Peretz-appointed panel suspends investigation into conduct of war
Most defense panel MKs back state inquiry; PM, seeking to stave off state probe into war, slams predecessors for ignoring threat posed by Hezbollah.
The committee appointed by Defense Minister Amir Peretz to investigate the conduct of the war in Lebanon has suspended its work, without giving an official explanation.
It seems, however, that there are two factors contributing to the decision. The first is that there has been no solution to the demand for immunity for senior IDF officers during committee debates, an issue that needs to be settled before the IDF chief of staff permits them to testify.
The second reason is that there is a possibility that a governmental committee will soon be established in place of the Peretz-appointed committee, and it seems that the committee members are waiting for further developments.
The committee, which is headed by former IDF chief of staff Amnon Lipkin Shahak, has faced accusations that it would be ineffective as Lipkin Shahak acted as an advisor to Peretz during the war.
A majority of members of the Knesset Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee support a state inquiry into the failures of the Lebanon war. Those in favor of the probe come from every political party, with the exception of MKs from Prime Minister Ehud Olmert's Kadima.
Committee chairman MK Tzachi Hanegbi, a Kadima lawmaker, prevented the publication of a statement on behalf of the panel calling for a state inquiry, arguing that technically the issue had not been on the agenda for the meeting.
Hanegbi was backed up by the other Kadima representatives on the committee, Otniel Schneller and Shlomo Breznitz.
Among those supporting a state inquiry were Labor lawmakers Danny Yatom, Ami Ayalon, Efraim Sneh and Matan Vilnai, MK Effi Eitam of the National Union-National Religious Party, Yitzhak Aharonishki from Yisrael Beiteinu, Yuval Steinitz of Likud and Ran Cohen from Meretz.
Vilnai expressed enthusiastic support for the inquiry.
"We are in a crisis similar to that after the  Yom Kippur War," he said. "This includes the behavior of the army and intelligence service. The time has come to take the politics out of the military, and it is important that these matters are investigated fully."
The findings of a state inquiry would be made public, with the exception of formally classified military data.
The prime minister is said to be weighing the concept of a governmental panel of inquiry, whose make-up would be determined by the cabinet and which would report directly to the cabinet. Publication of any of the findings would be entirely at the discretion of the cabinet ministers themselves.
PM accuses predecessorsOlmert on Monday pinned some of the blame for Israel's war with Hezbollah on his predecessors, saying they had not responded in time to the danger posed by the Lebanese-based guerrilla group.
"We knew for years that there was a great danger, but for some reason we didn't translate that understanding into action, like we just did," Olmert said during a tour of rocket-hit areas of northern Israel.
"We knew what Iran was doing, what Syria was doing, in arming Hezbollah. We acted as if we didn't know."
The prime minister, under increasing pressure to establish a state commission of inquiry to investigate the government and defense establishment's handling of the war, has instructed Attorney General Menachem Mazuz to present a list of alternatives to such an inquiry.
Protests against the conduct of the war are growing, led by petitions circulated by IDF reservists just back from the fighting in Lebanon.
A group of reservist soldiers and officers also staged a protest march Monday noon, leaving the community of Maoz Zion in the outskirts of Jerusalem towards the Prime Minister's office, Army Radio reported.
A participant in the march told Army Radio the marchers intend to camp out before the Prime Minister's office and call for Olmert, Defense Minister Amir Peretz and IDF Chief of Staff Dan Halutz to "draw personal conclusions" and resign.
At Olmert's request, Mazuz is to present the government by Thursday with several options for how to investigate the war in Lebanon.
On Monday, one of the petitions, already signed by hundreds of soldiers, received wide exposure in the press.
"The 'cold feet' of the decision-makers were evident everywhere," said the petition sent to Peretz and Halutz, signed by members of the reserve Spearhead Brigade. "To us the indecisiveness expressed deep disrespect for our willingness to join the ranks and fight and made us feel as though we had been spat at, since it contradicts the principles and values of warfare upon which we were trained at the Israel Defense Forces.
"The heavy feeling that in the echelons above us there is nothing but under-preparation, insincerity, lack of foresight and inability to make rational decisions, leads to the question - were we called up for nothing?"
AG opposes state inquiry
In private conversations with Olmert, Mazuz has opposed the idea of establishing a state commission of inquiry - the most powerful and authoritative type of investigatory body. However, he said, this is a personal opinion, not a legal one, and there is no legal barrier to establishing such a commission.
"The question of establishing a state commission of inquiry is at the authority and discretion of the government," he explained.
Mazuz's current assignment is to provide the cabinet with a list of the available options for examining various aspects of the war, along with an explanation of each option's legal implications. He may also decide to recommend a particular course of action.
If the cabinet decides to establish a state commission of inquiry, it has no flexibility: Such a commission's powers and procedures are set by law. For instance, the members of the commission are chosen by the Supreme Court president; it must be headed by a sitting or retired Supreme Court justice; and the commission is authorized to subpoena witnesses and documents.
However, should the cabinet instead establish a less powerful governmental inquiry committee, the prime minister would be the one to determine the committee's composition and numerous other parameters: how long it has to do its work, whether it is authorized to subpoena witnesses, whether it is authorized to collect evidence independently, whether testimony and evidence is confidential, whether it has the power to warn witnesses and senior officials that its findings could damage them, whether it is authorized to recommend or even mandate the resignation of officials whom it finds to have been derelict, whether it can work simultaneously with other investigative committees, whether the evidence it gathers can be used in criminal proceedings, and what subjects it is authorized to investigate.
Senior government officials predicted that Olmert would ultimately opt to establish a governmental committee rather than a more powerful state commission of inquiry. The committee would be headed by a retired judge, they added.
The officials said Olmert is reluctant to establish a state commission of inquiry both for fear that it would issue a harshly critical report of the government's decision-making processes, and because the proceedings of such commissions are often very drawn-out, while Olmert prefers a quicker investigation.
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