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Israeli War Commission Finds 2006 Lebanon War Marked by Failure

A government-appointed commission in Israel says there were grave failings by Israel's leaders during the 2006 war in Lebanon, but the commission avoided direct criticism of Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert. VOA's Jim Teeple reports from Jerusalem.

The release of the final Winograd Commission report on what has come to be known in Israel as the 2nd Lebanon War has been anticipated for months.

Retired judge Eliyahu Winograd said his commission found the war was marked by failures, shortcomings and missed opportunities.

"To offer a general summing up, Israel lost an important opportunity. We went to war on our own initiative, it was a long war and it ended without a clear victory in terms of the military objectives. An organization of just a few thousand troops [Hezbollah] managed to hold out against an army that benefited from absolute air supremacy, and major benefits on the technological level," he said.

The conflict got started in July 2006, when Hezbollah militants kidnapped two Israeli soldiers in a cross-border raid from Lebanon. Israel began a massive bombing campaign in southern Lebanon, but waited until the final days of the conflict before it launched a major ground offensive that failed to push Hezbollah out of southern Lebanon before a U.N.-mediated cease-fire went into effect.

Following the publication of an interim report, Israel's Defense Forces chief of staff was forced to resign. The country's defense minister, former Labor Party leader Amir Peretz, was also discredited and lost the leadership of his party to former Prime Minister Ehud Barak, who is now Israel's defense minister.

The Winograd report did not specifically criticize Prime Minister Ehud Olmert, saying he acted on an honest assessment of what he thought was in the interests of Israel. Aides to the prime minister say he has been absolved by the commission's findings and that his fragile coalition government will survive.

Hebrew University Politics Professor Reuvan Hazen says that is probably an accurate assessment for the time being.

"The current government, made up of four parties that are the majority coalition, none of them want early elections. Three of them are hemorrhaging in the polls and one of them might get the same number of seats it received in the last elections. So nobody wants to go," said Hazen.

A number of soldiers who fought in the war, and families of soldiers who lost their lives in the conflict, say they will step up protests calling for Mr. Olmert to resign.

Hazen says if the protests take hold Mr. Olmert could find himself in political trouble, but nothing will happen quickly.

"What could happen is that the people of Israel will take this report so badly that you will see protests that will grow in number and in frequency and that will put pressure either on the Kadima Party to ditch Olmert, or on the Labor Party to pull out of the coalition. But that is at least days if not weeks down the road," added Hazen.

The military says 159 Israelis were killed in the war - mostly soldiers and most of those who died were killed in the final ground offensive of the conflict. About 1,200 Lebanese were killed - mostly civilians, although Israeli officials say hundreds of Hezbollah fighters also died, and that Hezbollah was significantly weakened as a result of the war.

In a statement after the commission's findings were made public, Mr. Olmert said he will act immediately to implement the recommendations of the commission to improve the readiness of Israel's armed forces.