Olmert to Tell Winograd Panel: We Won the War

Prime Minister Ehud Olmert is scheduled to testify today before the Winograd Committee investigating the second Lebanon war. Olmert will be the final witness to appear before the committee at this stage, as the Winograd panel will embark on writing an interim report on its conclusions, not expected to be published before mid-March.

Olmert's testimony and answering of questions in the committee's offices in Tel Aviv is expected to go on for several hours.

The prime minister is expected to be asked about his decisions during the war, the information he received from the army prior to the war and during it, and the way responsibility was split between himself, Defense Minister Amir Peretz and the army leadership.

There are a number of decisions for which Olmert is expected to have some answering to do. Foremost, there is the decision to go to war on July 12. He will also be asked about the information he had before making that decision, and what his expectations of the war were.

Secondly, he is expected to field questions on the aims of the war, and the way he described these aims to the army.

Olmert is likely to be grilled on claims raised in previous testimony, and that appeared in previous reports, about the lack of consistency among the political echelon about war aims.

The prime minister will also be asked about the decision to embark on a major ground offensive during the final days of the war, even though a draft resolution on a cease-fire was already being discussed in United Nations channels.

Olmert will be aided in his testimony by attorney Eli Zohar; his chief of staff, Yoram Turbowicz; and his military secretary, Major General Gadi Shamni.

It is not certain the committee will ask Olmert about his decision to appoint Amir Peretz to the post of defense minister.

Olmert associates suggest they had been informed that during their giving of testimony, Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni and Transportation Minister Shaul Mofaz did not attack the prime minister.

The Prime Minister's Bureau refused to comment on what Olmert planned to tell the panel.

Yesterday the committee heard testimony form Israel Defense Forces Deputy Chief of Staff Moshe Kaplinsky, Gadi Shamni and Deputy Defense Minister Ephraim Sneh.

Kaplinsky gave testimony regarding his role during the war and the decision of outgoing Chief of Staff Dan Halutz to assign him to lead the Northern Command alongside the GOC, Udi Adam. Adam resigned from the army following the war.

Kaplinsky also described the changes that were made in the structure of the General Staff since 1999 and the interface between the political and military echelons.

Shamni described his role in the war and the updates he provided Olmert during the conflict. He explained the various reasons that led to the decisions made in the Prime Minister's Office.

Sneh, who was appointed deputy defense minister only following the war, testified on his previous tenure in the post, in the government of Ehud Barak. Under Barak, Israel withdrew from Southern Lebanon in May 2000.

Sneh also served in the cabinet of Prime Minister Ariel Sharon and as the chairman of the Knesset subcommittee on Israel's security outlook.

In his testimony, Sneh expressed his views on the way the war was conducted, and on what he described as the disregard of the analysis of the Knesset Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee from 2004, relating to developments along the border with Lebanon.

Sneh also briefed the committee on the training and preparations currently being undertaken by the IDF as part of implementing lessons learned from the war.