Olmert: Winograd Panel Agrees Ground Push Was Necessary

Prime Minister Ehud Olmert told aides over the weekend that he was "satisfied" with his appearance on Thursday before the Winograd Committee, which is investigating the second Lebanon war.

Olmert said he was impressed by the positive atmosphere that prevailed during his testimony, which stretched over six hours.

He said the committee accepted his argument that "foreign-policy reasons" made the expansion of the ground campaign in the last two days of the war a necessity.

Ever since the war's end, Olmert has explained that the expansion of operations on August 11 was carried out in order to put pressure on the UN Security Council, which was deliberating on its cease-fire resolution that day.

That morning, Olmert had received the most recent draft of the resolution, which Israel interpreted as favoring the Lebanese-French position. A few hours after the start of the ground campaign, the Security Council approved a version that was more comfortable for Israel. Olmert is convinced that the change was the result of the Israel Defense Forces operation.

Olmert also told his aides that Winograd Committee members asked about his decision to appoint Amir Peretz defense minister despite his inexperience.

High-placed sources in Jerusalem said yesterday that the question of whether the investigatory committee will issue warning letters is insignificant.

As a state committee of examination, as opposed to one of inquiry, the Winograd Committee needs only to inform the appropriate parties that they might be harmed and may do so in its interim report.

Thus, the sources said, the absence of warning letters does not necessarily mean that the subjects of the investigation will escape criticism.

Olmert's testimony on Thursday ended the testimonial phase of the committee, which included statements from 76 witnesses.

The panel will now turn its attention to drafting its interim report, which will include both public and classified parts. The former will be published within four to six weeks.

According to committee members, the interim report will include operational conclusions regarding the pursuit of the war.

The committee's final report, which will not be published for several months, will address questions of principle related to the war, such as Israel's defense policy during the past several years and the culture of command in the IDF.