Likud MK Yuval Steinitz said Thursday afternoon that he was "surprised" by reports that Prime Minister Ehud Olmert had told the Winograd Commission that the decision on the summer's Lebanon war had been made months in advance. Steinitz, who chaired the Knesset Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee at the time of the war, told Israel Radio that he had not witnessed any intensified preparations for an armed conflict in the North, and that there had been no special discussions on such a possibility. In addition, Steinitz said that two months before the war broke out, the prime minister had cut half a billion shekels from the IDF budget. Steinitz said that it was unlikely that someone intending to go to war would make such a decision.
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Ha'aretz reported Thursday that Olmert, in his closed testimony before the Winograd Commission on February 1, had claimed that his decision to respond to the abduction of soldiers with a broad military operation was made four months before the capture of IDF reservists Ehud Goldwasser and Eldad Regev and the subsequent outbreak of the war.
The commission has already sent testimony to attorneys representing individuals who could be harmed by its conclusions and is expected to issue its interim report this month.
The questions faced by the prime minister focused on three main issues: how and why the decision was made to go to war on July 12, several hours after Goldwasser and Regev were abducted by Hizbullah operatives on the northern border; why Olmert decided to carry out a large-scale ground operation in Lebanon, in which 33 soldiers were killed, 48 hours before the cease-fire; and the circumstances surrounding Amir Peretz's appointment as defense minister.
In his testimony, Olmert claimed that the first meeting was held on January 8, 2006, four days after Olmert was named acting prime minister in place of Ariel Sharon.
Meetings reportedly continued in March, April, May and July, after Corporal Gilad Schalit was kidnapped by Hamas operatives at Kerem Shalom.
Olmert was also reportedly advised by then-Chief of Staff Lt.-Gen. Dan Halutz that an abduction of IDF soldiers accompanied by cross-border shelling would affect Israel's ability to deter such attacks in the future. Halutz told Olmert that Israel could not demonstrate restraint in such a case. Olmert told the commission that he had accepted Halutz's advice.
In March, Olmert was told by military officials to respond to a query that the army had operational plans for such a scenario. After reviewing the options, the prime minister selected a moderate plan of air attacks combined with a limited ground offensive.
Olmert said that he had previously decided that Israel's goal would be to implement UN Security Council Resolution 1559, which calls to deploy Lebanese army troops along the border and disarm Hizbullah.
Olmert said that if the earlier ground offensives launched by Israel had been successful, Israel would have been in a different situation at the end of the war.
The Winograd Commission also asked Olmert whether appointing Peretz as defense minister was the right thing to do. He responded that the defense portfolio had been given to Labor after coalition talks, and the the party chose its ministers.