Olmert: War Restored Quiet to the North

Prime Minister Ehud Olmert said yesterday the Second Lebanon War brought back quiet to Israel's northern border. He was speaking to the Knesset on the Winograd Committee's interim report, his first address there on the document.

"Two weeks ago, I visited the northern border, and at every place I was shown the positions once held by Hezbollah terrorists," he said. "Residents who were faced, hour after hour, minute after minute, with a Hezbollah man pointing his rifle at them - this situation no longer exists.

"I believed then as I believe now that the decision to go to war was the necessary one under the circumstances," he said. "It is true that the Lebanon war, like all wars until today, came with a high price. This is the part of the high price that the State of Israel has been paying for six decades for its desire to live in peace, security and independence."

Olmert also addressed critics of his decision to stress the release of captured Israel Defense Forces soldiers Ehud (Udi) Goldwasser and Eldad Regev, whose abduction July 12 sparked the war.

"We knew the chance of returning the captives in a military operation were slim," he said. "But that did not stop us taking daring steps to that end."

"We could not have expected the UN in the Security Council decision, as well as the G8 conference in Rome, to place the return of the captives at the top of their concerns had we not declared that they are at the top of our concerns," he continued.

"I considered our plan of action for a long time before it occurred, I brought recommendations to the full cabinet, which after it heard all the details voted unanimously and even approved an announcement defining the goals of Israel's response."

Olmert criticized calls for his resignation, saying many MKs had supported the war.

He singled out opposition leader Benjamin Netanyahu, who according to Olmert "offered his full and unconditional support. He too would do the same thing, he told me."

Olmert said the Winograd Committee found many instances of "effort and decision-making ability" on behalf of government leaders, and denied skirting responsibility for the war.

"The overall responsibility lies first and foremost with the government that I head. I admit with full responsibility to the failures, but also to the great achievements."