Prime Minister Ehud Olmert on Monday named retired judge Eliahu Winograd as head of the committee probing the war in Lebanon, as the torturous road to the establishment of this committee took another unexpected turn. Winograd's appointment, as well as the appointments of the other four members of the government's investigation committee, are to be brought before the cabinet on Sunday for approval, three weeks after Olmert announced the establishment of three lesser committees to probe the war rather than one state commission of inquiry.
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The naming of Winograd came amid increasing calls by senior members of his own party - Transportation Minister Shaul Mofaz and Justice Minister Meir Sheetrit - for a full-blown state commission of inquiry. The appointment also came two days after 30,000 people rallied in Tel Aviv for the same.
The government committee, though it has greater powers than any of the three committees Olmert first envisioned, is still a step down from a state commission of inquiry.
Winograd will replace former Mossad head Nahum Admoni as head of the committee. Attorney-General Menahem Mazuz on Sunday approved the appointment of Admoni even though Olmert personally named Admoni's wife to three separate civil service positions in the past. Nevertheless, Olmert now chose to have Winograd head the committee rather than Admoni.
Mazuz approved Winograd's appointment. Winograd is a veteran of a number of previous investigative committees.
One of the main differences between this committee and a state commission of inquiry is that the latter is appointed by a supreme court judge while the former is named by Olmert.
In addition to Winograd and Admoni, the committee is also expected to include Prof. Yehezkel Dror and Prof. Ruth Gavison. Another member is expected to be named by Sunday.
A statement put out by the Prime Minister's Office said the committee will investigate both the political and military echelons. Olmert originally wanted one committee to look at the military echelon, another at the political echelon and the state comptroller to look at the home front's preparedness for the war.
Like a state commission of inquiry, the government committee will have the ability to subpoena witnesses and grant immunity for witnesses from possible prosecutions rising from their testimonies.
Meanwhile, Shas ministers decided Monday to support Olmert's initiative to appoint an inquiry committee to investigate political and military management of the Lebanon offensive instead of a full-fledged state commission of inquiry. Though it would fall short of meeting grassroots demands for a full-fledged state commission of inquiry, it might succeed in convincing the public that a serious inquiry is being conducted.
Olmert has argued that a wider state inquiry would end up paralyzing both the IDF and the government as those politicians and military personnel implicated in the investigation divert all their time and energy to self-defense.
Sources close to Shas said the party would do everything in its power to maintain the stability of the coalition and therefore would continue to support the prime minister in his opposition to a state inquiry commission.
"Eli [Yishai] has made it clear to us privately that his primary goal is to keep a low profile and help make this coalition work," said the source.
In contrast, Labor, another coalition member, has called openly to establish a state inquiry commission. Against his will, Defense Minister Amir Peretz adopted the position due to pressure from within his party.
"Unlike Labor, which is in the throes of a power struggle for leadership, Shas has an undisputed chairman," said the source.
Industry, Trade and Labor Minister Eli Yishai's spokesman said a committee with beefed up prerogatives would sidestep the problems that arose after Olmert appointed the Admoni commission. Two members of the Admoni commission, Adm. (res.) Yedidya Ya'ari and Maj.-Gen. (res.) David Ivri, were disqualified by Attorney-General Menahem Mazuz due to conflicts of interests.
"Shas's position has not changed," said the spokesman. "From the very beginning, we supported a quick and thorough investigation that would help to prepare for the next war. The Admoni commission appears to be ineffective, so we need something better."