Olmert expected short Lebanon war

Posted in Israel / Palestine | 10-May-07 | Source: Guardian (UK)

Ehud Olmert deflected war criticism on to military commanders.

The Israeli prime minister, Ehud Olmert, expected last summer's Lebanon war to be a limited operation that would last 10 days to two weeks, it emerged today.

According to minutes of his testimony to a government inquiry, the embattled Mr Olmert also told the commission investigating last summer's inconclusive war that he did not think there was "any option" but to strike Lebanese Hizbullah guerrillas immediately after they attacked Israel.

Mr Olmert told the panel he was convinced Hizbullah would fire rockets into Israel's northern communities, and that he had two options: do nothing or do something from the very first minute. "I don't think there was any option but to act from the very first," he told the commission.

Last week the Winograd committee on the war issued a damning appraisal of the wartime performance of Mr Olmert, the defence minister, Amir Peretz, and the then military chief, Lieutenant General Dan Halutz. The partial testimonies of all three men were published today. The conflict, provoked by a July 12 cross-border Hizbullah raid in which three Israeli soldiers were killed and two were captured, lasted 34 days instead of the projected two weeks. About 1,000 Lebanese and 160 Israelis died.

The war was seen by many within Israel and elsewhere as a failure for Mr Olmert's government as it did not achieve the two main goals he set: recovering the soldiers and crushing Hizbullah.

Mr Olmert said there had been something "defective" in the army's "philosophy of command [and] perception of command". The prime minister drew a distinction between the soldiers, who he said had been "exceptional", and their commanders.

"It wasn't a question of guts," he said. "Everyone showed courage in battle. But something in how we operated our forces, something in how we controlled them, wasn't what we had expected - and there is no doubt that this created a gap between what we could achieve and what we actually achieved."

The prime minister added that the foreign minister, Tzipi Livni, who has been tipped as his possible successor, had taken an active part in planning the war. "There were no decisions that were made [on that issue] ... without the foreign minister's participation," Mr Olmert told the committee.

Lt Gen Halutz, who has resigned, told the committee that the army's greatest failure was its inability to bring the war to a swift conclusion. "Without a doubt I recognise that at the end of the day that was the most blatant non-achievement or failure," he said.

The former head of the Israel defence forces also said that "the IDF has turned into a kind of national punching-bag, and it has become more and more popular to beat it".