Olmert admits 'shortcomings' in war

PM promises he would not "hide or sweep anything under the rug."

olmert to AP298.88 (photo credit: AP)
olmert to AP298.88
(photo credit: AP)
Even as he stood before the Knesset Monday to claim personal responsibility for the month-long military operation in the north, Prime Minister Ehud Olmert promised to continue to "hunt Hizbullah down anytime, anywhere." "We will continue to pursue [Hizbullah] everywhere and at all times," Olmert told the Knesset's special session. "We have no intention of asking anyone's permission." It was the prime minister's first speech since the cease-fire went into effect Monday morning. Although Olmert stopped short of calling the military operation in the north a victory, he said that the war had changed the "strategic balance against Hizbullah," adding that Hizbullah was no longer a "state within a state." "The responsibility for the military operation rests on my shoulders as prime minister. I have no intention and do not wish to share this responsibility with another. It is a responsibility that derives from my position as prime minister of Israel," said Olmert. While there were "shortcomings" in the management of the war, Olmert promised that he would stand before an inquiry committee and not "hide or sweep anything under the rug." Those same shortcomings were touched upon by opposition leader Binyamin Netanyahu, who spoke after Olmert, and criticized the government for failing to "achieve its goals" in the north. "There were failures in identifying the threat, in managing the war, and in comforting the home front," said Netanyahu. "There is no doubt that we must learn our lesson and correct our mistakes. We were asleep and we received a wake-up call." Netanyahu told the Knesset that the main lesson to be learned from the past month was that the "doctrine of unilateral withdrawals had proven to be a failure." "We left Lebanon to the last centimeter and they are firing. We left Gaza to the last centimeter and they are firing," said Netanyahu. "What we have learned is that if they [terrorist organizations] lay down their arms there will be peace. If we [Israel] lay down our arms, they will slaughter us." Olmert and his Kadima party were elected in March on a platform which included the convergence plan for a possible unilateral withdrawal from large portions of the West Bank. During the day, MKs from across the political spectrum issued calls for a formal inquiry committee on the war. Despite expectations that MKs would blast the government, much of the criticism remained contained, as many MKs said they were biting their tongues until they could be sure the cease-fire had held. "There is still tension, and the cease-fire is too fragile," said one Likud MK. "We are waiting it out before we wage our own war... we are still drawing out the battle plans." During Olmert's speech, however, several MKs did not manage to hold their fire. MKs Zehava Gal-On (Meretz), Estherina Tartman (Israel Beiteinu) and Ahmed Tibi (United Arab List) were all ejected from the Knesset for interrupting the prime minister with harsh criticism of his handling of the war. Their accusations, which ranged from neglecting to bring the kidnapped soldiers home (Tartman) to letting the military operation go on too long (Gal-On), were echoed by other MKs during the day, but the majority of Knesset members appeared to abide by MK Effi Eitam's (NU/NRP) plea that they "hold their tongues" until "the dust of the last Katyusha" had settled. "Patience, that's what we need now," Olmert told the MKs during his speech. On Monday that patience appeared to hold, with Knesset Speaker Dalia Itzik even calling for the prime minister to create an emergency coalition government that would unite most of the parties in the Knesset as a unified body under Olmert. "It is the government's job to unite the State of Israel to prepare for the next war that might be forced upon us at any time," said Itzik. "Right now, with battles still being fought, it is our duty to learn our lessons, unite the best of our forces and minds, and think not of yesterday, but of tomorrow."