have passed since the appointment by the Olmert government of the Winograd Committee, and the nation is awaiting its verdict with bated breath.


By Moshe Arens

(A version of this column appeared in Haaretz on March 12, 2007.)

Almost six months have passed since the appointment by the Olmert government of the Winograd Committee, and the nation is awaiting its verdict with bated breath. Just who is responsible for the fiasco of the second Lebanon war? With the committee’s interim report scheduled to be issued next week, we may have to wait a good many months more before we are privileged to hear its final conclusions. The committee’s members have listened to a long line of witnesses, have no doubt discussed the matter in great depth among themselves, but seemingly have not as yet reached a final verdict.

With the eyes of the nation focused on them, the committee members, all excellent people of no inconsiderable reputation, are not to be envied. Whatever their conclusions may be, they will no doubt be raked over the coals by newspaper and television correspondents, in talkbacks and blogs, and by politicians from the entire political spectrum. And in addition, in due time, history will have the final word on the results of their long deliberations. Some among them may already have regretted they accepted this thankless job.

But what in the world is taking them so long? Is it not all clear? Is the writing not on the wall? Don’t they know what just about everybody in Israel knows, that the war was grossly mishandled by the political and military leadership? That the political leadership – Olmert and Peretz, reminiscent of Laurel and Hardy – fell captive to the enticing assumption that the war could be won by air power alone, and they stubbornly stuck to this mindless concept as week after week hundreds of rockets kept falling on the Galilee.

Now that Dan Halutz has resigned, Olmert and Peretz are clinging to the committee as a last straw, hoping its findings will at least in some measure exonerate them and permit them to continue their political careers.

Commissions of inquiry in Israel have been far from resounding successes. The Agranat Commission ignored the failures of the political leadership in the days leading up to the Yom Kippur War, preferring to put the blame on the military echelon. The Kahan Commission wrongly blamed the defense minister, Ariel Sharon, for the massacre of Palestinians in Sabra and Shatila by the Christian Phalange militias. And more recently the Orr Commission neglected to recognize that the riots that precipitated the clashes between the police and the Arab rioters in October 2000 were in effect demonstrations in support of the PLO rather than protests against the absence of equality for Israel’s Arab citizens. One can only hope the Winograd Committee will not suffer a similar fate.

The wheels of justice grind slowly in democratic countries. In totalitarian countries things are of course done differently. David Murphy, in his recent book, “What Stalin Knew: The Enigma of Barbarossa,” relates that Stalin personally participated in a conference called on April 14, 1940, a month after the end of the Russo-Finnish war, to deal with the poor performance of the Red Army in that war. The conference was chaired by two of Stalin’s cronies, Kliment Voroshilov and Grigory Kulik, and within four days, it decided to make the Red Army’s intelligence service the scapegoat. A few months later, the chief of military intelligence, Lieutenant General Ivan Proskurov, was replaced. Recently opened Soviet archives reveal that he was executed without trial, on October 28, 1941.

Heads may roll here, but nobody will be shot for his mistakes, although attempts to find scapegoats for what happened have already been made, and the Winograd Committee may yet be led astray by some of the arguments presented to it that previous prime ministers, defense ministers and chiefs of staff are to blame for what happened. Hopefully, they will not swallow this nonsense. But the question that still remains, with all due respect to this august forum, is why is it taking them so long to come up with what everybody already knows.

The underlying cause of the disaster of the second Lebanon war will be studied only in future years, by historians and political scientists. How did the leaders of the non-existent Kadima party and their retinue of salesmen and PR agents manage to pull the wool over the eyes of much of the Israeli electorate in the last Knesset election campaign and bring about the accession of a government of incompetent mediocrities?

Olmert’s and Peretz’s problem was not their lack of previous experience in defense matters, as is sometimes argued. It was just a lack of basic common sense. As for experience in defense matters, both have by now gained such experience in the second Lebanon war – real hands-on experience. Now that they have this experience under their belts, would anyone be prepared to trust them to manage the next security crisis facing Israel?

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