PM Stands by Wartime Decisions in Winograd Testimony

Prime Minister Ehud Olmert yesterday testified for over six hours before the Winograd Committee investigating the second Lebanon war, explaining why the decisions he made in the course of the war were correct in light of the information available to him at the time. That was the main message that Olmert tried to get across to the committee members. He sought to describe what he was up against at every stage of the war, what data he was working with, which proposals had been submitted to him and why the decision that was adopted was a reasonable one.

Olmert's testimony went on for six and a half hours, including two half-hour breaks. He appeared before the committee alone, without aides or an attorney. All five members of the panel asked questions, demonstrating great familiarity with the details of the events. The prime minister brought a binder filled with documents, but barely referred to it.

The two main issues under discussion were the decision to go to war in the wake of the kidnapping of two soldiers along the Lebanon border on July 12, and the decision to expand the ground campaign in the last two days of the fighting despite the fact that a draft resolution on a cease-fire was already being discussed in United Nations channels.

According to a highly-placed source in Jerusalem, during his testimony Olmert did not place blame on others and did not criticize his subordinates - cabinet ministers of IDF officers. He stuck to the positions he has presented in the past. The defense strategy employed by Olmert, with the aid of his attorney, Eli Zohar, and his chief of staff, Yoram Turbowicz, focuses on the reasonableness of his decisions, and on accepting responsibility for his own actions.

Olmert was the final witness to appear before the committee before it begins writing its interim report, publication of which is not expected before mid-March.

It is not known whether the committee asked Olmert about his decision to appoint Amir Peretz defense minister.

The Prime Minister's Office refused to comment on Olmert's testimony, but remarks since the war indicate the testimony may have included the following:

* Israel won the war, succeeding in pushing Hezbollah away from Israel's northern border, bringing about the deployment of the Lebanese army and UN peacekeeping forces and destroying Hezbollah's long-range rocket arsenal.

* Israel's decisive response to the abductions was appropriate and was supported by all cabinet ministers, including those with extensive military experience.