War reports honesty is heartening

Let’s not mince words — the Winograd report was a bombshell.

The investigation commissioned by Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert revealed an administration that did not fully consider the ramifications of entering into war in Lebanon and, once engaged, did not carry out that war competently.

And the report only spelled out what the Israeli people already knew. As Ha’aretz columnist and historian Tom Segev told j. in an article this week, “This is a really bad war. Now it’s official.”

But while the prognosis the commission delivered regarding Israel’s government and military in a time of national crisis was grim, the very existence of such a commission — and the credence and attention it has received — is a heartening development, although a bittersweet one.

Israel is far from a perfect place, but the ability of Israeli society to acknowledge, debate and, ideally, work to change the Jewish state’s flaws is what makes it a unique haven of openness and democracy in the Middle East.

It’s beyond unfortunate that the aftermath of the war with Hezbollah was an inquiry and not victory parades for the kidnapped Israeli soldiers. That is a modern Israeli tragedy. But a mature democratic society must acknowledge its failures as well as its successes. It is a necessary step for a nation that hastily went to war hoping to achieve unrealistic objectives and without the benefit of a workable plan to sternly — and publicly — examine and admit its mistakes.

This is about more than just forcing politicians to resign — though former Israel Defense Forces Chief of Staff Dan Halutz has already stepped down, Defense Minister Amir Peretz’s reputation has been tarnished beyond all perceivable repair, and 59 percent of Israelis want Olmert to step down immediately, according to an Israeli TV poll.

The report’s thorough and nonpartisan tone hasn’t kept it from being used as a political battering ram. With an Israeli election on the horizon, Olmert’s opponents — even within his own party — already have ratcheted up the rhetoric. Hezbollah talking heads, meanwhile, claim the report proves they “won” the war — despite losing a full 25 percent of their fighting force in a war everyone agrees was poorly run on both sides. A few more “victories” like this and Hezbollah will be down to its last man.

Olmert may stay and Olmert may go. But, either way, Israel’s leaders and people will be forced to admit the truth. It’s a good thing for Israel. It’d be a good thing anywhere.