Livni: 'I was left out of the loop'

FM tells Winograd C'tee she thought army-op would "end the next day."

livni olmert cabinet 298 (photo credit: AP)
livni olmert cabinet 298
(photo credit: AP)
Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni's testimony to the Winograd Committee, released for publication on Sunday, showed that she was marginalized during a war she thought would last only two days. "On July 12, I thought it was an operation that was supposed to end that same night - at most, the next afternoon," Livni told the committee, which is charged with looking into how Israel waged the Second Lebanon War. "It was clear from the beginning that the action would not end that same night. There was no stopping point, no goal for military victory." She said that she had been repeatedly rebuffed in attempts to set up meetings with Prime Minister Ehud Olmert, and treated in a cavalier fashion at a critical meeting of seven ministers held two days after the start of the war on July 12.
  • The second Lebanon war: special report The Prime Minister's Office had no comment Sunday on Livni's testimony. Livni said that she spoke with Olmert by telephone on July 13 and said that there was a need to move forward on the diplomatic front, and that the military action was continuing even though she was under the impression that it was to have stopped earlier that afternoon. Asked by the committee whether there was a record of this conversation, Livni said there was not, because it took place as she was racing between two television interviews. She did say, however, that witnesses could attest the conversation took place. Livni said that during that conversation, Olmert "told me not to worry, to relax." She said that although she had wanted to meet with him immediately to plan a "diplomatic exit," her next personal meeting with him was on July 16. On July 14, however, she took part in a meeting of the war cabinet, a cabinet that included seven ministers, where it was decided to bomb Hizbullah's stronghold in Beirut's Dahiya neighborhood. Her requests to meet Olmert either before or after that meeting were declined. Livni said that during the war cabinet meeting, "I was already feeling that they were not listening to me. When I started to speak, the prime minister began speaking to the chief of staff, or somebody, and I stopped what I was saying. He said, 'Continue - thank you.' I said, 'I haven't finished, I am asking you to listen to me.' The prime minister then said, 'I am listening to every word and even to every vibration.'" At that meeting, Livni voted against the decision to bomb Dahiya. That vote created friction with Olmert, and that friction became apparent at their meeting two days later. She said that at the July 16 meeting, she told Olmert that the overheated rhetoric at the time - talk of destroying Hizbullah and returning the kidnapped soldiers - was creating high expectations that would be difficult to achieve. "The military operation cannot return the soldiers," she said. "It can pound Hizbullah, but after a certain point the targets will not be quality ones, and there will not be any more profit to the campaign. Therefore, the timing is crucial; right now, the operation is a military one, but its end will be a diplomatic one." Her testimony of that meeting was based on her own written notes, which at one point she said she could not read. According to Livni, Olmert told her she had erred in voting against bombing Dahiya, but she said that in a final cost-benefit analysis, she did not think it was worth it. Livni said that another point of friction had been over the possibility of stationing international troops in southern Lebanon, something that was eventually done. She said that the idea had already been raised in the Foreign Ministry on July 16, but that when it was leaked to the press, the Prime Minister's Office denied it. Livni said that for the entire week of July 16, she did not meet with Olmert, and as a result started floating the idea that the time had come to start "diplomatic discussions." Her next meeting with him was on July 23, the day before the arrival of US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice. Winograd Committee member Yehezkel Dror asked her if she had considered writing Olmert a letter during this period, to which Livni replied that she had not thought about the idea.