Olmert: Lives lost in Lebanon not in vain
Second Lebanon War was Israel's most justified war, Olmert tells Knesset following his refusal to resign over Winograd report. 'The death toll is part of the price paid by a state wishing to live in peace, security and independence,' he adds
Israel's death toll in the Second Lebanon War was not in vain, Prime Minister Ehud Olmert told the Knesset on Tuesday, adding that it was the most justified war in the history of the State of Israel.
"There are no easy wars just like there are no victories without a price to pay," Olmert said.
The Knesset held a special session following the prime minister's refusal to resign over the Winograd Commission's conclusions.
Many in the political and public arena have called on Olmert to resign following the report which ruled that he had failed in his conduct during the war.
"Every decision to launch a war, even if it is the most justified and clear decision, is never easy. Anyone who tells you otherwise is not telling the truth," the prime minister told the Knesset.
The special session was held following a petition initiated by the chairpersons of the Likud and Meretz factions, signed by 46 Knesset members and submitted to Knesset Speaker Dalia Itzik, demanding that the prime minister address the calls for his resignation over the Winograd report.
The prime minister asked the MKs to try and make the most of the Winograd conclusions instead of using them for head-chopping.
"Those who really care about the implementation of the Winograd Commission report should read all of it, the good and the bad," he said. "They should not look for what is not there and should not turn it into a political guillotine.
"It should not be utilized in the political race of those who wish to rise to power even at the price of baseless self-destruction, which lacks logic and boundaries – all this around a war which was the most justified."
Olmert at the Knesset (Photo: Gil Yohanan)
Addressing the first hours of the war and the decision to launch a wide-scale operation in southern Lebanon, Olmert said, " I was not filled with joy or with enthusiasm to fight when we launched the Second Lebanon War, but I believed then as I believe now that it was the required and necessary decision under the circumstances created.
"It's true that the Second Lebanon War, like every war we have fought to this day, claimed a heavy price. This is part of the heavy price paid by the State of Israel for six decades due to its desire to live in peace, security and independence. The price paid in the lives of soldiers and civilians cannot be quantified or measured as there is no price for the pain of a bereaved mother and there is no measure for the grief of a father who lost his son."
'There were mistakes and there were failures'
"I see them, the mothers and fathers and siblings and children and wives, families wrapped in their sorrow, arriving at my office every week for the most heart-rending talks. To all those attempting to spread frustration in addition to the bereavement, I would like to firmly say: The lives lost were no in vain. It is my duty to say this again and again, first and foremost to the families."
"There were mistakes and there were failures," Olmert admitted. "Some of them were created during the war, some are built into the system, some have been dragged for years. The report points to all of them in a clear and profound manner.
"The members of the Winograd Commission explained to me that they had submitted a partial report before completing their work because they saw the urgency in fixing the failures. Any sensible person understood that the committee was saying 'yes to fixing the failures and no to head-chopping.'
"The government honored the committee's practical approach, rolled up its sleeves and started implementing. The IDF is in the midst of an unusual period of achievement, and we are closely following the implementation of the lessons."
"A significant part of the committee's recommendations are already being implemented, also in the conduct of the government and the cabinet. Last Thursday, a special panel appointed to implement the committee's conclusions, headed by former IDF Chief of Staff Amnon Lipkin-Shahak, began its work. I instructed the panel to complete its work as soon as possible. Now is the time for repairs.
"The supreme responsibility is the government's, and first and foremost mine as the person who heads it," the prime minister stressed. "I have not changed my stance, I have no escaped responsibility, I have not evaded everything that it entails."
'Where does the frustration come from?'
As part of the attempt to justify his refusal to resign and to prove the successes of the war, Olmert said that "since the implementation of UN Resolution 1701, a complete state of calm has been maintained in southern Lebanon. Only posters and flags here and there. Italian tanks are patrolling the area and there are no new missiles south of the Litani River.
"The world also refers to this war as one which has brought strategic assets to Israel. One of the most important commentators in global journalism, Thomas Friedman of the New York Times, who published an article following the Winograd Commission's partial report, wrote that it was a huge strategic loss for Hizbullah."
The prime minister also addressed the gloomy atmosphere among the public following the war and the feeling that Israel lost the battle.
"What is happening to us? I see the sights of frustration, hear the voices of desperation, and I am very troubled by them. Maybe, like one of the Winograd Commission members said, the reason we are sitting here today is a very big gap in the Israeli public's awareness regarding the proportion of the blow Hizbullah suffered and the image of its victory as a small guerilla organization.
"Where does this obsessive insistence to present a negative picture only in black? The Winograd Commission ruled that there were many and impressive acts of dedication and decision making in the conduct of all decision makers during the war."
Before concluding his speech, Olmert raised his voice and said, "I did not come here to argue – not with you and not with any other person. I am proud of the Israeli government's decision from July 12th, to respond so clearly and powerfully to the kidnapping of Udi (Ehud Godlwasser) and Eldad (Regev), the killing of eight of our soldiers and the rockets fired at northern communities.
"We did not always respond this way. In a number of incidents in the past we practiced restraint, but on July 12 we decided – enough is enough. I considered our response in a number of discussions held a long time before it took place. I brought the recommendations to the security ranks in the government, and the entire government, after listening to all the details, voted unanimously in favor of a harsh Israeli response.
"I arrived at July 12 with a consolidated opinion and did not rush to make a decision based only on what happened that day. This is the way to act, and this was my duty," the prime minister concluded.