Olmert announces formation of governmental war inquiry

PM nixes call to form stronger state commission because it "would paralyze entire system."

ehud olmert 88 (photo credit: )
ehud olmert 88
(photo credit: )
Prime Minister Ehud Olmert nixed the idea Monday of setting up a full-blown state commission of inquiry to probe the recent war in Lebanon, opting instead to establish three committees - with lesser powers - to examine the political and military aspects of the war, as well as the home front's preparedness. Olmert, speaking to local council heads in Haifa, began by listing what he said were the considerable achievements resulting from the war. However he added, "True, not everything worked as we wished; not everywhere were we prepared as we should have been; not everything clicked. There were flaws, there were failures. And even if the end result is positive, we must not turn a blind eye, we must not cover up and we must not continue as if nothing had happened." To this end, he said that three committees would be established to deal with different aspects of the war. He said the first committee, to look at the performance of the political leadership, would be established by the government. It will probe how the government's decisions were made, and "anything else it sees fit." This committee will be headed by former Mossad head Nahum Admoni and include former navy commander Maj.-Gen. (res.) Yedidya Ya'ari, Prof. Ruth Gavison and Prof. Yehezkel Dror. Sources in the Prime Minister's Office confirmed that former Meretz MK Amnon Rubinstein turned down an offer to head the committee "for personal reasons." The second committee will be set up by the Defense Ministry, to "carry out the necessary changes in the IDF's preparedness, fighting methodology and manpower needs." Olmert did not say who would lead this committee, but officials in his office said it would be based on a committee that Defense Minister Amir Peretz had already set up that was headed by former IDF chief of General Staff Lt.-Gen. (res.) Amnon Lipkin-Shahak. The final committee will be headed by State Comptroller Micha Lindenstrauss, to look at the failures in the home front's preparedness. The prime minister said that after a great deal of deliberation he had decided against setting up a state commission of inquiry, which would have been headed by a Supreme Court justice and would have had the authority to subpoena witnesses. Its proceedings would have been similar to those of a court. Olmert said that this type of commission would "not prepare for the future, which is to deal with the Iranian threat." Instead, he said, "it would paralyze the entire system. Everyone would then get a lawyer and concentrate on how to pin the blame on someone else." "We do not have the luxury of sinking into investigations of the past," he said. "We need to focus on the future and the Iranian threat." His decision was immediately blasted by politicians from all sides of the political spectrum, including some within his own coalition. For instance, Labor MK Ami Ayalon said, "The Israeli public needs its confidence restored in its elected officials. Only a state commission has the teeth to assure the Israeli public that the matter is truly being investigated." During his speech in Haifa, Olmert dismissed some of the criticism of the war's conduct and the calls for the establishment of a state commission of inquiry as politically motivated. He said he had ignored such criticism, but that some criticism was "genuine," and the country needed to channel it into a quick, constructive process of learning lessons. Olmert also spoke of his decision, on the Friday the UN Security Council met to discuss a ceasefire, to order a widening of the ground operation in southern Lebanon. This operation, which led to the death of more than 30 soldiers, was needed to get the international body to adopt a cease-fire on terms better for Israel, he said. Olmert said he took full responsibility for the decision to go to war, and for the results of that war. These words were met with applause. He characterized Hizbullah's strategy as targeting civilians in the hopes that this would lead to a public outcry to end the military action. He said that Hizbullah was surprised that the Israeli home front had withstood its blows. "The home front stood firm and, to a large degree to its credit, Hizbullah failed to deter us," the prime minister said. Olmert asked for patience in judging the outcome of the war. "There are those who rushed to judgment," he said. "People, patience. One thing is clear: In Beirut and in other capitals in the Middle East they understood that we would not let pass violations of our sovereignty and harm to our soldiers and civilians." He made a point to compare Hassan Nasrallah's first speech of the war - arrogant, mocking, confident of victory - to what he termed the Hizbullah leader's "speech of contrition" on Sunday. He said that anyone who had predicted the actual results of the war when it started would have been accused of fantasying. He listed the following achievements:
  • Hizbullah has been removed from the northern border, and there are no longer Hizbullah outposts overlooking the communities there.
  • The majority of Hizbullah's frontline forces were destroyed, with hundreds dead and wounded.
  • The majority of Hizbullah longrange missiles, which represented a strategic threat to Israel, were destroyed in the first hours of the campaign.
  • Hizbullah's stronghold in south Beirut and all its command centers were destroyed, with the organization's leaders homeless and looking for refuge.
  • The Lebanese army is deploying in the south, for the first time in 35 years, to prevent Hizbullah from renewing its threat.
  • A strong international force based on European armies is organizing to go to Lebanon and to help stop Hizbullah.
  • UN Security Council Resolution 1701 was "one of the most important achievements for Israel in the international arena. It if is fully implemented, our situation on the northern border will be incomparably better than it was before July 12," he said. Olmert said that the war was not only against Hizbullah, but also against its backers and suppliers in Syria and Iran. But, he admitted, not everything was "good." He said the country had failed to stop the Katyusha fire, but added that no one has yet found a solution to rocket fire. The biggest failure, he said, was in not bringing about the release of the kidnapped IDF soldiers. But he pledged to do so. "I, Ehud Olmert, the prime minister of Israel, promise you that they will return home, maybe not as quickly as we hoped, but they will return home," he said.