Olmert Takes Responsibility for Israeli Offensive

Associated Press
Monday, August 14, 2006; 10:25 AM

JERUSALEM (AP) -- Prime Minister Ehud Olmert said Monday he takes sole responsibility for the war against Hezbollah in Lebanon and asserted that the fighting had shifted the strategic balance against the guerrillas.

In a speech to parliament hours after a U.N. brokered cease-fire took effect, Olmert said the agreement eliminated the "state within a state" run by Hezbollah, and restored Lebanon's sovereignty in the south.

Olmert's statement to the Knesset was his first since the early days of the war, which broke out July 12.

With the cease-fire, the unity that governed Israeli politics was expected to quickly fracture. Three Knesset members were ejected from the parliament during Olmert's speech for heckling, and several others had called for a commission of inquiry into the offensive.

Following Olmert's speech, Benjamin Netanyahu, head of the opposition Likud Party, said there were many failures in the war. With scores of soldiers and civilians killed in the 34 days of fighting, Olmert acknowledged there were "deficiencies" in the way the war was conducted.

"We will have to review ourselves in all the battles," he said. "We won't sweep things under the carpet."

Anticipating that another war with Hezbollah may come in the future, he said Israel will learn the lessons of this war and "do better."

Olmert said the fighting brought a change in the strategic balance in the region, to Hezbollah's disadvantage. The militia's vast storehouse of weapons was mostly destroyed, and its self-confidence undermined, he said.

"We will continue to pursue them everywhere and at all times," he said. "We have no intention of asking anyone's permission."

He advised patience for his critics who believe that the war fell short of Israel's original goal of dismantling Hezbollah. "We don't plan to apologize," he said.

Olmert also promised to do everything he could to win the return of two Israeli soldiers captured by Hezbollah on July 12 in an attack that triggered the war.

© 2006 The Associated Press