There is no certainty that the Winograd Committee's interim report will not include conclusions against the political and military leadership, members of the committee probing the shortcomings of the summer's war in Lebanon said Friday morning, Army Radio reported. On Thursday, Channel 2 reported that the committee's interim report would not include criticisms of specific individuals, but would concentrate on the government and IDF's actions in the North from the IDF's withdrawal from Lebanon in 2000 to the decision to go to war in July 2006. Meanwhile, MK Effi Eitam (NRP-NU), who gave testimony to the Winograd Committee, told Army Radio on Friday morning that whether or not the committee's interim report includes conclusions against specific individuals, Prime Minister Ehud Olmert and Defense Minister Amir Peretz must both resign immediately. "Conclusions against specific individuals are not necessary," said Eitam. "I suggest that Olmert and Peretz adopt the norm adopted by the IDF leaders and quit." Despite the reported absence of personal criticisms from the interim report, which is scheduled to be released on March 27, Channel 2 said that the final report by the committee, due to be released in July, is set to include "harsh criticism" of Olmert, Peretz, former chief of general staff Lt.-Gen. Dan Halutz, and former head of the Northern Command Maj.-Gen. Udi Adam. The Channel 2 report came hot on the heels of a report in Ha'aretz Thursday morning saying that Olmert told the Winograd Committee that as early as March 2006, a decision was made to respond to any kidnapping of soldiers with a wide-scale military operation. This was four months before reservists Ehud Goldwasser and Eldad Regev were kidnapped, as a result of which Israel went to war in Lebanon. The Prime Minister's Office would not comment on the reports. "We are not going to respond until the committee publishes its findings," one official in Olmert's office said Thursday evening.
Steinitz 'surprised' by PM's remarks
Channel 2 said that no warning letters would be sent out before the release of the interim report to any of those who may be incriminated by the committee's final findings.
Nevertheless, the official said that cabinet secretary Yisrael Maimon had said publicly in the past that there were prior discussions about how to react to a kidnapping long before the war in July.
According to the Ha'aretzstory, Olmert - during more than six hours of testimony on February 1 - was asked about three main issues: the appointment of Peretz as defense minister; the decision to go to war on July 12; and the decision to embark on a wide-scale ground operation just 48 hours before the cease-fire. 33 soldiers were killed during that final ground operation.
Regarding Peretz's appointment, Olmert reportedly said that it was a result of the political configuration at the time. The Defense portfolio was given to Peretz's Labor party, and the party chose the minister.
As to the decision to go to war, Olmert said that he held more meetings on the situation in Lebanon then any of his immediate predecessors, including one that took place only four days after Ariel Sharon suffered his second stroke and went into a deep coma in January 2006. Olmert reportedly testified that during a meeting in March, he asked the IDF for contingency plans in the case of a soldier being abducted.
Olmert reportedly also told the committee what he has said publicly on a number of occasions, that just prior to the war there were discussions with US President George W. Bush, British Prime Minister Tony Blair, and French President Jacques Chirac about the possibility of withdrawing from the Har Dov-Shebaa Farms area in exchange for the implementation of UN Security Council resolution 1559, which called for the dismantling of Lebanese militias and the movement of the Lebanese army to the south.
Regarding the controversial decision to embark on a wide-scale ground incursion just before the cease-fire, Olmert also repeated what he has said on numerous occasions since the war - that this was done to improve the terms of the cease-fire resolution.
Olmert's office said that neither the reports regarding the Winograd Committee, or the recent slew of negative opinion polls, or his bruising battle this week with State Comptroller Micha Lindenstrauss were preventing him from dealing with the country's major issues, including a planned meeting in Jerusalem on Sunday with Palestinian Authority Chairman Mahmoud Abbas.
Officials in Olmert's office said that he would ask Abbas directly why part of the $100 million in tax revenues that Israel transferred to the PA following a previous meeting in December went to pay PA salaries, despite commitments given to Israel that the money would not be used for that purpose.
Israel had insisted, and had tried to set up a transparent mechanism, whereby the money would be used for humanitarian purposes and to help bolster the security services loyal to Abbas, but not to pay salaries - the job of the Hamas-led PA government, which Israel does not want to assist in any way.
While diplomatic officials said that Abbas was coming to Sunday's meeting with Olmert hoping for gestures that would help him in his talks with Hamas about setting up a unity government, it was "extremely unlikely" that Israel would now release any additional funds.