The Winograd post-mortem as described by the Jerusalem Post of the Israel's poorly executed war against Hezbollah last summer indicts not only Olmert, but the policies leading up to the war. The most fundamental reason for the failure was that the IDF had been told to adopt a passive posture everywhere and to respond to each enemy provocation with retreat. And in the end, Israel's inaction bought her not safety but danger. Here are some of the criticisms as summarized by the David Horovitz:
In its sections on the six years preceding the conflict, the commission tracks a process in which the IDF concedes sovereignty at the Lebanon border to Hizbullah. Nothing less. ... The policies of containment and restraint followed by every government since 2000 "essentially enabled Hizbullah to strengthen militarily, without any significant disturbance by Israel."
Conceding "sovereignty at the Lebanon border to Hizbullah" was not hyperbole. The IDF actually retreated from the Israeli border to save themselves because they could not effectively fire back on Hezbollah for political reasons, and hence dug in further back.
Hizbullah amassed its arsenal of missiles and rockets. It deployed along the border. ... There is the detailing of border incidents in which the IDF was consequently refused permission to tackle overt terrorist threats, like the case in November 2005 "when the then-OC Northern Command approved the opening of fire to destroy a terror cell that had emplaced itself along the border." The chief of General Staff overruled him emphatically.
Since its soldiers weren't being allowed to fire back, and their deterrent capability was necessarily disappearing, the IDF protected them by pulling away physically from the commanding position it had been expected to maintain at the border after May 2000's unilateral withdrawal. It tried to protect its silenced soldiers, relocating their bases and lookout points to less exposed positions even as Hizbullah dug in at the fence. One of these abandoned lookout positions, the report documents, had overseen the very scene of the July 12 incursion and kidnapping that sparked the war.
Even Israeli intelligence warnings that the Hezbollah were preparing an incursion failed to awaken the leadership from its accustomed stupor. Having lapsed into a coma, nothing short of the electric shock of open and large scale attack would rouse it again.
On the night of July 11, Winograd reports, there was clear evidence of Hizbullah activity at the border fence itself in what would next day be the kidnap zone. "Despite this, the orders were given to return to routine procedures." ... And when Goldwasser's patrol, oh so inevitably, was indeed attacked, it caught the IDF hopelessly off-guard. The gradual escalation of Hizbullah action had been registered, but no effective procedures had been drawn up to respond.
And when war finally broke out, Israeli political leadership ordered operations which required the very skills which they had made the IDF forget. All the instincts which they had previously condemned were now instantly rehabilitated and grandly conjured into existence, now that the politicians needed them. Having dulled their sword but now under political pressure to use it, Israeli politicians ordered an attack, little reckoning that press releases could not undo in an instant what years of neglect had so thoroughly achieved. The ultimate cost of living by the media cycle is that politicians become accustomed to interchanging reality with perception. Had Arthur C. Clarke been a politician he might have written that any sufficiently media-fied politics was indistinguishable from magic. But Hezbollah would not be conjured, and PR amulets would not stop Katyushas, as Olmert was about to find out.
The individual politicians' culpability has been thoroughly documented in the past few days, and none more so than that of Prime Minister Ehud Olmert. Paraphrasing Winograd, he made up his mind hastily, didn't explore alternatives and didn't consult. He's heavily to blame for the unclear goals of the military response, and "made a personal contribution to the fact that the declared goals were over-ambitious and not feasible." He didn't adapt those plans when it became clear they weren't working. All in all, he was guilty of "a serious failure in exercising judgment, responsibility and prudence." Criticism of a national leader doesn't get much more brutal than that.
The value of the past is that it can sometimes prepare us for the future. 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.
It is not for nothing that retreat in the face of a still-active enemy is considered the most dangerous of military operations. Only among Western politicians is such an operation synonymous with safety.
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.