JERUSALEM (AFP) — Israel's 2006 Lebanon war was a missed opportunity and a grave failure for the Jewish state, a key report said while sparing Prime Minister Ehud Olmert from a major roasting.
While the long-awaited report by a government-appointed commission into the conflict with Lebanon's Hezbollah militia listed a series of severe failings and shortcomings, it said Olmert had acted in Israel's best interest.
"Overall, we regard the second Lebanon war as a serious missed opportunity," commission head Eliyahu Winograd said.
Most Israelis want Olmert to resign, an opinion poll showed on Thursday after a key report blasted the 2006 Lebanon war as a failure but spared him from a roasting.
Asked whether Olmert should resign following the release of the Winograd Commission's report on Wednesday, 57 percent said yes, while 33 percent said no, according to the poll published in the Maariv newspaper.
But Olmert, who had faced mounting calls to quit ahead of the report's release, said he was "satisfied" by Winograd's findings, according to an official in his entourage.
Hezbollah, however, gloated that the report confirmed its guerrillas had defeated Israel, regarded as having the most powerful military in the Middle East.
In his report, Winograd said: "We found severe failings and flaws in the lack of strategic thinking and planning, in both the political and the military echelons.
"The way the original decision to go to war had been made; the fact Israel went to war before it decided which option to select and without an exit strategy -- all these constituted serious failures, which affected the whole war."
"Responsibility for these failures lay, as we had stressed in the interim report, on both the political and the military echelons."
Winograd highlighted a controversial ground offensive launched in the final days of the war, when the United Nations was brokering a ceasefire agreement, saying it did not achieve its objectives.
But the retired judge said Olmert and then defence minister Amir Peretz "acted out of a strong and sincere perception of what they thought at the time was Israel's interest."
His findings come nine months after an interim inquiry found Olmert and other political and military leaders responsible for "severe failures" in the war, launched after Hezbollah seized two soldiers in a deadly cross-border raid in July 2006.
Olmert, 62, is the only senior leader criticised in the preliminary report to have hung on to his job and has been quoted as saying he had "absolutely no intention" of resigning.
Former army chief Dan Halutz quit a year ago and Peretz was ousted from the ministry and as head of his Labour party less than two months after Winograd's interim findings.
Wednesday's report had been expected to focus on Olmert's decision to order a massive ground offensive in south Lebanon 60 hours before a UN-brokered ceasefire agreement was due to take effect on August 14.
Thirty-three Israeli soldiers were killed in the offensive launched just one hour after the final version of UN Security Council Resolution 1701 was presented to Israel.
Major Tomer Buhadana was one of those wounded during the last 48 hours of war, which in all killed 1,200 Lebanese, mostly civilians, and more than 160 Israelis, mostly soldiers.
Now Buhadana leads a group of reservists calling on Olmert to quit over the war, widely considered a failure for failing to stop Hezbollah rocket fire and retrieve the two soldiers whose fate remains unknown.
"Our protest is an extension of the war," he told AFP. "Many people want to turn a new page but are unable because we believe that assuming responsibility is essential."
Speculation had been running high about Olmert's future in light of the report, with Defence Minister Ehud Barak considered to hold the key to his fate.
If Barak decides to take his centre-left Labour party out of government, it would leave Olmert's coalition short of the 61 seats needed for majority in the 120-member parliament.
Barak was mum on his intentions immediately following the report's release.
"The defence ministry will study the entire report and react in the coming days," a statement said.
Barak's departure would probably lead to new elections, which opinion polls predict would be won by the right-wing opposition Likud party.
Likud MP Silvan Shalom late Wednesday urged Barak to pull his party from the coalition.
"The report states failures and serious shortcomings ... All these oblige defence minister Barak to quit the government and agree on new elections," the hawkish MP said in a statement.
MP Yoel Hasson, of Olmert's Kadima party, said it was now "clear that the campaign of denigration led by the opposition against the prime minister was irresponsible and wrong."
Tzachi Hanegbi, chairman of parliament's foreign affairs and defence committee and also a Kadima member, said it was time to look to the future.
"The prime minister has been bruised, but he was able to reinforce the Israeli army's dissuasive capacity, and a more effective strategy to counter Hamas, Hezbollah and Iran is necessary."
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