Prime Minister Ehud Olmert admitted to deficiencies in the conduct of the second Lebanon war last summer during his testimony before the Winograd Commission on Thursday, but insisted that Israel won the war because it achieved key diplomatic and military successes, aides said.
The prime minister reportedly told the commission that United Nations Resolution 1701, which mandated an international peacekeeping force in Lebanon, pushed Hizbullah away from Israel's northern border and called for the immediate release of two Israeli soldiers kidnapped by Hizbullah, was Israel's major achievement.
Olmert also argued that Israel's intensive aerial offensive took Hizbullah by surprise and emboldened Israel's deterrence, adding that the Shiite group will think twice before daring to launch a cross-border attack in the future.
The commission, which is probing the conduct of the military and the government during the second Lebanon war, grilled Olmert for seven hours in a testimony that aides said focused on the government's decision to send in ground troops only 48 hours before a UN-brokered ceasefire ended fighting with Hizbullah.
Aides added that Olmert took full responsibility for the war's conduct, saying that he blamed the war's failures "neither on the Defense Minister (Amir Peretz) nor on the IDF Chief of Staff (Lit. Gen. Dan Halutz)."
PM asked about delayed ground deploymentThe second Lebanon war was ignited on July 12 last year when Hizbullah guerrillas waged a cross-border attack on an IDF patrol, killing eight soldiers and kidnapping two others.
Commission members asked Olmert about his decision to declare all-out war against Hizbullah as well as the military and diplomatic briefings he received from various government ministries before the decision.
The prime minister presented the commission with transcripts of key meetings with members of the Security Cabinet and with military and intelligence commanders.
Aides added that the prime minister was asked about the government's support to northern communities who spend 34 days in shelters as Hizbullah showered northern Israel with rockets.
Olmert appointed the Commission following a hailstorm of public criticism of the army's poor performance against Hizbullah and its failure to halt the firing of rockets into Israel.
Olmert's testimony marked the end of the Commission's fact-gathering mission. An intermediate report on its findings will be released within two weeks.
Ronny Sofer and Vered Luvitch contributed to this report