updated 1/30/2008 1:19:56 PM ET 2008-01-30T18:19:56

The head of the panel investigating Israel's 2006 Lebanon conflict said Wednesday that the war ended without victory and that the army did not provide an effective response to Hezbollah rocket fire.

Eliyahu Winograd, issuing the panel's final report, told a packed auditorium in Jerusalem that investigators found "failures and shortcomings" in the country's political and military leadership during the conflict. Nevertheless, Prime Minister Ehud Olmert acted in what he thought was "the interest of the state of Israel," he said.

"We found serious failures and shortcomings in the highest level of the military command, especially in the ground forces, the quality of deployment, preparedness, launching and implementation of decisions and orders," Winograd said.

Still the 500-page report appeared to give an important boost to Olmert, who had faced the possibility of harsher criticism that could have threatened his job and his stated goal of signing a peace treaty with the Palestinians within a year.

Officials in Olmert's office said they were optimistic after an initial glimpse of the report. Olmert's spokesman, Jacob Galanti, was quoted by Israel TV as saying the prime minister's office was "breathing a sigh of relief."

Winograd said a last-minute ground offensive in Lebanon failed because it did not improve Israel's position ahead of a cease-fire, and he added the army was not prepared for that battle.

More than 30 Israeli soldiers were killed in that offensive, launched shortly before a U.N.-brokered truce went into effect. Olmert had come under severe criticism for ordering the attack, despite his contention that the offensive improved Israel's position before the cease-fire.

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