CQ Transcripts Wire
Monday, August 28, 2006 4:21 PM
SPEAKER: EHUD OLMERT,
DEPUTY PRIME MINISTER OF ISRAEL
OLMERT (THROUGH TRANSLATOR): Mr. Minister, mayors, colleagues, dear friends, I'm very happy to have this opportunity to meet you once again.
We have had quite a few meetings recently. And this, too, will not be our last meeting.
I will, shortly, explain to you how I intend to investigate what happened during the war, how I intend to draw lessons, and how I intend to prepare as quickly as possible for the future.
OLMERT (THROUGH TRANSLATOR): There is one thing I wish to make clear. The responsibility for the decision to launch a war and to react with a military operation and not to take without reaction and silently the attack on our soldiers, on our sovereignty and on our territory, and also the results of the war, is entirely mine.
In the recent operation, the Israeli civilian homefront was the main target of the enemy, and this was not fortuitous. The Hezbollah's goal was to show the spider's web, to sow terror among the civilian population, to bring about panic that would lead to the operations of the army being paralyzed. They believed that our homefront would save them.
What they discovered -- what they thought was that the homefront would not be steadfast, would not stand up. But they were very surprised. They discovered how well the homefront stood up.
And it stood up because of the behavior of the civilians in the shelters and at their places of employment. And they stood up because of the spirit of solidarity of the Israeli civilian population, all of whom became involved, contributing and making every single effort that they could. And it's because of your leadership, where you were, among your own residents (ph), with you acting wisely and courageously.
Also because of the government actions, which in the first days acted in the midst of a dogged military struggle, which was forced on us. Indeed, the homefront did stand fast, and it was to a large extent because of it that the Hezbollah failed to deter us.
I know that there is controversy about the degree, the extent of our success. Perhaps this relates to certain people's expectations. There are those who want to draw a conclusion right now, but I say to you, be patient.
One thing is very clear. In Beirut and in other capitals in the Middle East, it has been understood that we do not ignore any offense and attack on our sovereignty, our citizens, our civilians and our soldiers.
OLMERT (THROUGH TRANSLATOR): And this is a lesson that we have, indeed, taught ourselves as well as we will teach to the whole world.
You, I'm sure, remember Nasrallah's first speech on television. Remember how he mocked us. He was absolutely sure of his victory.
Look at what Nasrallah looked like yesterday, where he said, very simply, in his contrition speech, "Had we known that those would be the results, if we'd known just 1 percent of what was going to happen, I would not have given instructions for the kidnapping and I wouldn't have started the war." Very simple for someone two months ago would have predicted such results, we would have said that they were completely over the top.
What is the situation today? Hezbollah has been pushed back from the border. There are no longer any Hezbollah points of (inaudible). They are no longer commanding the border. Most of their dugouts have been destroyed. They've had hundreds of casualties.
The force which for years readied itself to attackers has been very seriously mauled from the air and on the ground. Most of the long-range rockets, which were their strategic weapon against Israel, were knocked out and destroyed during the first hours of the fighting in a very carefully orchestrated operation by the Israeli air force. It took just 30 or 40 minutes, and that is very reminiscent of what the Israeli air force did in the Six-Day War and against the Syrians in the Operation Peace in the Galilee.
Their points were knocked out, and they became homeless and they wandered like nomads.
OLMERT (THROUGH TRANSLATOR): The Lebanese army is now deploying in the south along our international border, in order to prevent Hezbollah from reinitiating the threat against us.
For the first time since the outbreak of the Lebanese civil war 35 years ago, a strong multinational force, based on the armies of Europe, is getting organized in order to enter Lebanon and help it to obstruct the Hezbollah.
1701 United Nations Resolution is the most important achievement of Israel in the international arena. And its implementation will ensure that our position on our northern border will be incomparably better than it was on the 12th of July.
This wasn't a war just against the Hezbollah. The Hezbollah was equipped with the most sophisticated equipment, with missiles, with night-vision equipment, with all sorts of missiles.
Iran and Syria activated all possible mechanisms and gave full backing and were the actual base for the threat that has been tackled by the state of Israel in the last months.
It's absolutely clear that Hezbollah has been whipped. And the president of the U.S., Israel's great friend, George W. Bush, has said this by saying a couple of days ago that, very shortly, it will become clear how much Israel has been victorious and how greatly the Hezbollah has been defeated, together with those who supported it.
Shortly, there will be an arrangement in Lebanon which will lead to the removal of the immediate threat from Israel. This is not something that's an absolute certainty; it's a likelihood.
We have to remain on the alert, and we have to be prepared to use force in order to defend ourselves, if so required, if the diplomatic settlement falls through.
OLMERT: We have achieved this because we did not flinch from using the requisite force, but we acted with restraint and responsibly through (ph) the extent of the war. We were able to instruct the army to act unflinchingly, unhesitatingly when necessary, and we also knew when to stop when the first diplomatic opportunity of an appropriate nature presented itself.
