Olmert camp readies damage control for Winograd report

The report is also expected to be critical of Defense Minister Amir Peretz and former chief of General Staff Lt.-Gen. (res.) Dan Halutz.

olmert 298 (photo credit: AP)
olmert 298
(photo credit: AP)
Prime Minister Ehud Olmert's closest aides have drawn up strategies for "Winograd Day," when the panel investigating shortcomings during the Second Lebanon War makes its interim report public. The type of damage control will depend on how damning the report is regarding Olmert's personal responsibility. The prime minister will only receive his copy of the Winograd report at 4 p.m. on Monday, an hour before the interim findings are made public. Olmert has no idea what is in the report and will receive no sneak preview. The Winograd panel is expected to point to mistakes made by Olmert in the conduct of the campaign, and stress that he was relatively inexperienced in security matters. But the feeling is that the findings will not be so critical as to force him to resign. The report is also expected to be critical of Defense Minister Amir Peretz and former chief of General Staff Lt.-Gen. (res.) Dan Halutz. The interim report covers the period of time from the IDF's withdrawal from south Lebanon in the summer of 2000 until the kidnapping of soldiers Ehud Goldwasser and Eldad Regev on July 12, 2006, including that day's decision to respond to the kidnapping and the first five days of fighting. In reaction to the Winograd report, Olmert is expected to stress the unanimous support of the cabinet and the almost wall-to-wall backing from the Knesset, including most of the opposition, for the war. The public was also solidly behind the military campaign in the period covered by the interim findings. Olmert will likely argue that the decisions taken were rational and correct, under the circumstances. The political and military echelons were convinced that the price of not responding to the Hizbullah kidnapping was higher than the price of responding. Olmert took full responsibility for his actions and he believes he will be vindicated by the Winograd panel. Among those waiting for the report's findings will be Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni who, although critical of some aspects of the campaign - such as the bombing of the Beirut Shi'ite neighborhood of Dahiyeh - backed the prime minister in the early days of the campaign. Associates have dismissed as nonsense some media reports that Livni was waiting in the wings and planning a putsch within Kadima if Olmert was severely criticized. However, Internal Security Minister Avi Dichter and MK Shai Hermesh, both of Kadima, have talked openly about supporting Livni's effort to replace Olmert if he is forced to quit. Hermesh met recently with Dichter, and said they discussed Kadima but not replacing Olmert. "If Olmert makes it through Winograd, no one will tell him to go home," Hermesh said. "As far as I know, no one in Kadima is currently working against him. But if Winograd has teeth, we cannot remain without a leader." "The party is thinking about the day after" Winograd, Kadima MK Marina Solodkin said. She said she had discussed the post-Olmert era with both Livni and Transportation Minister Shaul Mofaz, but denied reports in the Hebrew press that Livni had already offered her the Immigrant Absorption portfolio in her prospective government. Shas MK Nissim Ze'ev said his party would have no problem serving in a Livni-led government, as long as she would not adopt anti-haredi policies. "We can be part of any coalition that agrees with the ideas of Shas, no matter who would be prime minister," he said. "I don't see a problem with a woman being prime minister or president. It's not like Livni is running for chief rabbi. The prime minister and the president don't have to decide matters of Halacha, so it doesn't make a difference whether they are a man or a woman." The Likud will hold protests around the country on Friday for a second straight week calling for Olmert's resignation under the banner: "You failed, go home!" Likud chairman Binyamin Netanyahu's aides instructed the party's MKs to avoid speaking about the Winograd report until it comes out and they read it. "I don't know how long the government will last, but it's the public's desire to bring about new elections," Netanyahu told party activists at the launching of the new Likud Anglo division on Thursday. "There cannot be such a dissonance between public desire and parliamentary behavior." National Religious Party chairman Zevulun Orlev has asked Knesset Speaker Dalia Itzik to convene a special Knesset session on Tuesday to address the report.