'We exercised restraint in Lebanon war'

Olmert warns that if Lebanon turns into a Hizbullah state, Israel will remove limitations in future war.

state-religion survey 224 (photo credit: )
state-religion survey 224
(photo credit: )
Prime Minister Ehud Olmert sent a stern warning to Beirut on Tuesday, pledging that Israel would not restrain itself if Lebanon sanctioned a new Hizbullah offensive. Although Olmert is engaged in a tough budget battle to scale back on defense spending, he had no problem talking tough on Tuesday during a visit to the IDF Home Front Command headquarters in Ramle. "In the Second Lebanon War we had much greater means and capabilities, which we avoided using since [during that war] we fought against a terror organization and not a country," Olmert said. "In this context, if Lebanon turns into a Hizbullah state, we won't restrain our response." He added that this was true for any nation that attacked Israel. His statements came after the Lebanese parliament overwhelmingly approved a national unity cabinet on August 12, following a five-day debate on a controversial government policy upholding Hizbullah's right to keep its weapons. The vote was part of a deal reached in May by rival Lebanese factions in Qatar that ended an 18-month political stalemate - Lebanon's worst crisis since the end of the 1975-90 civil war. The policy asserts "the right of Lebanon, its people, its army and the resistance [Hizbullah] to liberate its land" occupied by Israel. The deal also gave Hizbullah and its opposition allies veto power over major decisions in the unity government. Olmert said that Israel would conduct any future war with another country in as quick and efficient a manner as possible to maximize the military advantages and to ensure a minimum of losses. The prime minister emphasized that the army did not seek to conquer and keep territory and that Israel would focus on preventing border breaches and on quick and clear decision-making. Should such a war break out, Olmert said, the Home Front Command would play "a more vital role than it ever has in the past." "There will no longer be a situation in which the war is waged in distant battlefields, while in big cities, life continues as normal. The war will also reach cities and the homes of Israeli citizens, and the aim of our enemies will be to hit the home front," he said. "More than ever before, you in the Home Front Command will have a critical role in the battlefield of the future, because you are charged with caring for the civilian population," he declared. He added that if they helped local authorities in their preparations, it would be easier for them to do their jobs in an emergency situation. In spite of his words on the possibility of war in the future, Olmert said that "one of the things that is important to me is to reduce the amount of anxiety the public feels." He said that in the past, from the Gulf War to the Second Lebanon War, thousands of missiles had been lobbed at Israel by its enemies, but the loss of life, in comparison, was minimal. "We do not have to scare ourselves more than necessary with respect to the threats" the country faces, he said, adding that at the end of the day, the imagined threat was worse than the real one. During the visit, Olmert was presented with an assessment of threats to the home front and the available responses. He also attended a Home Front Command exercise and was briefed on the different means at its disposal. At the end of his visit, Olmert thanked IDF Chief of General Staff Lt.-Gen. Gabi Ashkenazi, OC Home Front Command Maj.-Gen. Yair Golan and the Home Front Command soldiers for their assessments and hailed their willingness to implement the recommendations made following the 2006 war. Jerusalem Post staff contributed to this report.