Olmert: 'We'll fight until troops are freed'

Olmert: "Our answer will be war at full strength, with all determination."

Olmert speaks 298.88 (photo credit: AP [file])
Olmert speaks 298.88
(photo credit: AP [file])
On the sixth day of fighting, with rockets slamming into Haifa and hundreds of thousands of Israelis spending long hours in bomb shelters and safe-rooms, Prime Minister Ehud Olmert addressed the nation Monday and said "enough!" "There are moments in the life of a nation, when it is compelled to look directly into the face of reality and say: no more!" Olmert said in a speech in the Knesset plenum Monday evening. "And I say to everyone: no more! Israel will not be held hostage - not by terror gangs or by a terrorist authority or by any sovereign state." Olmert, in a speech full of emotional flourishes, said Israel was fighting for nothing less than "everything that everyone in the enlightened world takes for granted and never imagined that they would have to fight for - the right to a normal life." "It is a difficult battle," Olmert said. "It may become even more difficult. It is a painful test, and we may have to bear more suffering. Such a battle is never easy. It is strewn with pain and suffering, sacrifice, and casualties. But, we have no intention of giving up our desire to live a normal life. We will not apologize for this desire, and we do not need anyone's approval to defend ourselves." Olmert spelled out the four gorals of the military operations: The return of the abducted Israeli soldiers, a complete cease fire, deployment of the Lebanese army in all of southern Lebanon, expulsion of Hizbullah from the area, and fulfillment of United Nations Resolution 1559. On the Palestinian front, he added, "we will conduct a tireless battle until terror ceases, Gilad Shalit is returned home safely and the shooting of Kassam missiles stops." With diplomatic efforts gaining traction to try and bring about a cease fire, a high-level UN delegation arrived Monday night and European leaders are holding talks in Beirut, Olmert said that Israel would "continue to operate in full force" until its goals are achieved. "We will not suspend our actions," he said. Although Olmert spoke of Syria's involvement in terrorism at a press conference soon after Hizbullah attack in the north last Wednesday, this was the first time he tied Iran to the current situation. "The campaign we are engaged in these days is against the terror organizations operating from Lebanon and Gaza," he said. "These organizations are nothing but 'sub-contractors' operating under the inspiration, permission, instigation and financing of the terror sponsoring and peace-rejecting regimes, on the Axis of Evil which stretches from Tehran to Damascus." Olmert said that Iran and Syria were meddling, from afar, "in the affairs of Lebanon and the Palestinian Authority, through Hizbullah and Hamas." "We are at a national moment of truth," he said. "Will we consent to living under the threat of this Axis of Evil or will we mobilize our inner strength and show determination and equanimity? Our answer is clear to every Israeli, and it echoes today throughout the entire region." Using an almost Kennedy-like rhetorical cadence, Olmert said, "We will search every compound, target every terrorist who assists in attacking the citizens of Israel, and destroy every terrorist infrastructure, everywhere." Olmert, in addition to praising the resolve of the nation, also praised the responsibility of the opposition. "In the life of a nation there are moments of transcendence, of purification, when political and sectarian disputes which separate us are replaced by a sense of mutual responsibility. I highly value and appreciate the way the Opposition has been conducting itself in the Knesset these days. The human competition and personal rivalries are dissolved and instead our feeling of mutual responsibility arises, our sense of partnership, and primarily, our eternal love for our people and our land." His speech was not punctuated by heckling from the backbenches. In a speech that was obviously written with the intent of both inspiring and motivating a nation in battle, Olmert said, "We seek neither war nor direct confrontation, but we will not be deterred from them when the need arises. Only a nation that can defend its freedom truly deserves it. We are entitled to our freedom, and when necessary, we know how to fight for it and defend it." He said that government of Israel derived strength from the stamina of the Israeli public. "We are a brave and determined nation. I am proud today - perhaps more than ever before - to be an Israeli citizen." Addressing the families of the three abducted soldiers, Gilad Shalit, Ehud Goldwasser and Eldad Regev, Olmert said their pictures are in his office, and their fate always in his mind. Reflecting his position that Israel would not negotiate a prisoner swap for their release, he said Israel would do everything it could to bring them home. But, he said, "We will do this, but not in a pattern that will encourage more kidnappings." "The place I am in compels me, ultimately, to make fateful decisions, for life, and sometimes even for death," he said. Olmert concluded by quoting from the book of Jeremiah, where the matriarch Rachel weeps as the People of Israel are being led into exile. "Thus said God: restrain your voice from weeping and your eyes from tears; for there is reward for your accomplishment - the word of God - and they will return from the enemy's land." Opposition Leader Binyamin Netanyahu followed Olmert to the podium and gave what many MKs called a "more militant" and strongly worded speech on the need for Israel to defend itself. Building on the show of support that most of the opposition parties have displayed for the prime minister since the crises began, Netanyahu promised that "as long as the government continues on their current path we will support them." The prime minister must "not do half a job, he must finish the job" against Hizbullah, said Netanyahu. "Israel must learn their lesson this time - a decisive victory without concessions to eliminate Hizbullah once and for all." "Israel will win this war because the nation of Israel is united around the IDF and the defense forces," said Netanyahu. "We will defeat Hizbullah because our cause is just... our spirit is not broken." Inside the Knesset, more than 50 local leaders from northern communities targeted in the attacks gathered to hear Olmert's speech. The leaders arrived at the invitation of Knesset Speaker Dalia Itzik, and met with MKs following Olmert's speech to discuss their concerns. Outside the Knesset, left-wing protesters demonstrated against the IDF operations. Protesters carried banners that read, "Children in Beirut and in the north want to live," and "Stop the bloodshed." Many of these protesters also took part in a protest Sunday in Tel Aviv. Sheera Claire Frenkel contributed to this report