Olmert apologizes for pullout remarks

10 reservists declare they will refuse to obey orders to enter Lebanon.

olmert to AP298.88 (photo credit: AP)
olmert to AP298.88
(photo credit: AP)
Ten right wing IDF reservists have announced that they will refuse to obey orders to enter Lebanon following comments made by Prime Minister Ehud Olmert arguing that the war in Lebanon could create momentum for further West Bank pullouts, Army Radio reported. The Prime Minister's Office issued a statement after a conversation Olmert held with MK Effi Eitam (NU-NRP), in which the prime minister apologized to the right wing MK. Olmert said the war in Lebanon was a result of an attack Hizbullah initiated against Israel, and had no connection to future diplomatic processes on other fronts. The show of unity put on by the Knesset since the start of the violence three weeks ago was shattered Wednesday. "The backing Olmert has received [for the war] went to his head," said MK Zvi Hendel (NU-NRP). "He is splitting the nation with [this comment]." Within hours of the comment the split in the Knesset was clear, with Israel Beitenu and Likud MKs joining NU-NRP in their criticism of Olmert. "Instead of wasting billions on [the realignment], a dubious diplomatic adventure, it's better to invest the money in rehabilitating the North and the communities that suffered immense economic damages," said Israel Beitenu leader Avigdor Lieberman. "This plan should be put to rest." Olmert's spokesman defended the comments, stating that when interviewers asked the prime minister about whether the operations in the North and South ended hope for a withdrawal in the West Bank, Olmert at first replied that he was not currently dealing with the realignment plan. Only when pressed further, said the spokesman, did Olmert state that if Israel succeeds in Lebanon it can create the kind of momentum that could allow Israel to draw its border, ideally with a Palestinian partner. While some in Olmert's party, such as MK Menahem Ben-Sasson, praised the comments, many questioned its timing. "Any intelligent person realizes that the war defeated realignment," said MK Zevulun Orlev (NU-NRP). "Olmert suffers from a diplomatic blindness. It's a pity that even during the war, the prime minister chooses to split the nation instead of uniting it." Even in Likud, where opposition leader Binyamin Netanyahu has unflaggingly supported the government during the war, MKs launched harsh criticism of Olmert. "The prime minister is disconnected from reality," said MK Gideon Sa'ar, the Likud faction chairman. "After the policy of unilateral withdrawal brought missiles to Haifa and Ashkelon, Olmert insists on continuing this reckless policy that will certainly bring missiles to every city in Israel." Meanwhile, when news of Olmert's comments spread to where the IDF was fighting in the North, soldiers told Army Radio reporters that they didn't joint the army to expel people and that they wouldn't endanger their lives to advance Olmert's "dangerous plan." There were also reports that one soldier left his unit, after announcing that he would not contribute to the realignment plan. Moshe Feiglin, a Likud leadership candidate, called for soldiers to "come home." "Dear soldiers, come home and save the state. It is apparent that this war is not just unnecessary, but dangerous," said Feiglin. "Israel purposefully started an unwinnable war. Anyone who cares about the state of the country shouldn't participate in this show." Referring to Tisha Be'av, Olmert said, "During these days, when Israel is united in the remembrance of the destruction of the Temple, there is a need to preserve the full unity of the army and the home front in order to succeed in this difficult war." Herb Keinon contributed to this report.