PM: Home front adequately protected

Olmert says the gov't, and not the courts, should decide how to defend Sderot.

July 22, 2007 16:47
3 minute read.
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The government, and no other public body, will determine the country's priorities, Prime Minister Ehud Olmert said Sunday at the weekly cabinet meeting, in a thinly veiled swipe at the Supreme Court. Olmert's comments came during a discussion on the preparation of the home front during last summer's war in Lebanon, and in light of the State Comptroller's harshly critical report of its lack of preparedness. The High Court of Justice ruled in May - and refused to hold another meeting on the issue last week - that the government's plans for securing schools in Sderot and around Gaza was inadequate, and that rather than fortifying "safe areas" in each school, all the classrooms must be protected against Kassam fire. Olmert came out against this decision over the weekend, and repeated his criticism at the cabinet meeting. "The government, and only the government, is the authority that needs to make decisions on the subject of protecting [Gaza communities]," he said at the opening of the weekly cabinet meeting. "The government is the one with the authority," he said. "It is inconceivable that other bodies take it upon themselves to determine the priorities. I will not give up this authority, and my right to express that authority, without it being interpreted as a fight against another body." In an obvious reference to press reports Sunday quoting sources close to Supreme Court President Dorit Beinisch as saying that this was all part of a campaign Olmert was waging against the courts, Olmert said: "This was not a personal struggle against anyone, and I expect no one else will try to confront us either." Olmert, as well as Internal Security Minister Avi Dichter and Vice Premier Haim Ramon, argued that fortifying each classroom near Gaza would be prohibitively expensive, and would take resources away from developing technological responses to the Kassam rockets. "Investment in tools that will decide this battle and bring about victory is more important than investing in protection," Olmert said. Dichter said that the cost of fortifying each classroom missed the target of developing strategic abilities on which the country needed to focus. "We have to reassess the issue of protection," Olmert said. "We don't need to reach hysterical or populist conclusions." He said that the missile threat had changed the country's battlefield, bringing the home front up to the front lines, and that there needed to be a reassessment of how best to provide security for it. For instance, the director-general of the Prime Minister's Office, Ra'anan Dinur, said last week that he personally favored investing in an anti-missile umbrella, rather than in investing billions of shekels building and reinforcing private and public shelters. During the cabinet meeting, Olmert also complained about what he said was an atmosphere where citizens and the local authority do not take responsibility, but rather cast it all on the government's shoulders. Olmert said that if shelters in apartment buildings were not up to standards, it was the responsibility of the building's residents to ensure that the situation was corrected. Olmert also warned against evacuation of residents from Sderot and the western Negev. "The national sport of who will chase more residents from danger zones threatens the stability of the country during times of emergency," Olmert warned. "Whoever evacuates Sderot will determine the fate of Ashkelon, and then afterwards, the fate of Ashdod," he said. "We are a nation that has struggled for its existence for years, and we will do everything to win, and not to flee," he said. "We will not go crazy with shelters. Our job is to be concerned with essential services: firefighting, life-saving services and providing the basics for the population, such as food. But we will not obsess with things that will take away essential resources. We need to say that to the public." Defense Minister Ehud Barak, meanwhile, rebuked Olmert for his reaction to the comptroller's report, which included a frontal attack by his office last week on State Comptroller Micha Lindenstrauss. "I suggest that we wake up regarding our relationship with the state comptroller and the Supreme Court," Barak said. "It is permissible to argue with the comptroller's report or with the nature of what the court decided and its ramifications, but there should not be accusations against institutions or individuals." According to Barak, respectful relations between the executive branch and the judiciary and the State Comptroller's Office are essential for the health of Israel's democracy.

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