Olmert pissed off 298.
(photo credit: AP [file])
Sources close to Prime Minister Ehud Olmert expressed satisfaction that Olmert's testimony to the Winograd Committee released on Thursday shows that he took responsibility for the Second Lebanon War and did not try to fob it off on others.
The Olmert camp doubts, however, that this will change his standing with the public, as they are skeptical that many people will actually pour over the 89-pages of testimony.
More from the Winograd testimonies:
Peretz: 'I was not told army was under-trained'
Halutz: We could have achieved far more
That protocol shows an Olmert who waged a spirited defense of his defense minister and political rival Amir Peretz, and who said that Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni, another political rival, was completely involved in the running of the war.
"I still think, and not only me, that none of the failures that were evident in the war were the product of the functioning, this way or that, of the defense minister," Olmert said. "I am saying this honestly, and not doing this for public relations, because this is a closed forum. The communication between us during the war was appropriate."
Regarding the performance of the army, Olmert said the IDF "let itself down" in Lebanon.
Olmert was careful, however, to distinguish between the ordinary soldiers, whom he said performed excellently, and their commanders.
"It wasn't a question of 'guts,'" Olmert told the panel. "Everyone showed courage in battle. But something in how we operated our forces, something in how we controlled them, wasn't what we had expected - and there is no doubt that this created a gap between what we could achieve and what we actually achieved."
Asked about his decision to appoint Peretz as defense minister, despite his complete lack of experience for the job, Olmert replied, "I want to say, in all due respect, that Israel can be proud of Amir Peretz.
"Here is a youth from Sderot, a combat soldier in the army, wounded in the army, who became a mayor, gained an impressive public platform, won the Histadrut elections, became the Histadrut's leader, won the elections in the Labor Party, beat all the stars - Shimon Peres, Ehud Barak, all who ran against him - became the Labor Party leader and got the second number of votes for prime minister," Olmert said.
"He won 19 Knesset seats," he said, "what, wasn't that worth something?"
Olmert was less spirited in defense of Livni, rebuffing claims that she was not involved in the decision-making process, and saying that she was in on all the major decisions.
There was something "defective" in the army's "philosophy of command [and] perception of command," the prime minister said. He said he was told by then-chief of General Staff Lt.-Gen. Dan Halutz a day before the war that the army was ready for any tasks.
"I want you to be clear and don't get the wrong impression," he quoted Halutz as saying. "You have a strong, prepared and quality army."
Olmert told the committee that soon after he took over as acting prime minister on January 4, 2006, following Ariel Sharon's second stroke, he played very close attention to the situation in the North, and asked almost immediately to be taken on a tour of the area. "I felt that the troubles would start from there," Olmert told the panel.
Olmert said that he busied himself with the situation in the North constantly, even though the other fronts were also very active - the West Bank and the Gaza Strip.
He said he wanted to ensure that he would not be the prisoner of past conceptions in Lebanon, and was interested in different options for dealing with situations like the kidnapping of the reservists on July 12 - a scenario anticipated well in advance.
He asked for plans for military action in Lebanon in March, he said, "so that I would not be under pressure to make decisions on the spot."
The prime minister called the moment when he had to call up additional reservists during the war "the hardest moment of my life," spoke of his suffering at seeing the "eyes of the children who may not return" and said he felt a sense of loneliness that the responsibility lay on his shoulders.
Olmert claimed that Peretz and Halutz both supported an additional call-up, but stressed that final decision had to be his.
Olmert also told the committee that the government's initial assessment had been that the Second Lebanon War would be a limited military operation that would take 10 days to two weeks.
"We could make only one decision," the prime minister said. "Either we don't act, or we act immediately. I think that there was no option but to make a move right at the start."