Image: Dan Halutz, Ehud Olmert
Sebastian Scheiner  /  AP
Former Israeli army Chief of Staff Lt. Dan Halutz, left, and Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert, right, in a 2006 file photo.
updated 2/3/2008 4:02:08 AM ET 2008-02-03T09:02:08

An internal military investigation has concluded that Israel's 2006 war against Hezbollah guerrillas in Lebanon failed because top commanders didn't communicate properly and were slow to prepare a ground offensive, the retired general who conducted the probe said Saturday.

The reserve general, Udi Shani, also said that the army chief at the time, Lt. Gen. Dan Halutz, wasn't receptive enough to dissenting views among top commanders and should have spent more time near the front lines, rather than at military headquarters.

"The military failed," Shani told Israel Radio. "It didn't operate properly."

Defense Minister Ehud Barak said Sunday he would not leave Prime Minister Ehud Olmert's government, but would stay on to redress the problems in the military that the fighting exposed.

Barak's announcement at the start of the weekly Cabinet meeting removed any immediate threat to the survival of Olmert's government as it pursues its declared goal of signing a peace treaty with the Palestinians this year. Barak had said before joining the coalition in June that he would push for Olmert's resignation or early elections after a war inquiry delivered its final report.

"Why am I staying? I'm staying in the post of defense minister because I know what kind of challenges face Israel -- Gaza, Hezbollah, Syria, Iran, the rehabilitation of the military and the political process," Barak said.

If Barak were to have pulled Labor's 19-member faction out of the coalition, Olmert would have been stripped of his parliamentary majority and likely forced to call an election. His coalition now controls 67 of parliament's 120 seats.

But with Labor trailing badly in public opinion polls, Barak apparently decided his party's political fortunes -- and his own -- would be better served by remaining in the government. Barak hopes to reclaim the premiership he briefly held before losing it in early 2001, but polls would hand the race to hawkish opposition leader Benjamin Netanyahu of the hardline Likud Party.

Given the poll results, his decision to remain in government had been expected.

Winograd Commission findings
Shani conducted an internal army investigation of the performance of the top command at the same time as a five-member investigative panel headed by retired Judge Eliyahu Winograd examined the performance of the government and the army.

The Winograd Commission said in its final report Wednesday that Israel did not win the 34-day war and the army did not provide an effective response to a deadly Hezbollah barrage of nearly 4,000 rockets on northern Israel. Israel conducted a heavy aerial campaign but reservists returning from the battlefield complained of poor training and a lack of ammunition and key supplies.

According to official figures from both sides, between 1,035 and 1,191 Lebanese civilians and combatants died in the conflict, in addition to 119 Israeli soldiers and 40 civilians.

Shani said that the reliance on air attacks was reasonable in the first few days of the war, but that commanders then should have prepared for a ground offensive.

Instead, the military embarked on the ground offensive at the last minute, just as a U.N. truce was about to take effect. More than 30 Israeli soldiers were killed in that fighting.

"The military failed because it had an erroneous concept," Shani said in an apparent reference to the heavy reliance on air strikes.

Winograd said the 11th-hour offensive failed in its mission, did not improve Israel's position and that the army was not prepared for it. However, he said the operation's goals were legitimate.

Most of the army's wartime commanders, including Halutz, resigned after the war.

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