The Testimony That Won't Be Given

'I, Ehud Olmert from Benyamina ... didn't understand that I was being dragged into a war of attrition and that the public would turn its back on me.'

"Your honor Judge Winograd, members of the committee, good morning. My name is Ehud Olmert, ID No. 00991750, from Jerusalem, and I am the prime minister. I am convinced I made the right decision in reacting harshly to the July 12 kidnapping of the soldiers on the Lebanese border. Given the circumstances at the time, two and a half weeks after Gilad Shalit was kidnapped to Gaza, I had no choice. Not responding to a cross-border Hezbollah attack carried out in broad daylight would have been interpreted as dangerous weakness, and led to my immediate removal. Even Yossi Beilin called on us to react.

"But I have not come here today in order to praise myself, but in order to admit four mistakes I made in the war. The first was arrogance. I respected the leadership of Ariel Sharon, but I was aware of his weaknesses - of his racist remarks about Arabs, his dependence on his aides' notes, his foot-dragging when it came to making decisions. I thought that I, quick to decide and quick of tongue, would be able to control the army with one hand like Arik, and I didn't think one needs experience for that. That was why I appointed Amir Peretz as defense minister. I knew he was clueless, but I believed he would do much more damage in the Finance Ministry - that every day he would make declarations that would cause the stock exchange to collapse. I didn't realize I had left the defense establishment in irresponsible hands, that we need someone experienced to supervise the army.

"My second mistake was getting carried away. I received the reports by the air force that they destroyed Hezbollah's long-range missiles in 34 minutes, and was told Beirut's Dahiya neighborhood was destroyed. For a moment I felt like Churchill when they brought him the photos of the Hamburg and Dresden bombings. I, Ehud Olmert from Benyamina, the military correspondent from Bamahane magazine, controlled the skies of the Middle East! In that spirit of enthusiasm, I declared that we would fight until the kidnapped soldiers were returned, and I refused to hear of a cease-fire. I didn't understand that I was being dragged into a war of attrition and that the public would turn its back on me.

"The third mistake was being dragged along. I heard with excitement that the entire world supported us, even the Saudis. All my predecessors had been condemned in the United Nations, and I was being praised! I kept asking the Americans for more time, and I didn't understand that in international relations there are no free lunches, and that those who supported us were actually pushing us to crash against the walls of Hassan Nasrallah's bunkers. Today I understand that true friends would have made sure the war ended after a few days, instead of letting us get into hot water.

"My fourth mistake was being tempted into a ground operation, even though in my heart I agreed with the chief of staff's reservations. Precious time was lost before I was convinced to call up the reservists and to send them to the front, and a ground victory slipped out of our hands. My decision to send the divisions to the Litani River at the end of the war did not change a thing. In hindsight I realized that I panicked because of some unimportant wording in the UN resolution, and because of the loud demands by Peretz and the generals that we enter the area, which made me look weak-willed and irresolute.

"And in conclusion, I would like to point out that the most important decision I made was taking the Israel Defense Forces out of Lebanon the moment the UNIFIL forces entered, rather than remaining in the security zone until the kidnapped soldiers were returned, Hezbollah was dismantled or the Messiah came. And in that, you must honestly admit, I was far more successful than Arik in 1982."