Prime Minister Ehud Olmert told the Winograd Committee investigating the Second Lebanon War that he believes the Israel Defense Forces "seriously let itself down" during the war, according to testimony published by the committee Thursday.
The committee published the partial testimonies of the prime minister, Defense Minister Amir Peretz, and wartime chief of staff Dan Halutz on Thursday, less than two weeks after publishing its scathing report on the government's handling of the war.
Olmert added that "since taking over as prime minister, I was always focused on one issue - the north."
He stressed that it is important to differentiate between the soldiers and the IDF command. "I wouldn't make a sweeping generalization," he said. "The combat soldiers were excellent."
"Something in the conception of activating the forces, something in the conception of commanding the forces, something was not what we expected it to be," he continued. "There is no doubt that it caused a disparity between our ability to achieve and what we actually achieved."
The prime minister told the committee he believed that the strategy for dealing with the threat presented by Hezbollah could not be fixed in past conceptions, but rather various methods should be combined in order to produce results in the field.
He stressed in his testimony that Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni was partner to all the important diplomatic discussions. "There were no decisions that were made [on that issue] ... without the foreign minister's participation."
Olmert added that prior to the war he was told by Halutz that the army was prepared, and that all operational plans were ready and approved.
Nonetheless, he stressed that the army's role is to carry out military missions in the best possible manner, and that the political echelon's role is to take into consideration the broader picture.
"I told the chief of staff several times and I also told other commanders - they don't see the entire picture," said Olmert. "They can't see the entire picture and they don't need to see the entire picture. That isn't their job. Their job is to carry out their mission in the best, most effective way, that is cheapest in terms of the human cost, and in the best way for Israel."
"The comprehensive picture of all the aspects, all the complexities, of relationships and sensitivities - all those things, are the responsibility of [the political] echelon," he added.
The prime minister added that the botched bombing in Kfar Kana, in which dozens of civilians were killed, was a serious breaking-point. "The fact is, if Kana hadn't happened, there is good reason to believe that we would have been in a very good position to complete the process."
Olmert also addressed his speech before the Knesset on July 17, in which he outlined the war's objectives, including securing the release of abducted IDF soldiers Ehud Goldwasser and Eldad Regev.
"There are things you say because they must be said," he explained. "There is a diplomatic system, a public relations system, and there is the domestic morale of the Israeli public, which is in bomb shelters and is under fire. There are abducted soldiers, and I need to instill hope in them, that is also a consideration."
When asked by committee member Professor Ruth Gavison what he would do differently if he could, the prime minister answered that he would have met more often with the seven senior ministers placed in charge of making the wartime decisions.
"I'm assuming that I certainly made mistakes," he said. "At the major junctures in which decisions were made, we acted responsibly and I believe very reasonably."
Peretz: I instructed Halutz to present alternative IDF positionsPeretz told the Winograd Committee that he was unaware of any lack of training within the IDF, nor did the army inform him that it was unprepared for the war.
The defense minister said he instructed Halutz during the war to present alternative positions, and not just the official IDF position.
"I decided and instructed the chief of staff that as far as I was concerned it was very important that the IDF position be the one presented by the chief of staff, but should their be different positions, that are completely different, I would very much like for those positions to be expressed as well," he said.
The defense minister added that his working relationship with the wartime chief of staff was "good, proper, and organized," and had a "completely clear definition of authority."
Halutz: Army failed to bring war to swifter conclusionHalutz told the committee that the army's greatest failure was its inability to bring the war to a swifter conclusion. "Without a doubt, I recognize that at the end of the day that was the most blatant non-achievement or failure," he said.
Given the information we had, with the means that we had at our disposal, we could have achieved a lot more if we had been more determined," he continued. "We didn't have to be more daring, just more determined, take the initiative more, and be more responsible. Those are the three parameters: determination, initiative, and responsibility."
"There were to many incidents of passing up the buck," added Halutz. "Everyone is looking one level up instead of one level down. When you look one level down, you are a commander, when you look one level up you are looking for commanders."
Halutz also criticized the government's restrained policy of containing Hezbollah, saying when he commanded the Air Force he became convinced it was a misguided policy.
"I can't bring anything now that supports this statement in a document, but in February or March 2006 during a deliberation I held with the General Staff, I said that once the new political leadership would become stable and stronger, I intend to approach it and recommend we reconsider the policy of containment," he said.
The former IDF chief added that the army plays to large a role the determining comprehensive strategy.
"[The army] determines the strategic purpose, which is a diplomatic purpose in certain ways, and combines force and diplomacy, and it brings it for approval, which it usually is," he said. "[The army] is the one that must think about an exit strategy ... not because that is part of its job but because that has developed as the modus operandi in the State of Israel."
Halutz 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."
"What once was strong in Israel - the defense lobby - has been replaced by the social lobby," he added. "The backing that was given to the military has dwindled on a basic level."
Regarding his cooperation with Peretz on a personal level, Halutz said the relationship was businesslike. However, "because I worked under two defense ministers," he said, "it requires a lot of time and a lot of attentiveness. I found a minister who was less attentive to our problems."
Panel members Gavison, Einan: Testimonies shouldn't be releasedThe publication of the testimonies was accompanied by a press release on behalf of two of the committee members, Gavison and Major General (res.) Menachem Einan, in which they expressed their opposition to publishing the testimonies.
"It is a mistake to treat the testimony that was given to us in camera as if the only harm they could cause is to ? state security or foreign relations," they said, warning that the release of testimony could lead to a situation in which officials will not cooperate fully with future inquiries.
In his testimony, Olmert said: "I really feel that I can talk to you about everything, and I know what I say won't leave this room."
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