Olmert: We knew home front was not prepared

Olmert says government nonetheless believed it had to launch a military campaign against Hizbullah.

nahariya runs for cover (photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski)
nahariya runs for cover
(photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski)
The government knew the home front was not fully prepared for missile bombardments by Hizbullah, but believed it had no choice but to launch a military campaign after the abduction of two soldiers and the killing of eight others, Prime Minister Ehud Olmert told the Knesset State Control Committee on Monday. The session was the last in a series of 11 meetings held by the committee to study the report by State Comptroller Micha Lindenstrauss on the government's handling of the home front after the withdrawal from southern Lebanon in 2000 and during the Second Lebanon War in 2006. "The government's decision [to launch a campaign against Hizbullah] was taken with the clear knowledge that the situation in the home front was not perfect," Olmert said. "We ordered the Defense Ministry to take full responsibility for its protection." Olmert made it clear he did not intend to build masses of bomb shelters in anticipation of another war. "This government is not taking action to shelter Israel up to the gills," he said. If the government took into account all the potential threats against the country and what it would require to provide shelters to meet them, he added, "the result would be intolerable. We do not have the intention or the ability, and it would also not be justified to do such a thing. We must assume in advance that we face threats regarding which our ability to provide an optimal response by way of shelters is limited." During the war, he said, the existing shelters did protect the civilian population. Olmert also rejected the state comptroller's claim that the first time the government met to hold a full discussion about the situation in the home front was July 30, 18 days after the fighting began. Within days of the fighting, he said, most of the ministers visited the North to see the situation for themselves and offer help. Olmert's right-hand man, Prime Minister's Office director-general Ra'anan Dinur, said Lindenstrauss's facts were incorrect. The government had discussed the home front in each of the five meetings it held during the war, he said, including the first one on July 12. Forums of ministry directors-general frequently met among themselves to solve problems, he added. The committee, which had prepared a series of eight questions for Olmert and Dinur, wanted to know why the government had not established a body to coordinate among all the government agencies involved in servicing the home front. Dinur said the Olmert government had been in power for only two months when the war broke out. Not a single government since the first Gulf War had appointed such a body, he said, even though various governments had passed several resolutions putting the Public Security Ministry in overall charge. Olmert and Dinur were also asked why the government did not put into effect Melah, a program to run the country on an emergency footing during the war. According to the program, among other things, Melah would have provided emergency food supplies to the North. Olmert replied that the situation in Israel did not warrant putting Melah into operation. The country did not lack food supplies, transportation was running smoothly and most of the country was not even under attack, he said. Another subject that was raised was the question of whether the government had called up enough reservists from Home Front Command to help the local authorities, some of which could not handle the emergency. Olmert said the government had agreed to every request for manpower forwarded by Home Front Command. It had even asked Home Front Command on its own initiative whether it needed additional reservists and had been told that it did not. Finally, Olmert rejected the charges that the government had not helped the civilian population get away from the fighting, either for the duration of the war or, at least, for a brief respite. He said the government had evacuated the old, the disabled and the children, and had arranged for holidays for 140,000 northern residents, largely at its own expense. But rest and recreation was one thing, evacuation something altogether different, he said. "We discussed several times the question of evacuating communities," Olmert said. "The answer was unequivocally 'no.' We are not a country that runs away. This is not a trivial matter. It is one thing if the enemy zeroes in on a neighborhood or group of houses. But between that and evacuating all the population in the North, the latter is out of the question." In his summary of the discussions on the State Comptroller's Report, committee chairman Zevulun Orlev (NU-NRP) wrote, "The overall picture of the home front that emerges from the report is a harsh and grave one, of many citizens who suffered harm and felt abandoned without a government to take care of them."