Peretz: I Acted Out of Love for My Country During Second Lebanon War

MKs step up calls for Olmert, Peretz to quit following release of testimonies to panel probing conduct of war.

Defense Minister Amir Peretz, speaking following the release of his testimony to the panel probing the conduct of the Second Lebanon War, said Thursday that he had acted in good faith during the conflict.

"I did my job out of belief, out of love for my country," he told a Labor Party conference in Tel Aviv. "Every public figure has to deal with the missions of national importance bestowed upon him."

Peretz said that should he win the upcoming Labor leadership race, he intends to demand that Prime Minister Ehud Olmert put him in the Finance Ministry.

He also told the conference that he opposes calls for Labor to quit the government or any attempt to replace the prime minister. He said that Labor could try to dictate who runs the Kadima party, but must refrain from doing so.

The publication of the testimonies of Olmert, Peretz and former military chief of staff Dan Halutz to the Winograd Committee has prompted more calls from Israel's upper political echelons for Olmert and Peretz to resign.

Zevulun Orlev, chairman of religious coalition Ichud Leumi and Mafdal, said "It is no wonder Olmert didn't want his testimony published earlier. He clearly doesn't take any responsibility for the war, and tries to lay all the blame on the army."

Orlev continued: "The prime minister didn't fulfill his role as a leader. If he wasn't able to take charge during the war, he should now acknowledge his failure and resign."

MK Zehava Gal-On of social democratic party Meretz-Yachad, who petitioned the High Court to release the testimonies earlier, stressed their significance again on Thursday.

"The content of the testimonies clearly illustrates the necessity of transparency and the public's right to know," she said. "The whole truth has finally emerged from the leaders' contradictory versions of it. Now they are trying to blame their failures on each other," she added,

"Up until today, we have only heard leaked information that serves the prime minister's interests. My greatest hope is that the release of the testimonies will mean Olmert and Peretz get sent home faster."

MK Dov Khenin of Hadash said the testimonies of the three "paint a picture of chaotic leadership."

"The government thought it could build its reputation by waging a war on Lebanon, only to learn that wars don't build leaders, they just kill soldiers," Khenin continued. "They are now paying the price for their arrogance," he said.

Likud MK Limor Livnat criticized Olmert and Peretz severely, saying the IDF fought bravely despite receiving "confused, hasty and irresponsible orders which had not been thought through."

MK Livnat said that even before the testimonies were released, it was clear that the upper echelons of Israel's leadership were trying to conceal their responsibility for the failure of the Second Lebanon War by blaming the military.

"The release of the testimonies shows once and for all that Olmert and Peretz shamelessly flung the blame on the IDF's soldiers and officers. It is now upon them to hand over control to responsible, serious leaders", Livnat said.

Olmert did find some support from his fellow Kadima party members. Knesset Constitution Committee Chairman MK Menachem Ben-Sasson defended the prime minister and said that "his testimony proves that he acted with a strategic eye on the future and gave the military forces focused and specific missions".

"The prime minister asked Halutz if he had raised the level of alertness in the North after the Gilad Shalit kidnapping. The army chief answered him affirmatively, and said that the northern border is prepared for an attempted kidnapping", Ben Sasson added.

Kadima MK Yoel Hasson said that "the prime minister's testimony proves that he had many misgivings which led to consultations and preparations, before he made his decisions". According to Hasson, " this testimony contradicts the claims, which have come mostly from the opposition, that the prime minister made decisions in haste and bad judgment.