Olmert decides against convening 'forum of seven'

When the escalation in the North began last Wednesday, Prime Minister Ehud Olmert asked the cabinet to approve the formation of a new seven-member mini-cabinet. The new "forum of seven" includes Olmert, Defense Minister Amir Peretz, Vice Prime Minister Shimon Peres, Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni, Transportation Minister Shaul Mofaz, Internal Security Minister Avi Dichter and Industry, Trade and Labor Minister Eli Yishai. It became the third decision-making body along with the 25-member cabinet and 15-member diplomatic-security cabinet. The purpose of the new forum was to approve specific targets in Lebanon and the Gaza Strip and to avoid leaks to the press that could be expected from the security cabinet, which includes ministers who have a reputation of being excessively talkative with the press. The forum convened twice - on the Wednesday it was formed and two days later. The ministers were asked to approve a long list of potential targets for the Israel Air Force. In the Friday meeting, the ministers approved a hit on the residential Dachya neighborhood of Beirut where Hizbullah leader Sheikh Hassan Nasrallah was believed to be hiding. Livni and Dichter voted against the list. Asked why Olmert convened the security cabinet and not the forum of seven on Wednesday, a senior official in the Prime Minister's Office said the IAF had not yet completed targeting the sites on the list approved Friday. The official said there was no need for a smaller forum because the meeting was on diplomatic issues. There have not been any close votes in any of the three bodies. Sources in the cabinet said the most important decisions were actually made in an even smaller group that usually included just Olmert, Peretz and Livni before they were brought for a vote in the cabinet or the diplomatic-security cabinet. The one forum that has not met since the formation of the government is former prime minister Ariel Sharon's ranch forum of advisers, which made many key decisions during Sharon's tenure. That forum was criticized for being undemocratic, because its members were not elected and it did not contain any women.