Olmert: Lebanon op already a success

"Every day that passes is one that IDF forces minimize Hizbullah's power."

Olmert speeks 298.88 (photo credit: Channel 10)
Olmert speeks 298.88
(photo credit: Channel 10)
With fighting still raging in the North, Prime Minister Ehud Olmert all but declared victory Tuesday night, saying the military operation had already led to a dramatic change in the region. If the fighting were to end today, Olmert said at a graduation ceremony at the National Security College in Glilot, near Tel Aviv, "it would be possible to say with certainty that the face of the Middle East has changed as a result of this great Israeli achievement." It was the second nationally broadcast speech on the war that Olmert has made in as many days. He said that the decision to embark on this war showed Hizbullah and its patrons that Israel was not willing to live under the threat of missile attacks. "Three weeks ago, Israel decided it would no longer live under this cloud of threat, and would deal with it with courage and determination," he said. "This very decision and the demonstration of national unity and the country's determination and the courage of the soldiers changed the face of things. And that change will leave its imprint on the Middle East for many years." With that, however, Olmert seemed to be lowering the country's expectations as to the outcome of the war, saying that neither he, Defense Minister Amir Peretz nor the IDF General Staff ever promised that Israel would completely eradicate the missile threat from Lebanon. "Nobody could promise something like that," he said, adding that there are missiles with a 2,500-km. range. "We never thought nor planned to get to that range, nor to get to every point and position. And even if we did it in Lebanon, there are states that neighbor Lebanon with longer-range missiles." But, Olmert said, it was now clear that those who fire the missiles "will never dare to create the type of friction that would bring about the kind of confrontation that would cause this type of fire," because they know the high cost that will be extracted. "Israel is succeeding in this battle, and is gaining unprecedented achievements," he said. Olmert, again deflecting criticism that the operation has not brought about enough tangible achievements, repeated what he said a day earlier about Hizbullah's capacity having been severely curtailed. "Twenty-one days later that threat is not what it was," he said of Hizbullah. "Never again will it be able to threaten this country that it will fire rockets at it, because this people dealt with the missiles and beat them. It is impossible to say to the Israeli public, 'Give up, surrender, bend down because, God forbid, someone will threaten you with missiles.'" Regarding the diplomatic process that has now moved to the UN, Olmert said that it would in the end produce a cease-fire "under entirely different conditions than before" and that it will include an international force that will serve as a buffer between Israel and its enemies to the north. As to why he is not agreeing to an immediate cease-fire, Olmert said, "Every additional day is one that erodes the power of this cruel enemy. Every additional day, the Israeli army reduces their endurance, their ability to fire and also their ability to strike in the future." He said Israel would "agree to a cease-fire once we know with certainty the conditions in the field will be different than those that led to the eruption of this war."