This was a big day in Israel. Not because of the snow that landed on Jerusalem, and not because of the Florida primary.
It was the day that the Winograd Commission was to issue its final report.
The Winograd Commission was appointed to examine the actions of key politicians and the military in the 2006 war in Lebanon. It came on the scene in response to severe criticism of the IDF's performance in the war, and the perception that Prime Minister Ehud Olmert and Defense Minister Amir Peretz had failed to provide the key decisions for the military to implement.
A month ago the Winograd Commission announced that it would issue its final report today. For the whole month we have been deluged with an increasing intensity of blah blah from commentators, and activists ratcheting up their campaigns.
Prominent are the heads of the political parties not in the government coalition. Leading this cluster is Benyamin Netanyahu, head of Likud, doing well in recent public opinion polls, and not missing an opportunity to blame the prime minister for imperfections in the war and everything else.
There are also organizations of military reservists, who have been claiming since the end of the war that the IDF was not prepared, and not well led, either by its commanding officers or by the governmental officials (i.e., the prime minister and the defense minister) charged with providing policy direction.
Yet another group includes the family members of soldiers who died in the war. They say that loved ones gave their lives in campaigns that were not well conceived or directed, and which accomplished nothing worth their sacrifices.
The full report of the Winograd Commission (i.e., the version available to the public without the secret stuff) is said to be 300 pages in length. It should be available shortly in Hebrew and English, via the site http://www.vaadatwino.org.il/index.html.
The printed version was made available at 6 PM today, Wednesday, January 30th. From 6:00 to 6:30 the chair of the Commission, retired Supreme Court Justice Eliyahu Winograd, read a summary of the report in a ceremony covered by the three major television channels.
The summary pointed to the failure of the IDF, described as the most powerful army in the Middle East, to deal effectively with the Hizbollah terrorist organization. It cited the military and the civilian leadership for not selecting and pursuing a clear strategy. The summary did not include a clear indictment of the prime minister, or material that would be decisive in the various campaigns to oust him. The distinguished members of the commission deferred the knotty political question to the political process.
By 6:45 we heard from politicians who had found details to strengthen their demands against the prime minister, and listened to representatives of the reservists and the families of those killed who found support for their postures. A retired general who failed during the last electoral campaign to win any Knesset seats for a party based on anti-corruption found in the report enough material to urge the present head of the Labor Party, Ehud Barak, to leave the government and thereby give Olmert a push toward oblivion.
One commentator said that there was enough criticism to keep the prime minister from opening the champagne. Other commentators are reading at speed. We are sure to hear much more over the next days. How long this goes on, and its impact on the prime minister seems likely to depend more on political calculations and maneuvers than the words of the Commission.
Whatever happens, the snow has been pretty. Some three inches produced a cancellation of school, university classes, and bus service. We are expecting more tomorrow, and school classes have been cancelled in anticipation. In the middle of today's storm, I looked out of my window and saw a rainbow at the edge of the snow field. Could it be as significant as that seen by Noah (Genesis 9)? A moment later there was a blast of sunlight on the desert mountains about 5 miles to the east on the way to the Jordan Valley.
The snow line ends about 300 meters from us. There is seldom precipitation 10 miles further east, in the neighborhood of Jericho. Jerusalem gets about the same average rainfall over the course of a year as London.
All this may be weightier than the Winograd Commission.
Ira Sharkansky (Emeritus)
Department of Political Science
Hebrew University of Jerusalem
Home tel: 972-2-532-2725
Cell phone: 054-683-5325