Final Lebanon Push Decided After PM Met Informal Team

Hours before deciding to launch a major group operation in Lebanon last August 11, shortly before the end of the Second Lebanon War, Prime Minister Ehud Olmert consulted four people who hold no official government position. In a meeting at his house, the four advised him to launch the operation in an effort to influence the United Nations Security Council's emerging cease-fire resolution, but to halt it immediately if a resolution favorable to Israel were adopted.

As far as is known, Olmert did not inform the Winograd Committee, which investigated the war, of this meeting, nor did the committee hear testimony from any of these men.

The four were Amiram Levine, former head of the Israel Defense Forces' Northern Command; Yedidya Ya'ari, chairman of RAFAEL - the Armaments Development Authority and former commander in chief of the navy; Haim Assa, a strategy consultant who co-authored a book on military doctrine in the 21st century with Ya'ari; and Kalman Geyer, a pollster who had advised two previous premiers. Some of them had advised Olmert at other points during the war, but this was their first meeting as a group. A fifth invitee, retired general Uri Saguy, did not attend.

Before their arrival, Olmert also met with former Shin Bet security service chief Jacob Perry. That meeting was also apparently unknown to the Winograd Committee.

During Olmert's two-hour meeting with the foursome, Defense Minister Amir Peretz arrived to discuss the ground operation. Olmert asked his advisers to wait while he spoke with Peretz for a few minutes in another room, then returned and resumed the discussion.

On August 11, Israel was fighting to influence the wording of the Security Council's cease-fire resolution. The latest draft had arrived in Jerusalem at 3 A.M., and the government considered it detrimental to Israel. Two days earlier, the cabinet had approved a major ground operation that would seek to reach the Litani River and authorized Olmert and Peretz to decide when to launch it. Peretz favored giving the green light, but Olmert was hesitant.

At 11 A.M., the four consultants arrived. Olmert said that the army had requested a month for the ground offensive - one week to reach the Litani, two to conduct search-and-destroy missions and the fourth to withdraw. The consultants strongly opposed such a lengthy operation, but agreed that the draft resolution was bad and that a much shorter operation was justified to try to improve it. Olmert then met with Peretz, and the two decided to launch the offensive.

At 9 P.M. that night, the Security Council adopted Resolution 1701, which Israel accepted. However, contrary to the foursome's advice, the ground operation was not halted, and Israel suffered heavy casualties.

After the war, Olmert tried to appoint Ya'ari to the Winograd Committee, without revealing his role in advising the premier. However, Ya'ari was ultimately rejected on the grounds that his job as head of a government defense company constituted a conflict of interest.

Olmert declined to comment on this report.