One of its complaints is:
We conclude that the [UK] Government’s decision not to call for a mutual and immediate cessation of hostilities early on in the Lebanon war has done significant damage to the UK’s reputation in much of the world. … We believe that such an approach could have led to reduced casualties amongst both Israeli and Lebanese civilians whilst still working towards a long-term solution to the crisis.
I was, and remain, sceptical of this line of argument on the grounds that Israel doesn’t tend to react positively to international cries of condemnation. And public denunciations that aren’t backed up by some solid form of leverage tend only to weaken one’s capacity for exerting future influence. (Over Hezbollah, I suspect that our diplomatic sway is even weaker.)
This is perfectly illustrated by another of the report’s criticisms, a few pages on:
Israeli overflights into sovereign Lebanese territory threaten to undermine and embarrass the Government of Lebanon… We are concerned that the [UK] Government’s calls on Israel to halt overflights are having little impact on its behaviour.
So: our diplomatic ‘calls to halt’ are ineffective with Israel.
That leaves the point about whether urging an immediate ceasefire, however impotently, and perhaps counterproductively, would have been better for “the UK’s reputation in much of the world”. Probably it would, in the short term at least. But is chanting “Not in our name” on the floor of the Security Council to placate the ‘Arab street’ really a responsible position for a government to take?
(The report also says that, while Israel has “an inalienable right to defend itself from terrorist threats”, its reaction to Hezbollah’s seizure of soldiers and firing of rockets across the border was “disproportionate”. This is a fair call, but it misses the broader point that the Israeli strategy was inadequate for confronting a nonstate group operating from a neighbouring country whose government wasn’t hostile. The fundamental problem with the strategy was not that it was excessive in scale; rather, it was misconceived in form. See, for instance, Israel’s own Winograd Commission report [PDF].)