Israeli PM Blames Army For Lebanon Failure

From left: then Israeli Army Chief of Staff Dan Halutz, Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert, and Defense Minister Amir Peretz attend a military ceremony at the Glilot army base near Tel Aviv, in this Aug. 1, 2006 file photo.
Prime Minister Ehud Olmert told an investigative panel that the Israeli military "seriously let itself down" in last summer's war in Lebanon, according to censored minutes of his testimony released on Thursday.

But Olmert tried to deflect the commission's suggestions that he acted rashly and on the basis of sketchy information.

Olmert told a government commission that there was no other option but to strike at Hezbollah guerrillas in Lebanon immediately after they kidnapped two Israeli soldiers last year, reports CBS News correspondent Robert Berger. He said he knew Hezbollah would respond with rocket attacks, but he had two options: to strike decisively or do nothing.

The 89 pages of testimony were released 10 days after the commission issued a damning appraisal of his handling of the initial stage of the war. The especially harsh censure of Olmert has prompted renewed calls for his resignation and cast a cloud over his political future.

In other developments:

  • Israeli Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni was in Cairo to discuss the Arab peace initiative with her Egyptian and Jordanian counterparts, reports Berger. The initiative offers Israel full diplomatic ties with all Arab states in exchange for an Israeli withdrawal to the 1967 borders. The gaps between the countries' positions are wide. Israel rejects giving up Jerusalem's Old City and major West Bank settlement blocs and wants modifications. The Arabs say Israel must accept the plan as is.
  • Berger also reports Israel has unveiled a controversial new housing plan for Jerusalem and the West Bank. The Jerusalem municipality wants to build three new Jewish neighborhoods in disputed East Jerusalem. Haaretz, an Israeli newspaper, says the aim is to build 20,000 apartments to connect Jerusalem with two West Bank settlement blocs. The Palestinians say the plan is a land grab aimed at preventing a Palestinian state with Jerusalem as its capital. Israel says the settlement blocs will remain a part of the Jewish state in any final peace agreement.

    Although Olmert has survived the initial uproar over the report, it is not clear whether he can keep his coalition together under his leadership. A final report on the 34-day war is due out in the summer.

    The war started July 12 when Hezbollah guerrillas carried out a July 12 cross-border raid in which three soldiers were killed and two were captured.

    The Israeli public backed Olmert throughout the war, but the support broke down after he failed to achieve his two declared aims — recovering the two soldiers and crushing Hezbollah, which in the course of the war bombarded Israel with nearly 4,000 rockets.

    The minutes of Olmert's appearance before the war probe panel — censored by the military on security grounds — are studded with panel members' suggestions that Olmert took decisions without doing enough to explore alternatives or seek information beyond what the military told him.

    Asked whether he displayed any skepticism about what the military told him, Olmert didn't reply directly with any examples of how he might have disputed that information. Instead, he told the commission's five members that in his position, 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, saying, for example, that he might have met more often with senior Cabinet ministers to consult with them on diplomacy.