Senior officers in the General Staff voiced criticism yesterday of Prime Minister Ehud Olmert's claims before the Winograd Committee regarding his plans for last year's war in Lebanon and asked "if war was planned, why was the IDF left unprepared?"
Labor Party ministers also lashed out yesterday at Olmert's testimony before the committee, as reported in Haaretz.
Olmert reportedly said that he made a coalition deal with Labor under which Labor received the defense portfolio, but decided on its own who would fill it, and therefore, Labor is responsible for Peretz's problematic appointment as defense minister. But Labor ministers charged that Olmert has sole responsibility for this appointment, as he and Peretz concluded the Labor-Kadima coalition agreement entirely by themselves, and this agreement, as it was submitted to Labor's central committee for approval, already had Peretz marked as defense minister. In contrast, the ministers said, the other portfolios were left blank, allowing Labor to fill them as it saw fit.
One minister added that if Olmert really did deny responsibility for the appointment, he was essentially admitting to have abdicated his duties, because the prime minister bears primary responsibility for national security, a task which includes appointing a qualified defense minister. Moreover, the minister said, if Olmert really planned for the possibility of war with Lebanon months in advance, as he told the committee, that was all the more reason why he should have ensured that he had a competent defense minister.
Ministers from other parties demanded to know why, if Olmert had considered war a possibility, he never bothered to inform them of this until the day the war began.
Meanwhile, Channel 2 television said last night that the Winograd Committee's interim report on last summer's war in Lebanon will be published on March 27, but will not be accompanied by any warning letters and will not include any findings related to specific individuals.
Jurists who have been in contact with the committee confirmed to Haaretz that as far as they know, the committee has decided not to send letters warning specific individuals that they might be harmed by its findings. But Channel 2 said that the final report, slated for release in late July, will nevertheless include harsh findings against Prime Minister Ehud Olmert, Defense Minister Amir Peretz, former Israel Defense Forces chief of staff Dan Halutz and former GOC Northern Command Udi Adam.
The jurists said that one committee member, Professor Ruth Gavison, had pushed for sending warning letters, but the majority ultimately backed the position of the chairman, retired judge Eliyahu Winograd, who opposed sending the letters. Winograd's position apparently stemmed from a desire to prevent the committee's remaining hearings, after publication of the interim report, from turning into a "legal circus" in which lawyers would battle to protect their clients' reputations. A warning letter grants the recipient the right to be represented by an attorney.
The absence of warning letters does not completely bar the final report from including findings against specific individuals: According to legal experts, while a person's right to defend himself against an inquiry commission's findings has been entrenched by Supreme Court rulings over the last decade, a narrow "gray area" remains in which conclusions can be issued even without warning letters. However, this gray area mainly covers findings with no criminal or dramatic public implications.
If the interim report indeed contains no findings against specific individuals, its main beneficiaries will be Peretz and Olmert, as this will make it easier for the former to compete in the upcoming Labor Party primary and for the latter to continue repulsing efforts to oust him.
However, the report will include institutional findings - mainly, according to Channel 2, regarding the conduct of the army and successive governments between Israel's withdrawal from Lebanon in May 2000 and the decision to go to war in July 2006. Witnesses who appeared before the panel have confirmed to Haaretz that this was an issue of great interest to committee members.
The Winograd Committee declined to comment on Channel 2's report.
In addition to the interim report, the committee is also preparing to publish some of the minutes of its hearings, as demanded by the High Court of Justice. This is a complex process, which involves both examining the minutes to remove classified material (which the IDF is doing) and ensuring that none of this material can be accessed from outside via computer. For this purpose, the committee has recently consulted two private companies specializing in information security.
Channel 2 revealed additional details yesterday of the testimony given to the Winograd Committee, including its questioning of Vice Premier Shimon Peres as to why he voted for the war if he had reservations about it. During the cabinet discussion preceding the vote, Peres had asked whether plans had been made for phases two and three of the war, following Israel's initial response to Hezbollah's kidnapping of two soldiers.
Peres responded that in wartime, internal unity is very important, and a vote against the war would have been viewed as a vote of no-confidence in the prime minister.
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