Olmert: I have no regrets about the war

At Herzliya Conference, PM pledges to both continue fighting terror in Gaza and negotiating with PA.

Olmert Herzliya 224.88 (photo credit: GPO)
Olmert Herzliya 224.88
(photo credit: GPO)
With passions from the Second Lebanon War rising in advance of next week's release of the final Winograd Committee Report, Prime Minister Ehud Olmert said Wednesday night he had nothing to apologize for regarding the management of that conflict. Olmert, speaking at the closing dinner of the Herzliya Conference at the Daniel Hotel in Herzliya, said that "in the ultimate accounting, after weighing all the events, the disappointments, the failure, the accomplishments and victories, I am not sorry about the critical decisions I made as prime minister - neither those related to the fighting in Lebanon, nor those related to other events." Admitting that there were mistakes and failures, Olmert said, "Lessons were drawn, mistakes corrected, patterns of behavior changed and most importantly, the decisions we have made since then have brought greater security, more quiet, less terror, more deterrence and more flourishing and success for the State of Israel than it has had in many years." Olmert directly addressed those IDF reservists, including 50 company commanders, who signed a letter this week calling on him to resign, saying that he admired those who had fought and sacrificed in the war and that he did "not blame them for the criticism, reservations and protests that they express." Straying from his prepared text, he distanced himself from quotes in Yediot Aharonot on Wednesday attributed to one of his confidants, who said that if the company commanders who signed the letter had spent as much effort in the war as they have in fighting Olmert, Israel's situation would have been much better. "I would like to add, from the bottom of my heart - I appreciate and respect the determination and courage, the sacrifice and willingness of our fighters, both regular and reserve, soldiers and officers alike, company commanders and regiment commanders. And if anyone posed as my 'confidant' and said otherwise, he is not my confidant," the prime minister said. Olmert said that while Hizbullah has rearmed since the war and now had more rockets and missiles than it did before the campaign, Israel has reestablished its deterrence, and neither Hizbullah nor other players in the North were now in a hurry to fight Israel. Furthermore, Olmert said, the North had experienced a period of peace and quiet over the last 18 months that it has not known for the past 25 years. The same, however, could not be said of the South, and Olmert said he would keep up Israel's current actions against the Gaza Strip, while reiterating that he would not allow the outbreak of a humanitarian crisis there. "We will continue to strike at the terrorist leaders in the Gaza Strip and will not hesitate to influence the quality of life of its residents," he said, adding that Defense Minister Ehud Barak's decisions there had been made "with my full agreement and consent." Olmert said there was "no justification or basis to demand that we allow the residents of Gaza to live normal lives while mortars are fired and missiles are launched from their streets and the courtyards of their homes toward Sderot and the communities in the South. Does anyone seriously believe that while children here wet their beds at night from fear and are afraid to leave their homes, they will live lives of quiet routine?" At the same time, Olmert said he would push forward in the negotiations with the Palestinians. "There is not, nor will there be, any political, party or personal consideration that will deflect me from the effort of reaching a political arrangement with the Palestinian Authority. I am familiar with all the arguments against negotiations: those which are anchored entirely in personal or party needs and those - although I do not agree with them - which are explained by public considerations that are deserving of discussion," he said. The prime minister said that while he could not guarantee that a diplomatic agreement would be reached with the PA during 2008, "we are doing everything in our power to achieve one." "There are endless arguments [for] why not to invest in the attempt, why the chances are slim, why the dangers are great. I am aware of this. I am familiar with these arguments, excuses and interpretations - and yet, I am fully determined to continue ahead," he said. "We have no other way but to conduct peace talks. We have no more promising horizon of hope than the chance to hold dialogue with the present Palestinian leadership." Relating to his political opponents, to whom he referred as "those swooping in with insatiable political lust on the blood of our sons," Olmert said that the people know "who speaks the truth and who does not. [They] know who speaks from the heart and who speaks out of insatiable lust for authority and power."