By Mohammed Mar’i
RAMALLAH, West Bank – Israel had decided to go to war with Lebanon months before the capture of two Israeli soldiers in July last year by Hezbollah fighters, Prime Minister Ehud Olmert told a judicial inquiry.
Israeli daily Haaretz reported yesterday that Olmert testified before the Winograd Commission, which is investigating last summer’s Lebanon war, on Feb. 1, and its questions focused on three basic issues: the circumstances surrounding Amir Peretz’s appointment as Israel defense minister; how and why the decision was made to go to war on July 12, several hours after two Israeli soldiers were abducted by Hezbollah on the northern border; and why Olmert decided to carry out a large-scale ground operation in Lebanon, 48 hours before the cease-fire, in which 33 soldiers were killed.
In his testimony, Olmert said he had held more meetings on the situation in Lebanon than any of his recent predecessors. The first meeting was held Jan. 8, 2006, four days after Olmert was called to take the place of Ariel Sharon, who had fallen into a coma. Further meetings were held in March, April, May and July.
In a meeting in March, Olmert asked army commanders whether operational plans existed to respond to a situation where Israeli soldiers were captured. The commanders said yes.
He asked to see the plans, and the commanders asked why. Olmert said he responded that he did not want to make a snap decision in the case of a capture, and preferred to decide at that moment. Presented with the options, Olmert testified that he selected a plan that included air attacks accompanied by a limited ground operation.
The Winograd Commission asked Olmert what he thought his predecessor would have done. Olmert said that following Hezbollah’s failed November 2005 attempt to capture Israeli soldiers in the border village of Ghajar, Sharon ordered the army to prepare a “list of targets” for a military response in Lebanon.
The list included an air attack on the long-range Fajr and Zilzal rockets, which were destroyed in an air raid the first night of the war. Sharon said at the time that the status quo, of ongoing Hezbollah raids, could not continue. Olmert told the commission that he behaved as Sharon would have.
Regarding the decision to broaden the ground operation toward the end of the war, Olmert said he had wanted to influence UN Security Council deliberations so that the draft resolution 1701, calling for a cease-fire, would be amended in Israel’s favor.
Olmert said that the on morning he made the move, he had received a draft reflecting the French-Lebanese stance, which did not suit Israel. The expanded operation was aimed at pressuring the Security Council members, he said.
(ArabNews.com, March 9, 2007)