The Winograd Whitewash

The Winograd Committee today released its full, 610-page investigation into Israel’s political and military conduct during the 2006 Lebanon war. The interim report was published last May (I wrote about it here), and judging from reports in the Israeli press the complete version makes similar points.


Essentially, the report concludes that the Israeli political leadership made significant strategic errors during the conflict and that the military was utterly incompetent and out of shape. The IDF “failed to meet most of the missions and challenges [it was] assigned”, the committee found, and there were “grave faults and failings in the decision-making process and the preparatory work both in the political and military levels and the interaction between them.” Overall, the war represented “a major and serious missed opportunity” for Israel.

The principle problem with the inquiry is that its scope was limited to investigating why Israel failed to achieve its aims in Lebanon, completely ignoring whether those aims were legitimate in the first place. It also largely refrained from examing the morality and legality of the IDF’s conduct in Lebanon. As Ha’aretz reports, the committee decided against an in-depth examination of individual complaints about violations of international law committed during the course of the war on the grounds that,

“We did not find it appropriate to deal with issues that are part of a political and propaganda war against the state.”

The committee did, however, determine that “[t]he cluster bomb is inaccurate, it consists of bomblets that are dispersed over a large area, and some of the bomblets do not explode [on impact] and can cause damage for a long period afterward.” It further concluded that Israel’s use of cluster bombs during the Lebanon war did ‘not conform to international law.’ For those in need of a reminder, Israel saturated southern Lebanon with over a million cluster bomblets, 90% of them fired within the last 72 hours of the conflict after it was clear that a ceasefire was imminent; a policy described by UN Emergency Relief Coordinator Jan Egeland as “shocking” and “completely immoral”. A commander in the IDF’s Multiple Launch Rocket System unit (responsible for firing the cluster bombs into Lebanon) described his role in even franker terms:

“In Lebanon, we covered entire villages with cluster bombs, what we did there was crazy and monstrous.”

More generally, Human Rights Watch concluded that Israel’s conduct in the Lebanon war was characterised by “serious violations of international law”, including “a systematic failure by the IDF to distinguish between combatants and civilians” and a strong likelihood that Israeli forces “deliberately targeted civilians.” Similarly, Amnesty International described how the Israeli air force, praised by the Winograd Committee, reduced “entire neighbourhoods to rubble”, causing “destruction on a catastrophic scale” and killing “entire families” in indiscriminate air strikes. The extensive destruction of civilian infrastructure, including civilian homes, power systems and two hospitals, was a “deliberate and integral part of [Israel’s] military strategy.” Amnesty concluded,

“Many of the violations [committed by Israel during the war] are war crimes that give rise to individual criminal responsibility. They include directly attacking civilian objects and carrying out indiscriminate or disproportionate attacks.”

Clearly, the Winograd Committee felt it would be imprudent to investigate any of this since doing so would just give succour to those waging “a political and propaganda war against the state.”

Amnesty International today issued a press release condemning the report as “deeply flawed” since it failed to investigate “a crucial aspect of the war – the government policies and military strategies that failed to discriminate between the Lebanese civilian population and Hizbullah combatants and between civilian property and infrastructure and military targets.” According to Malcolm Smart, director of Amnesty’s Middle East and North Africa Program,

“this (report) was yet another missed opportunity to address the policies and decisions behind the grave violations of international humanitarian law – including war crimes – committed by Israeli forces.

“The indiscriminate killings of many Lebanese civilians not involved in the hostilities and the deliberate and wanton destruction of civilian properties and infrastructure on a massive scale were given no more than token consideration by the commission.”

Amnesty called on the Israeli government to “establish an independent and impartial investigation into evidence indicating that its forces committed serious violations of international human rights and humanitarian law during the conflict, including war crimes, and ensure that those responsible are brought to justice.”

In addition to confirming that Israel’s use of cluster bombs in Lebanon was illegal, the Winograd Committee also cleared up another point of contention regarding the war, namely who started it. Summarising the report’s conclusions, committee member Prof. Ruth Gavison stated:

“In an overall assessment of the war, we can say that it was a major and serious missed opportunity. Israel embarked on a long war, which it initiated, and which ended without Israel achieving a clear military victory”.

So Israel initiated the war and violated international law during the course of the fighting. Aside from these two important conclusions, however, the Winograd report was just another whitewash, focusing not on Israel’s criminal destruction of Lebanon and killing of nearly 1,100 Lebanese civilians, but rather on how to make such wholesale slaughter more efficient in the future.

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