Prime Minister Ehud Olmert did not respond on Tuesday to the Winograd Committee's announcement that it intends to publish personal conclusions about him in its interim report, nor did Defense Minister Amir Peretz or former Israel Defense Forces chief of staff Dan Halutz.
The Prime Minister's Office said, "We'll wait for the conclusions, period."
The announcement revealed there would be no letters of warning, and senior officials would not be given the right to present their arguments before the interim report is published. Under such circumstances, the officials will not be able to ask the committee to view its protocols and documents. According to the Prime Minister' Office, Olmert does not intend to instruct his attorney to ask the committee for documents.
Government sources said Tuesday that, based on the announcement, they believed the committee would not call for Olmert or Peretz's dismissal, and would focus its criticism on the decisions made prior to going to war in the North. The sources said that if the committee wanted to call on Olmert or Peretz to resign, it would have issued letters of warning and given them a chance to rebut.
The sources said they wonder why the committee announcement only addressed personal conclusions against Olmert, Peretz and Halutz. "Where is the personal responsibility of their predecessors?" said one of the sources. "And that of the government as a whole, which made unanimous decisions? It's true that Olmert is responsible, but the government also has overall responsibility as a cabinet body. And where is the GOC Northern Command? And the General Staff branch heads?"
While on a trip to Washington, Peretz refused to respond to the announcement. Likewise, Halutz, who commanded the IDF during the war, did not issue a response.
Nonetheless, his associates said that the fact that he has already resigned has made him less vulnerable to the committee's conclusions.
"He differentiates between blame and responsibility," said one of Halutz's friends, Ran Pekker. "Halutz took responsibility, but does not accept the blame. He decided to leave of his own accord and is at peace with his decision."
Halutz will be in the United States in April, when the Winograd Committee is expected to publish its interim report. He is leaving in 10 days for two months of studies in the U.S.
War probe panel's report to include conclusions on personal failures of Olmert, Peretz, Halutz
The Winograd Committee's interim report will be published in the second half of April and will include personal conclusions regarding Olmert, Peretz and Halutz, the committee announced on Tuesday in a press statement.
It also said that the interim report would be confined to the first five days of the war.
The committee decided to issue the press statement - its first since it began work in September - in order to dispel uncertainty over its timetable and intentions, compounded by a spate of what it termed "baseless" media "conjectures [and] guesses." Among others, these included media reports that the interim document would be published in late March.
The interim report will include both a classified section, to be given only to the prime and defense ministers, and an unclassified section, which will be available to the public. It will include four chapters.
The first will discuss the general principles guiding the committee's work, and the second will explain why the committee believes it is possible to publish personal conclusions regarding Olmert, Peretz and Halutz without sending them warning letters. The third will analyze the period leading up to the war, starting with the IDF's withdrawal from Lebanon in 2000. It will include general conclusions about the behavior of the army and successive governments during this period, and may criticize Israel's responses to periodic Hezbollah attacks during those years.
The last, and most important, chapter will analyze the decision to go to war and the first five days of the fighting, through Olmert's speech to the Knesset on July 17. The committee evidently views this speech as the moment when the final decision was made to conduct a large-scale operation rather than a limited reprisal. In it, Olmert defined the war's goals as the return of the two soldiers kidnapped by Hezbollah on July 12, Hezbollah's removal from the border region and the Lebanese army's deployment in south Lebanon. He then declared: "We will continue without hesitation, without concessions and without fear until we achieve our goals."
The interim report will not address anything that happened after July 17, meaning that most of the war's main events - military tactics, diplomatic moves, home front defense and the large-scale ground offensive of the final two days - will not be included. It will therefore presumably not include personal conclusions about any senior army officers except Halutz.
In addition to analyzing what happened, this chapter will also include recommendations for solving the systemic problems identified by the committee and personal conclusions regarding "the responsibility of the prime minister, the defense minister and the former chief of staff for the decisions leading up to the beginning of the campaign and the manner in which they were made," in the statement's words.
The committee said that it decided to devote the interim report to the start of the war for two reasons. First, a decision to go to war is extremely important, and this decision to a large extent determined what followed. Second, it attaches great importance to speedy implementation of its recommendations regarding these first few days.
However, it added, its conclusions about this early period do not necessarily reflect its view of the entire campaign.
The statement did not reveal when the final report would be published, but did outline its contents: an analysis of the war's various stages, including the cease-fire agreement and the major offensive of the last two days; the IDF's preparedness for war; the training of army officers; relations between the army and the government, and the handling of the home front. The latter section will be coordinated with the state comptroller, who is currently preparing a major report on this issue.
The final report will also include a chapter on "the general ethos of Israeli society and how it is connected to the challenges the state faces."
The statement also announced that the committee would soon launch a Web site on which protocols of its hearings will be published, and urged anyone with information about the war to give it to the committee.
Anti-Lebanon war groups welcome Winograd Committee's 'personal conclusions'Organizations that led the protests against the government's conduct of last summer's war in Lebanon, such as the Reservists' Forum and the Movement for Quality Government in Israel, welcomed the Winograd Committee's announcement on Tuesday that its interim report would include personal conclusions about senior officials.
However, they added, they are withholding final judgment until they see whether the report lives up to this promise.
"I'm still suspicious of this committee, which was appointed 'on behalf of' [the government]," explained David Einhorn, whose son Yehonatan died in the war. "We'll have to wait for the conclusions and see what is in the report and, more importantly, what isn't."
In contrast, the families of the two soldiers whose abduction started the war, Ehud Goldwasser and Eldad Regev, declined to comment on the committee's statement.
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