Olmert: Israeli Command Below Par in War

The Associated Press
Thursday, May 10, 2007; 7:59 PM

JERUSALEM -- Prime Minister Ehud Olmert told an inquiry the army command did not perform well in last summer's war in Lebanon and acknowledged he gave short shrift to warnings troops weren't ready, but he insisted Israel had no option except to fight, according to testimony released Thursday.

Olmert's comments were made during hearings by a special commission that issued a report last week severely censuring the prime minister's wartime performance _ an appraisal that triggered a wave of resignation calls and may yet cost him his political career.

The war started July 12 when Hezbollah guerrillas staged a cross-border raid in which three Israeli soldiers were killed and two were captured and taken into Lebanon. Israel launched a full-scale military campaign hours later.

Initially strong Israeli public support unraveled after the 34-day war failed to achieve Olmert's two declared aims _ recovering the two soldiers and crushing Hezbollah, which bombarded northern Israel with nearly 4,000 rockets during the fighting.

In his testimony, Olmert made a pointed distinction between Israel's combat forces, which he praised as "exceptional," and the military command, which he said "seriously let itself down."

"Something in the conception of how they operated the forces, something in the conception of their control over the forces, something wasn't what we expected, unfortunately, and that no doubt led to the disparity between what we are capable of doing and what we actually achieved," he said.

Olmert acknowledged that senior security officials told him troops hadn't conducted military exercises along the Lebanese border. But he said he "didn't really pay much attention" because the defense establishment "always" complains it is short of funds for training.

The 89 pages of testimony were released 10 days after the commission issued its scathing report on Olmert's handling of the war's first six days. A final report on the full war is due this summer.

In questioning Olmert, commission members repeatedly implied he made decisions without seriously exploring alternatives or digging deeper for information.

Asked whether he displayed any skepticism about what the military told him, Olmert didn't offer evidence to support independent thinking. Instead, in a meandering and oblique reply, he said that as prime minister, he had to "apply another perspective that they (military commanders) don't have and can't have."

At the end of his testimony, Olmert acknowledged making mistakes of his own. He said, for example, that he might have met more often with senior Cabinet ministers to consult on diplomacy. But he quickly added, "at the key junctures where decisions were made, we acted responsibly, and in my opinion, very reasonably."

Olmert told the panel he was convinced Hezbollah would fire rockets into Israel's northern communities _ as it did _ and said he had two options after the cross-border raid: Do nothing or put the military into motion quickly.

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