Politicians take aim at Olmert

PM: The morale is lower than we wanted it to be but everything will be alright.

Even before the cease-fire in Lebanon took effect on Monday morning, Prime Minister Ehud Olmert's political foes started firing upon the prime minister with calls for a state commission of inquiry to investigate the war that ended and a national-unity government to prepare for "the next war." Preparations are already underway for three separate commissions of inquiry: An IDF team will be formed by Defense Minister Amir Peretz, State Comptroller Micha Lindenstrauss will examine preparations for the war in the home front and the Knesset Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee will form a parliamentary probe. Olmert's associates said the prime minister was not concerned about those three commissions but that he was worried a serious state commission of inquiry could be formed like the Orr commission that investigated former prime minister Ehud Barak. "No one is in favor of a state commission of inquiry," a source close to the prime minister said. "But Olmert is not in trouble. The morale is lower than we wanted it to be but everything will be alright." Amid fears of such a commission, Knesset Speaker Dalia Itzik (Kadima) called for a national unity government to be formed with the Likud. Itzik raised the issue in a secret meeting with Likud leader Binyamin Netanyahu at a Jerusalem hotel on Sunday night. She told Netanyahu she was not acting on behalf of the prime minister. Olmert's associates said he was not happy with her invitation to Netanyahu, because it made the prime minister look desperate at a time when there was no danger to his coalition. They said the possibility of expanding the government had not even been discussed while the prime minister was busy with the war and the issue would not be raised until next week at the earliest. A spokesman for Itzik said she had initiated the meeting because she believed the war in Lebanon would restart shortly and that national unity was needed to confront the war. In a speech to the Knesset, Itzik tied her call for the coalition's expansion to the commissions of inquiry being formed. "Mr. Prime Minister, establish a national emergency government that will determine the mistakes we made for years that led to this war," Itzik said. "This [new] government must prepare us for the next war. This government will express the consensus among the people over our just execution of this war. This is the national call to readiness of us all." Netanyahu told Itzik that such a government should have been established before the operations in Lebanon began. He said his differences of opinion with Olmert were too stark to unite in one government. Israel Beiteinu leader Avigdor Lieberman, who was reported to have talked with Kadima officials, said he could not join the government unless Olmert would formally abandon his West Bank realignment plan. In a Labor faction meeting, Labor MKs urged Amir Peretz to demand that the party be given the Welfare portfolio while it was still available. Labor MK Ami Ayalon warned Peretz not to allow the IDF to be blamed for any mistakes made during the war. Peretz said he would assign a task force to investigate the IDF's conduct during the war in Lebanon and their preparedness before the war. "As defense minister, I intend to appoint a team that will conduct an intensive, comprehensive investigation of all the events leading up to the war and during the war," Peretz said. Despite Peretz's pledge, voices from both the Right and Left called for establishing a formal investigative committee that would examine the government's performance during the fighting in Lebanon. Meretz Chairman Yossi Beilin called for the establishment of a committee to investigate the events of the war. Beilin said there were serious questions to be asked about the preparedness of the home front and how decisions were made leading up to the war. The questions, he said, were "whether it was possible to prevent the kidnapping of the soldiers, whether the 'Pandora's Box' of Lebanon had to be opened and whether it was possible to reach a deal with Syria and avoid the Hizbullah threat." Beilin added that shelters had not been built in Arab communities, that the needy had been neglected and that the war had deepened social divisions. MK Benny Elon (National Union) said, "An investigative committee was needed, even if personal conclusions had to be drawn." According to Elon, "An investigation would have to scrutinize the political and military echelons in their handling of the war both on the frontlines and on the home front." "Since 2001, the government has had contingency plans for dealing with a war emergency on the home front, including housing arrangements for residents of the North, but not a single government office bothered to implement these plans," Elon said. Justice Minister Haim Ramon rejected calls to launch investigative commissions. According to Ramon, who spoke with Israel Radio, "Obviously conclusions have to be drawn after war. However, a judicial committee is not the way to go since it is just a code name for a witch-hunt." "History shows that a judicial committee does not seek long-term solutions and implementations but rather focuses on the personal level," Ramon said. He admitted, however, that "not everything was done absolutely right."