Thursday, May 31, 2007

Olmert Speaks to Knesset on Lebanon

Prime Minister Ehud Olmert’s Speech at the Knesset




Madam Speaker,
Members of Knesset,

Allow me to begin at the end: there are no easy wars, as there are no victories without cost. Any decision to go to war, even the clearest and most unmistakable – is never easy, and anyone who says otherwise is either not telling the truth or is heartless. Neither exhilaration nor the heat of battle filled me when we embarked on the Second Lebanon War. However, I believed then, as I believe now, that it was the necessary and imperative decision under the circumstances.

It is true that the Second Lebanon War, like all the wars fought to date, exacted a heavy cost. It is part of the heavy cost paid by the State of Israel for six decades of its desire to live in peace, security and independence. This cost, the lives of soldiers and civilians, cannot be quantified or measured, because there is no price for the pain of a bereaved mother, there is no measure for the grief of the father who has lost his son, and there is no going rate for orphanhood. And I see them – the mothers, fathers, siblings, children and wives – entire families, engulfed in despair, arriving in my office weekly, for heartrending conversations.

To all those who are attempting to sow frustration in addition to the grief, I say emphatically: the cost in blood was not in vain. It is my duty to say this again and again to the families. Two weeks ago, I visited the northern border. I was, inter alia, in Shlomi and Arab al Aramshe – in each location they showed me the positions in which Hezbollah terrorists used to sit. Every morning, residents would open their windows and see across from their homes, during every hour and minute, tens or hundreds of meters away, Hezbollah members aiming the barrel of their guns at them.

This is no longer true.

My Government had goals when embarking on the campaign. The goals of the fighting, as defined in advance, were the realization of UN Resolution 1559; pushing Hezbollah back from the border; the deployment of the Lebanese Army in the south; a total cease-fire; and the return of the kidnapped soldiers. There are those who criticized and defined the final demand as ambitious and unrealistic. This is, indeed, true; we knew that the chances of returning the kidnapped soldiers, Udi Goldwasser and Eldad Regev, in a military operation were very low. This did not stop us from initiating and implementing bold steps towards this end during the fighting. The things we said in this regard also had a clear purpose. We could not expect the UN, the G8 Summit and the Rome Commission to place the return of the soldiers as their top concern if we ourselves had not declared that it was our top concern.

Ladies and Gentlemen,
Members of Knesset,

Since the publication of the Winograd Commission Report, our public space has been filled with an unending cacophony. From amidst the din, a number of voices arose – not from the shrill and inflammatory vein – who have analyzed the situation from a broad international and historic view. Thus, for example, I heard the statement from Prof. Martin van Creveld of the history department of the Hebrew University, who examined the results of the Second Lebanon War in depth. According to the professor, the nine months since the war have been the longest period of quiet experienced by Israel on its northern border since 1968. He determined that the goal of fundamentally changing the situation in the north was achieved. During 2000-2006, incidents would occur every three to four months, on average, and since the implementation of Resolution 1701, quiet has been maintained.

Members of Knesset, the situation in South Lebanon has completely changed. An echo of this was heard in the statement made by the commander of the UNIFIL forces in South Lebanon, General Claudio Graziano. “I would like the Israelis to understand that the situation in Lebanon has changed. There is a different UNIFIL, a new one,” he said. “The population in South Lebanon understands that the situation has fundamentally changed. There are no Hezbollah outposts – only posters and flags here and there. Italian and French tanks patrol the area. This is the quietest period in South Lebanon in over 40 years.” General Graziano reports that UNIFIL Forces so far have found several hundred bunkers which existed before the war. Today, there are no new missiles south of the Litani River.

The world also views the war as having brought about strategic accomplishments for Israel. One of the most highly esteemed commentators in international journalism, Thomas Friedman of the New York Times, who published an article following the interim report of the Winograd Commission, wrote that, as a result of Israeli actions, Nasrallah diminished the deterrence capability of his organization, as well as Iran’s and Syria’s. “When the war started, Hezbollah’s fighters were sitting right on the border with Israel… [and were] a real threat to Israel. As a result of the war, Hezbollah was pushed off the border by Israel and, it its place, the UN inserted a new peacekeeping force… [This is] a huge strategic loss for Hezbollah.” Friedman ends his article by writing, “Today, less than a year after [the war], Lebanon is weaker and Israel is stronger. That’s what matters. And that is why, if the Hezbollah leader had any honor, he would resign.”

So what is happening to us? I see the frustration, hear the voices of desperation, feel the sense of bitterness, and am very troubled about this. Perhaps, as one of the members of the Winograd Commission said, “The reason we are sitting here today is the large gap in the consciousness of the Israeli public in relation to the level of injury inflicted on the Hezbollah and the illusory victory of Hezbollah as a small guerilla organization.”

From where does this obsessive insistence to present a negative picture in shades of just black emanate? The Winograd Commission did determine that in the functioning of all those who made decisions during the war there were also many impressive examples of dedication, investment, ability to analyze, effort, decision-making ability and the acceptance of responsibility.

Madam Speaker,
Members of Knesset,

Anyone who really cares about the implementation of the Winograd Report should read it in its entirety – the good and the bad. One should not search for what is not in it and transform that into a political guillotine. It should not be studied in terms of the political race of those who are in a hurry to grab control, even at the cost of groundless self-destruction, reason and limits. All this about a war which was wholly justified.

