Resounding 'No Comment' From Olmert, Peretz, Halutz on Personal Conclusions

Prime Minister Ehud Olmert did not respond yesterday to the Winograd Committee's announcement that it intends to publish personal conclusions about him in its interim report, nor did Defense Minister Amir Peretz or former Israel Defense Forces chief of staff Dan Halutz.

The Prime Minister's Office said, "We'll wait for the conclusions, period."

The announcement revealed there would be no letters of warning, and senior officials would not be given the right to present their arguments before the interim report is published. Under such circumstances, the officials will not be able to ask the committee to view its protocols and documents. According to the Prime Minister' Office, Olmert does not intend to instruct his attorney to ask the committee for documents.

Government sources said yesterday that, based on the announcement, they believed the committee would not call for Olmert or Peretz's dismissal, and would focus its criticism on the decisions made prior to going to war in the North. The sources said that if the committee wanted to call on Olmert or Peretz to resign, it would have issued letters of warning and given them a chance to rebut.

The sources said they wonder why the committee announcement only addressed personal conclusions against Olmert, Peretz and Halutz. "Where is the personal responsibility of their predecessors?" said one of the sources. "And that of the government as a whole, which made unanimous decisions? It's true that Olmert is responsible, but the government also has overall responsibility as a cabinet body. And where is the GOC Northern Command? And the General Staff branch heads?"

While on a trip to Washington, Peretz refused to respond to the announcement. Likewise, Halutz, who commanded the IDF during the war, did not issue a response.

Nonetheless, his associates said that the fact that he has already resigned has made him less vulnerable to the committee's conclusions.

"He differentiates between blame and responsibility," said one of Halutz's friends, Ran Pekker. "Halutz took responsibility, but does not accept the blame. He decided to leave of his own accord and is at peace with his decision."

Halutz will be in the United States in April, when the Winograd Committee is expected to publish its interim report. He is leaving in 10 days for two months of studies in the U.S.

The committee's findings will address Halutz's activities during the first five days of the war, during which he presented the IDF operational plans to the government, as well as the decision not to call up a large number of reserve forces and focus on air power as opposed to ground troops.