Prime Minister Ehud Olmert arrived Tuesday evening at the rocket-battered city of Haifa and met with the heads of about 60 regional councils in northern Israel, which have been subjected to ongoing and deadly barrages for almost a week now.
"This is a state of emergency, we will do everything to help you," he promised.
Olmert also met with Israeli ambassadors and heads of delegations leaving for diplomatic missions, and pointed a finger mainly at Iran.
"The timing of Hizbullah's operation in the north was not coincidental," he said. "It was coordinated with Iran and was aimed at drawing the international attention from Iran. Unfortunately, Iran's trick succeeded. Everyone now remembers the G8 decision on the Lebanese issue and fails to deal with the Iranian issue."
The prime minister noted that Israel does not reject diplomatic negotiations to solve the crisis, under the condition that it will be based on the principles of the G8 decision, meaning: An immediate release of the kidnapped soldiers under no conditions and an implementation of the Security Council's Resolution 1559 regarding the deployment if the Lebanese army along the border and disarming Hizbullah.
"No one in the international community is asking us to halt the operation before an implementation of the G8 decision," Olmert said. "In order to implement this, we may have to hold diplomatic negotiations – not with Hizbullah. In any case, starting negotiations will not stop the operation – only the return of the kidnapped soldiers will."
He made it clear that until there is no certainty that Israel is not under threat, the Israel Defense Forces will not stop its operation.
As for proposals made by Europe, the United Nations and other to deploy an international force in Lebanon, the prime minister said: "This is a good headline, but our experience shows that there is nothing behind it. There is an international force in Lebanon also today, and we see what they are doing. I want to be cautious about the issue, and I think it is too early to discuss this."
Bereaved parents support Olmert
A particularly exciting moment took place when Olmert was approached by Home Front Command Chief Major-General Yitzhak Gershon, who told him that he had just returned from a visit to the family home of Lieutenant Colonel Eitan Belachsan, who was killed during an operation in Lebanon when he was the commander of a paratroopers commando unit.
"They asked me to tell you that they support you and the IDF's operation, and that you should do everything in order to remove the Katyushas from the Galilee," he said. Olmert was extremely moved.
The meeting's attendees decided to establish a directors' forum, headed by Raanan Dinur, director-general of the Prime Minister's Office, which will work to provide governmental assistance and ease the life of the bombarded residents. The team is set to submit its first recommendations to the prime minister within a number of days.
Olmert at the Haifa Congress Center (Photo: GPO)
Olmert praised "the strength of the residents, who are facing a situation which is no less difficult than previous terror attacks in all the cities of Israel."
He made it clear that "we won't let go of the terrorists and will attack them from the air, the sea and the land. I will make sure that Israel's citizens will not be subjected to missile attacks anymore and will be safe."
"I am proud of the residents' strength," the prime minister told the regional council heads at the Haifa Congress Center. "We will do everything to stop the harm caused to them. Therefore the IDF is fighting and we are here at your service. The Israeli government stands behind you and lovingly accepts the expressions of tolerance and patience in the face of the Katyusha and rocket attack from Lebanon.
"The residents' behavior strengthens the IDF and the Israeli government," Olmert praised the community leaders and the public they represent.
Sitting next to directors of various ministries, he promised: "All the ministries are here at your service. I told them that this is a state of emergency, I told them to leave everything and take care of you and of the residents' needs. All the government ministers are also touring the north from morning to night in order to provide you with assistance."
Came to strengthen and left strengthened
"The prime minister came to tell the council heads that they are the real leaders in the field in these harsh days, that the civil endurance they and their residents are manifesting equals the power of many armies," Cabinet Secretary Yisrael Maimon told Ynet at the end of the meeting.
"The front is not on the border today, the front is in Haifa and Carmiel. The citizens' endurance is our great test, and the prime minister came to strengthen and left strengthened," he said.
The council heads, on their part, expressed their support of the government's policy and called to continue the war "until Hizbullah is eliminated and the threat over the northern communities is removed."
They presented their guest with the communities' distress and expressed their hope that the promises and compliments are not forgotten on the day after.
Ronny Sofer contributed to the report