It is true that there were mistakes and failures, some outlined during the war, some built into the system, some which dragged on for years. The report points them all out in a keen and clear manner. You asked me to report here tonight in order to discuss the conclusions. As much as I respect the need of some of the Members here to speak, argue and primarily attack, my Government has, since publication of the report, been busy. The members of the Winograd Commission explained that they submitted an interim report, before completing their work, because they saw the urgency of correcting any shortcomings. Anyone with eyes in their head understood that the Commission was saying “yes” to correcting shortcomings and “no” to beheadings. And to those who have yet to internalize this, these things are clearly written in the report, even while the Commission criticizes our tendency as a society and country to equate treatment of substantial and burning issues with lopping off heads.

The Government respected the business-like attitude of the Commission, rolled up its sleeves and embarked on implementation:

• The IDF is currently in a period of unusual activity, and we are closely monitoring the implementation of the lessons – in training, exercises, and equipment at the general staff level and in the field. We cannot return to the situation in which the commander of a Nahal battalion who has served in his position for two years, comes to me and tells me that his first battalion exercise took place during battle in Lebanon.

• A significant portion of the Commission’s recommendations are already being implemented, also in the manner in which the Government and Cabinet function.

• Last Thursday, the steering team for implementation of the Commission’s conclusions, headed by former Chief of General Staff, Amnon Lipkin-Shahak, commenced working. In accordance with my instructions, the team should complete its work as soon as possible.

Now is the time for corrections – and allow me to calm those who are in such a rush by saying that the time for personal accounting will come.

Allow me to add a number of things on a personal note.

I did not come here to fight – not with you, Members of Knesset, nor with anyone else. I wish to say something to the Israeli people, to the residents of the North, to bereaved families who lost their children on the home front and on the frontlines, to the wounded soldiers and to the families of the kidnapped soldiers: I am proud of the decision of the Government of Israel on July 12 to respond strongly and with force, in light of the kidnapping of Udi and Eldad, the killing of eight of our soldiers and the firing of missiles at the northern communities. We did not always react in this way. In a number of incidents in the past, we restrained ourselves. We held back. On July 12, we decided – no more. It was a just, unavoidable and correct response.

In a number of discussions over several months, I soundly considered our pattern of response long before it took place. I discussed it. I presented the recommendations of the security forces to the Government, and after hearing all the details, the entire Government voted unanimously in favor of a strong Israeli response, and even approved the committee draft which defined the targets of Israeli response.

Indeed, I formulated my stance at the end of a series of ongoing discussions which began the day I took on the responsibility of governing the country at the beginning of January 2006. It is true, on July 12 my position was formulated, and I did not rush to make decisions solely based on the events of that day. This is how one should behave. It was my duty to behave thus.

My fellow Members of Knesset,

I clearly remember the backup provided by a vast majority of this house to the Government Resolution of July 12. You too were correct. At the time, you stood, one after the other, and saluted the Government’s steps, its duty to respond, even with the knowledge that this response would lead to vulnerability on the Israeli home front – at the time, that was the best response.

I appreciated and respected the determined response of the Opposition head, Benjamin Netanyahu, who was invited to see me on the evening of July 12. As I was obliged to do, I provided the head of the Opposition with a detailed, full and comprehensive update regarding the Government’s discussion, its decision, the Israeli response expected that night and its specific goals. Mr. Netanyahu told me that I had his full and unconditional support for these decisions. He would do the same, he told me. On July 26 as well, two weeks after the beginning of the campaign, and just 10 days after the period examined by the Winograd Commission, I won the wall-to-wall support of the Foreign Affairs and Security Committee of the Knesset. At the time, Mr. Netanyahu said the following: “I stand behind the goals set out by the Cabinet. I determine that they are deserving goals, and their accomplishment should be supported. I congratulate the tremendous accomplishment: the statement of the G8 countries”. There is no doubt that the support of the head of the Opposition was an important boon to the general attitude of the public to the war.

There were some members of the Opposition who criticized me at the time. Some of them thought that the Israeli response against the Hezbollah was not strong enough – that it should be expanded to other groups. All those who supported and all those who criticized should be thanked – even if there are a few among the members of the Opposition who today tend to forget their position during those same days, and ask for my resignation for those exact same decisions they backed up and encouraged. I will not forget how, during those difficult days, they acted responsibly. This means something in this place.

As I conclude, but not as a side note, I would like to refer to the disturbing phenomenon, in the wake of the publication of the Winograd Commission interim report, of attacking the IDF. Under no circumstances and conditions will I be dragged into the critical spirit of attacking IDF soldiers, its fighters and commanders, past or present. They are the backbone of our force. They are the basis of our strength. They are the source of our pride. We love the IDF, its fighters and commanders, all of them, and will continue to embrace them and honor them.

Distinguished Members of Knesset,

On the first day of fighting, upon conclusion of the fighting and ever since, I said: the supreme responsibility is the Government’s, and first and foremost, mine, as its head. I have not changed my stance; I did not shirk responsibility; I did not avoid its consequences.

I admit the full scope of responsibility, for failures, shortcomings and omissions as well as for the great accomplishments. Based on all these insights – my Government will continue to lead the people of Israel to security, well-being, prosperity, national reconciliation and – with G-d’s help – to peace as well.