Gal-On's report on war concludes Olmert must go

Meretz chairwoman says PM caused "unnecessary deaths" with his decision to push forward in last two days of war.

Gal-On 224.88 (photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski [file])
Gal-On 224.88
(photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski [file])
Prime Minister Ehud Olmert "needs to take responsibility and go home for his poor decisions... which led to the unnecessary deaths of Israeli soldiers," Meretz Chairwoman Zehava Gal-On declared Monday in presenting her alternative report on the Second Lebanon War. While cabinet ministers voted in favor of a massive ground offensive that killed 33 soldiers during the last two days of the war, the responsibility for that decision lay with Prime Minister Ehud Olmert, said Gal-On in the report, based on testimony made by ministers to the Winograd Committee, will release its own report on January 30. "Minister after minister explained that it was Olmert's decision to launch the final push in the last 48 hours of the war," said Gal-On. Gal-On's report cited the testimony of cabinet minister Binyamin Ben-Eliezer, who was asked by the panel about his decision to vote in favor of the ground operation and answered: "I don't know, I have no idea…You're asking me a question which I myself asked. And I think that the operation was unnecessary." Olmert, meanwhile, told the inquiry panel that it "was the most difficult moment. Afterward, I understood the meaning of loneliness, with a double responsibility on my shoulders. I looked around, there was no one, and only I would decide." Gal-On said that the prime minister's motive in ordering the ground offensive was "to achieve a 'victorious picture' and to improve the public's morale. This was a negligent decision on the prime minister's part." Several reserve soldiers who appeared by Gal-On's side during Monday's press conference said that while they sympathized with the difficult decisions a prime minister must make, they could not forgive Olmert's decision to risk the lives of Israeli soldiers to "save his own political career." Gal-On stopped short of calling for early elections or the dissolution of the cabinet, explaining that she saw it fit for Olmert to go home. "Ultimately, the buck stops with the prime minister. In order to truly move forward and learn the lessons from this war, Olmert must go home," said Gal-On. Olmert, however, has already said that he will stay in office regardless of the Winograd Committee's findings. Meanwhile, IDF reservists stepped up the pressure on Prime Minister Ehuld Olmert ahead of the publication of the Winograd report with the publication of a letter demanding his resignation signed by 50 company commanders. "Senior military commanders paid the price for their failures and were forced to resign, while you, who are at the top of the system, refuse to accept standards of personal responsibility," read the letter, which was shown on Channel 2 news on Monday evening. "Anyone who is not committed to personal responsibility cannot send people to war, and this is true of a prime minister as it is of every company commander." In the letter the officers emphasize that they will continue to serve and follow orders, but assert that "it is not only our privilege but our duty to demand that you change your mind, accept responsibility for your failures in the Second Lebanon War and make the necessary personal conclusions." Elie Leshem contributed to this report