So, is everything all rosy? No, not everything is rosy in this particular garden. We have had major losses, true. They had greater losses, but this does not console us. A single casualty, a single son who has been killed, a single civilian who's been killed -- all of this hurts us a great deal.
We didn't manage to stop the Katyushas. We must admit that we were unable, as everyone else also is unable, to come up with a solution to short-range missiles. And you cannot come up with complete protection, but we must remember that even the Katyushas from Lebanon and the Kassams from Gaza are not managing to stop us.
And even more important, the most important thing, is that we have not yet brought our boys home. The government of Israel and I, at its head, will spare no efforts to find them, to reach them and bring them home. I, Ehud Olmert, prime minister of Israel, promises that they will come home, perhaps not as fast as we want, but they will come home.
OLMERT (THROUGH TRANSLATOR): And it's true, not everything worked the way we wanted it to work. We weren't ready everywhere, as ready as we should have been. We didn't always achieve the results that we hoped to achieve. Not everything worked. There were snafus, there were defects. There were also failures.
Even if the overall balance is positive, we must not ignore the failures. We must not whitewash. We mustn't ignore anything. We have no time. We have to act rapidly.
This is my duty as prime minister, to investigate everything, to draw conclusions, to draw lessons, and to put right everything that must be put right. And I will carry out this duty, as I have promised, as soon as the fighting finishes.
On the first day, we already knew, all of us, that this war would exact a major toll on the front and behind the front, on the homefront. We knew that we would be exposed to the firing of missiles and rockets directed at the civilian population. We weighed up the risks carefully, and we decided that if we didn't go for it now, then when could we, when would we?
Had we not reacted in this way, had we shown restraint yet again with regard to this major provocation, with regard to our way of life and our sovereignty, it's quite possible that in the very near future we would have woken up to a new, even more dangerous reality than that which we had to deal with.
The war in the north did not bring about new dangers that we didn't know about before this.
OLMERT (THROUGH TRANSLATOR): What it did was to force us to tackle these dangers uncompromisingly, before it was too late.
It was clear to everybody from the outset that this war would eventually finish up in a diplomatic process for a cease-fire. We never intended to stay in Lebanon, nor did we intend to dig ourselves in there for many years, as in the past.
On Wednesday, the 9th of August, the U.S. administration told us that a process was coming to a head which could lead to a diplomatic settlement for Israel. The government and I, myself, as its head was determined that such an opportunity should not be missed.
But in the days following, and particularly on Friday, the 11th, it became clear that the burden that was being put forward to the U.N. Security Council was totally unacceptable to Israel. And given that, I ordered the IDF to continue and expand the military operations in Lebanon.
On Saturday, the 12th of August, the decision was taken at the U.N. to a very decisive extent as a result of Israel's military operations.
The IDF was on the move. The Hezbollah announced that it would continue fighting. The Lebanese government had not yet convened to endorse its decision.
And given these circumstances, in conjunction with the command of the IDF, it was necessary to continue moving the forces forward to make sure that they would be in the best possible conditions for us.
We took very painful losses, heartbreaking ones, even during the last hours of fighting.
OLMERT: Like the whole of the Israeli people and, first and foremost, the bereaved families, I feel in the depths of my heart the pain of these losses and the unparalleled anguish at all the casualties.
In this case, too, I am absolutely convinced that this difficult decision was unavoidable. And it was because of that decision that we were able to reach the end of the fighting and to remain in Lebanon now for two weeks without having to continue to fight.
I do hear these voices raised in criticism. Of course, there's professional criticism, and there's political protest. I ignore that. Everyone is familiar with the games of those who base themselves on polls and those who are involved in political infighting.
But there's sincere criticism from the heart, from the reservists, from the civilians, from the people who come out of love and not out of hatred. They are standing there and protesting and demonstrating against me, as well. And I hear them, and I respect them and what they have to say.
There are certain things where they're right, and there are things were I disagree with them. But the question is, what should we do with this criticism? How do we take this anger, the frustration, the disappointment, the desperation, and also the feeling of responsibility and the love of this country, which is felt by every one, and how do we use all of this in order to put right that which has to be put right? And certainly, things have to be put right.
In the last few days, I have waivered a great deal about this. I've consulted a lot of people, including the attorney general, many experts from the security and administration and legal, the justice area, and my fellow ministers.
OLMERT (THROUGH TRANSLATOR): And above all, I have wavered as to what is my duty as prime minister, as the person with the supreme authority not only for what has been but, above all, for what will be and what is likely to be.
It looks, superficially, as if there is a simple solution: to appoint a retired supreme court justice to head a state commission of inquiry to investigate everything and make recommendations.
Maybe, politically speaking, this is a very tempting solution and, politically, very tempting and enticing, because it would buy us quiet time, a period of quiet until we find out what they have decided. But this is not what the state needs.
