Leading article: A disastrous war and a weakened leader

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The Winograd Commission into the 2006 Lebanon war has already drawn blood in the form of the departure of the Israeli Defence minister and Chief-of-Staff who were in office at the time of the operation. But Winograd looks unlikely to force the resignation of the man many Israelis hold responsible above all others for the debacle: Prime Minister Ehud Olmert.

The commission's final report, released yesterday, condemns the handling of the contentious ground invasion launched in the final days of the conflict, but says the decision was based on an "honest assessment" of Israeli interests. Mr Olmert's aides were no doubt breathing a sigh of relief yesterday.

Credit must be given to the Israeli government for establishing the Winograd Commission. It is worth remembering that we in Britain are still waiting for an independent inquiry into our participation in the invasion of Iraq. But the plain fact remains that the 2006 Lebanon war was a disaster from the start.

Its cost in blood was grave. More than 1,000 Lebanese were killed, most of them civilians, and about 160 Israelis. And thousands of lethal cluster munitions were left behind in southern Lebanon as a result of the bombardment. The operation also failed utterly in its strategic objective of eliminating the threat posed by the Shia Muslim guerrilla force, Hizbollah. Indeed, the invasion had the effect of strengthening the political influence of its leader, Sheikh Hassan Nasrallah.

Perhaps the most significant domestic legacy of the war was the damage inflicted on the Israeli psyche. One of the most technologically advanced military forces in the world was unable to deal a knock-out blow to guerrilla fighters armed with low-tech missiles. It was a far cry from the 1967 war in which Israel routed the combined armies of Egypt, Jordan and Syria in just six days. The political situation in Israel remains fragile after this report. The Labor leader Ehud Barak could yet bow to pressure from within his party to withdraw from Mr Olmert's coalition and bring down the government. But elections would only boost the hardline Likud party. Polls show that its leader, Benjamin Netanyahu, would take power if new elections were held. This would be fatal to the government's peace talks with Fatah, which are supported by Labor.

No lethal blow was delivered by yesterday's report, but with its powerful condemnation of "grave failings" it cannot but weaken Mr Olmert, who also remains dogged by allegations of corruption.

There are also serious doubts about whether the Prime Minister is strong enough to negotiate a viable agreement with the Fatah wing of the Palestinian leadership. Mr Olmert may cling to office, but a weak Israeli Prime Minister offers little hope of serious progress towards peace in the region.

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