Olmert rejects blame for war failures

PM testifies before Winograd C'tee for 7 hrs; says war decisions reasonable.

jp.services2 (photo credit: )
(photo credit: )
Israel made significant achievements during last summer's war in Lebanon, Prime Minister Ehud Olmert told the Winograd Committee on Thursday, saying that while the country did not win the war in the way many wanted to see, it did not lose it either. Olmert was the 77th witness to testify before the panel that he set up and which started its investigation into the handling of the war three months ago. The committee, headed by former Tel Aviv District judge Eliyahu Winograd, is expected to release an interim report in about a month‚ and Olmert was the last to testify before the panel begins writing that report. According to Olmert's office, the prime minister testified for about 61⁄2 hours in an atmosphere that was described as "matter of fact." The committee's proceedings are taking place in Ramat Aviv. The questions centered around three main topics: the initial decision on July 12 to go to war with Hizbullah following the kidnapping of reservists Ehud Goldwasser and Eldad Regev, breaking with the policy of relative restraint that had been the norm since Israel withdrew from Lebanon in 2000; the decision on August 9 to give the initial okay for a larger ground operation; and the decision at the end of the war to launch a major ground offensive, even as the Security Council was discussing a draft cease-fire resolution. Olmert's aides said the prime minister took responsibility for the decisions that were made and did not engage in "finger-pointing." He described for the committee the available information, upon which the decisions were based, and reportedly said that considering the circumstances, the decisions he took during the war were reasonable. He told the committee that while there was a great deal of focus on what Israel didn't do during the war, people were ignoring that Hizbullah took a significant hit during the fighting and had been in a "problematic situation" since then. Olmert reportedly brought some 150 pages of documentation with him, but he did not often refer to them, testifying for the most part from memory. In recent days he has huddled intensively with his lawyer Eli Zohar and chief of staff Yoram Turbowicz, reviewing the events of the summer and going over the minutes of cabinet, security cabinet, and high level security consultations. The committee reportedly asked Olmert a number of questions regarding the execution of the war, as well as decisions he made beforehand, such as appointing Amir Peretz as defense minister. He was also asked about the damage done to Lebanese and Hizbullah infrastructure, the preparedness of the home front, the information and diplomatic efforts during the war, and the kidnapped soldiers.