It's clear to everyone what will happen. For a long period, the whole of the defense and political echelons and most of the IDF top brass will be paralyzed. They'll be trying to produce their own versions; shed responsibility, pass it on to others. That is the natural thing. This is how it happens. And this is how things have happened.
And one has to remember, all of this would be when the fighting hasn't come to a complete end, when the IDF forces are still inside Lebanon, when fighting might break out again, when the threat hasn't been entirely removed.
And so, beyond the approaching horizon, we have to ready ourselves to deal with the threat from Iran and its Israel-hating president. We don't have the luxury of previous years when, between something that had happened and drawing of lessons and anything that had to be dealt, there was an enormous gap.
Every single person, if they put their hand on their heart, knows perfectly well, if they are honest with themselves, that this is not what will put right the defects; it won't avoid the failures and the snafus. What we need is a professional, down-to-earth investigation that goes right to the roots, that will draw conclusions and allow lessons to be drawn, first and foremost with regard to the army.
And I want to say something personal here: I've sat down with military commanders during the fighting, particularly during the long nights.
OLMERT (THROUGH TRANSLATOR): And I saw the chief of staff and the army top brass and many other commanders. I saw them wavering and agonizing about all sorts of options and the likely losses. And I saw them assuming their responsibility and doing their very level best to deal with this responsibility.
I am not going to allow the army to be subject to being a whipped boy. I'm not going to be the whipping boy, and I'm not going to let them be whipped in the public stocks.
We have no other military. We have no other army, no other IDF. There is no substitute for the IDF. I will not allow the IDF to be paralyzed now for months and months and perhaps even longer, simply in order to satisfy just some Tom, Dick or Harry. I won't allow that to happen.
The army has to be investigated the way in which a democratic, civil society examines, investigates its army. It's the same thing when it comes to the political echelons. The government, under my leadership, will appoint a government investigative committee under (inaudible), who's former head of the intelligence, and this will be headed by (inaudible), Ruth Gavison, Professor Heskel Draw (ph).
The committee will be required to look at the operation of the government, what decisions it took, and anything else it sees fit. The behavior, the conduct of the government is not in any way exempt from criticism.
This committee will carry out an indepth investigation and make appropriate recommendations with regard to changes, including with regard to the army and its doctrine with regard to future rounds of fighting and various threat scenarios.
And the committee will ask the state controller to carry out an indepth and comprehensive investigation of the defects found on the home front in the eyes of the threat of the missiles.
OLMERT (THROUGH TRANSLATOR): And in this way, the political, the military and the civilian arenas will be investigated.
I am sure that these comprehensive investigations will lead to the drawing of the appropriate conclusions within the shortest possible time in a very reliable and totally transparent fashion.
And after all of these processes have been gone through, I'm sure that our behavior -- our ability will be incomparably improved. We will come out of this stronger and more, with God's help, able to cope with the various risks and threats threatening it. And above all, this will happen within a short time.
And all of this is not enough. This war was a very serious trial of part of our civilian population. And they have been very sorely tried and tested. And there are parts of our population who have really suffered in the last few years, and we cannot turn our back on helping them.
And the government has decided to strengthen the north of the country, in Haifa, emphasizing an improvement to the physical structure of the areas that have been damaged and also supporting and reinforcing the financing of educational systems (inaudible) the single families, the minorities and the elderly, who particularly suffered in recent years, children at risk, and underprivileged neighborhoods.
This applies not only to the north of the country. This situation is undermining Israeli social stability in other areas as well and, above all, in the south and in the Negev.
We will not turn our backs on our responsibility to draw up the multi-annual plan, which the government has decided upon in order to deal with this situation. In the next few weeks, the government will decide on detailed plans in order to put these challenges and these solutions into practice. And these plans will be submitted to the public.
My dear friends, the operation has not come to an end, not this operation and not the other operations on other fronts, outside and inside alike, external and internal. We will continue to meet, and we will continue to speak of all of this.
At this point, I would just ask you to remember and remind others of the families of those who have died, the bereaved families who are suffering terribly.
OLMERT: We will not forget those who have been injured and who are still fighting to get well and recuperate and become rehabilitated and come back to normal life. We will not forget.
We will not forget the civilians who are looking at the ruins of their house. They deserve a constructive and generous hand. We will not forget them.
The self-employed people, the business people with small, medium, large businesses, who have been in the forefront of bearing the economic burden and can collapse under it, we will not forget them.
The reservists who have gone home, some of them disappointed and angry -- they have to be given back what they have lost. And we will not forget them.
Gilaad Solit (ph), who today is celebrating his 20th birthday, from here I send a warm hug on behalf of myself and on behalf of all of you to Gilaad (ph) and to his family who is so frightened for him, to all those who love him. To Udi Goldwasser, to Eldad Regev, we don't and we will not forget them.
We will investigate with one hand; we will amend and put right with the other hand. We have an opportunity here. And from here, we will set out on the new path.
Aug 28, 2006 13:45 ET .EOF
Source: CQ Transcriptions © 2006, Congressional Quarterly Inc., All Rights Reserved