Analysis / Assuming Responsibility

Ehud Olmert's testimony to the Winograd Commission showed the prime minister has assumed full responsibility for the second Lebanon war. He did not blame his predecessors nor say events caught him by surprise.

On the contrary, Olmert said he had feared an abduction would occur on the northern border since taking office. He said he had instructed the Israel Defense Forces to prepare to confront Hezbollah, and authorized military plans.

Meanwhile, he attempted to advance a political move to withdraw from the Shaba Farms in order to avoid war, he said.

Olmert's testimony exposes several important issues. Firstly, he did not say Defense Minister Amir Peretz was one of the leaders responsible for the war. The fundamental decisions were made before Peretz assumed office. This reinforces accusations that Olmert erred in appointing an inexperienced defense minister.

Secondly, Olmert's testimony undermines perceptions of the war as improvised, begotten by stressful circumstances. Olmert claims the war had been planned for a long time, and that the abduction of reservists Ehud Goldwasser and Eldad Regev merely lit the fuse. This creates the image of a rigidly planned war based on erroneous strategic calculations.

Thirdly, facts revealed show Israel failed to consider one important change on the Lebanese front. The rise of Fouad Siniora's government, viewed so favorably by Washington, left the IDF blocked from destroying Lebanese infrastructure. U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice made that clear to Olmert before the first planes even left the ground.

Olmert was making hollow threats when he called Lebanon responsible on the first day of the fighting, as did then-chief of staff Dan Halutz, who threatened to "send it 20 back years."

The original military plan for a focused attack on Hezbollah followed by the destruction of Lebanon's infrastructure, thereby bringing about a quick conclusion, was unusable.

Hezbollah chief Hassan Nasrallah suffered from similar myopia. He adhered to the assumption that Israel would not rock the boat. His miscalculation, which set off the Israeli retaliation, was the real cause for the crisis.