Knesset Members spar over state inquiry into war

Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee supports state commission - except for Kadima MKs.

peretz hanegbi 298.88 (photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski)
peretz hanegbi 298.88
(photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski)
Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee members continued sparring with their chairman Monday in the ongoing tensions that have plagued the committee since the Israel-Hizbullah cease-fire began. While the majority of the committee voiced support for a state inquiry into the failures of the Lebanon war, the three Kadima MKs, among them Chairman Tzahi Hanegbi, argued against it. Hanegbi also used his role as chairman to prevent the publication of a statement on behalf of committee members calling for an inquiry on the grounds that the issue had not been officially placed on the agenda for the meeting. "There was a clear majority for the inquiry committee," said MK Yuval Steinitz (Likud), the former chairman of the committee. "It would need a strong mandate in order to be able to come to useful conclusions over what exactly has happened over the past month." Many MKs, among them MK Matan Vilna'i (Labor), argued that the inquiry commission appointed by Defense Minister Amir Peretz did not have enough of a mandate to investigate properly. "We clearly need an inquiry with more teeth," said Vilna'i, "one that would be accountable to the public." Only the findings of a state inquiry or a panel headed by the Knesset would be made available to the public. Neither the investigation launched by Peretz nor the governmental panel of inquiry suggested by members of the Prime Minister's Office would be matters of public record. "We need a deep inquiry, one that will prepare the army and inform the public as fast as possible for the next round of violence - which appears to be inevitable," said MK Effi Eitam. Last week, MKs on the committee clashed with Hanegbi when the chairman cut the committee meeting short before the MKs had questioned IDF chief of General Staff Lt.-Gen. Dan Halutz. "There is a constant trend here of Hanegbi undermining this committee, and undermining what we could possible do," said one committee member. "This used to be considered the most powerful committee in the Knesset; now we are afraid to even demand an inquiry." According to a committee spokesman, it was the prerogative of the chairman to call for a vote launching an inquiry committee. Only the chairman could call for the necessary vote, or pressure the Prime Minister's Office to launch its own investigations. The Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee has often been called the committee for civilian oversight of the IDF for its numerous inquiry committees over the years. Most recently, it examined the IDF's use of violence during the Amona evacuations. Although it issued recommendations following that inquiry, many argued that the committee's recommendations have no plausible effect on the IDF. "The committee is mostly for the public to feel good, but it very rarely affects real change," said one veteran committee member following the Amona inquiry. Many have also pointed to the committee's actions in the years leading up to the IDF's recent operation in Lebanon as a sign of its limited impact. Both in 2004 and 2005 the committee recommended that the army prepare plans for a ground operation in Lebanon if violence were to erupt along the northern border, and both times they were told that an aerial operation would suffice. "We were repeatedly ignored when we suggested that ground operations, stretching to the Litani River, should be prepared," said Steinitz. "We held countless briefings on the Hizbullah threat and yet people said we were unprepared."