I believe that the Winograd Committee provided a clear, overwhelming, and reasoned answer, based on a detailed, extensive and comprehensive examination of the facts, details and chain of events, to all claims.

Madam Speaker,
Members of Knesset,
Ladies and Gentlemen,

Allow me at the outset to refer to the event which took place today in Dimona, a very difficult event which once again points to the complexity with which we must deal every day. I have said often over the past several weeks that a war is being conducted in the South, a war of terror directed at us and our war against terror. This war will continue; terror will be defeated, we will not give up.

I did not come here tonight to argue nor to confront my political rivals.

I will devote myself to a serious, responsible and dignified inquiry – as the subject with which we are dealing obligates.

On July 12, 2006, the State of Israel was attacked on its northern border by the Hizbullah. In that attack, 8 Israeli soldiers were killed and two soldiers – Udi Goldwasser and Eldad Regev – were kidnapped. Regarding their conditions, their status and what is happening to them – there are no new details which we can share with the public or even with their families. While Hizbullah members were harming our soldiers, the northern region of Israel was shelled by a barrage of missiles and mortar rounds, which injured 11 citizens and disrupted the lives of the residents of the North.

During that same day, security forces and the IDF provided answers in the various sectors to the centralized attack by Hizbullah. At the same time, I held consultations with the security system in order to examine the appropriate way the State of Israel would react to further attacks in the North.

From January 2006, when I accepted the responsibility of administering matters of state, and until July 12, approximately six months later, I held many discussions on the dangers stalking us from the North, and ways of dealing with them.

These discussions were held with the participation of all the security forces – assessments, intelligence and command – of the State of Israel, beginning with the Minister of Defense, operations officers and including intelligence officers in their respective fields.

All these forces, without exception, warned of real danger, of continued friction between fighters of the IDF and Hizbullah members on the northern border, of kidnapping attempts and the vulnerability of igniting the entire region.

The collective and unequivocal opinion of the security forces recommended that, in the situation of an additional attempted kidnapping and the firing of missiles on the North, it was critical that the State of Israel respond with strength over the entire sector, in a non-proportional manner to the scope of the attack in order to change the patterns of behavior in the North and to free tens of thousands of Israeli citizens from the daily threat under which they lived.

Based on these discussions and on the educated recommendations of the security forces, there were early discussions on July 12, and at their conclusion the Government was convened for a special session.

During the Government meeting, the Ministers were presented with a full and comprehensive picture of the situation in the North. The picture included the following components:

A. The Hizbullah had thousands of missiles. The range of missiles could reach Haifa and even further south to Hadera.
B. A massive Israeli response would lead to Hizbullah missile fire on the entire northern region.
C. Israel did not have the ability to totally prevent, in any manner, the firing of missiles. Israel could, through a combination of aerial and ground operations, stop a significant portion of the missile threat to Israel, but not all of it.
D. Missile fire under such circumstances directed at the northern part of the country would continue for days and even weeks, and would reach many communities; the home front would be harmed.
E. The Chief of General Staff, Lt. Gen. Halutz was asked by the Minister of Foreign Affairs and Vice Prime Minister what could be considered a victory in this conflict. His answer was: "There will not be a knockout. There will not be a situation of surrender. The goal is to strike at the Hizbullah with strength, to bring about the intervention of international diplomatic factors, which will force a settlement which will deploy the Lebanese army in the South."
F. At no point in any discussion, including the Government meeting of July 12, did the Chief of General Staff, Dan Halutz, speak of achieving a decisive victory only through air strikes.
G. At the conclusion of the discussion in which the security services from all fields of responsibility recommended a significant Israeli counter-strike, the Government voted unanimously, without any reservations or abstentions, to empower the "Seven Ministers" Committee, under my leadership, to instruct the IDF to take action.
H. In accordance with this, instructions were provided to all the bodies bearing responsibility for the civilian population: the Home Front Command, the rescue services, hospitals and other services to prepare to complete their duties based on the prediction of unavoidable conflict.
I. The Government drafted the targets of the conflict in light of the report presented to it, the scope of the threat under discussion and the ability of the security system to provide an answer to it.

The targets were modest and precise:

First – to return the kidnapped soldiers. We have yet to fulfill this target. We knew ahead of time that the odds of returning them in a military operation were slight. This assessment was relayed to all the ministers at the Government meeting. However, could we skip over them and speak of conflict targets without mentioning them?

Could we demand that the international community act for their release if we ourselves had not done so? Even if we knew that the practical odds of this happening were low?

The next target was to repel the threat of terror from the Israeli border and to force the Hizbullah to pull back northward.

And finally: an effort to enforce the implementation of UN Security Council Resolution 1559, which would lead to the deployment of the Lebanese Army in the south, in place of the Hizbullah.

These targets were proportional, obligating, reasonable and inevitable. Most of them were achieved.

Security Council Resolution 1701, with the unanimous support of all its members, was an accomplishment for Israel.

The reality in the North from August 14, 2006 until today is an accomplishment for Israel.

The quiet, tranquility, growth and prosperity in the North, life without the immediate and daily threat of violent terror are an accomplishment for Israel.

At the time that the Government made the decision for a sharp reaction to the attack on Israel, it received widespread support from the entire political spectrum, from the Israeli media and from the wider public.

In a discussion which took place in the Knesset on July 17, all the speakers showered praise on the Government Resolution, on the targets presented for Israeli fighting and on the manner in which the decisions were made.

There was complete agreement that the Israeli response was necessary, inevitable and proportional.

Post factum, there were those who questioned the wisdom of the decision, its justness and its achievements. No one said so at the time. No one doubted its wisdom, importance and necessity. Members of Knesset, coalition and opposition alike, competed to praise the Government. Commentators and experts exaggerated the importance of the Israeli response and were united as they soared to new heights in their estimation of the Government and even more, in a manner that reeks of cheap sycophancy, a lack of sense and uncontrolled overexcitablity.

After the war, various parties began to criticize the primary decision, the avoidance of a quick finish to the fighting, the lack of a victory and they even spoke of the alleged Israeli defeat in the battle. There were even those who arrived at a total loss of any moral and human proportion and accused me, the Minister of Defense and the Chief of General Staff of "corrupt spin" regarding the IDF actions over the final 48 hours of fighting. Some of the critics were among those who made the decisions which bore their criticism. Others bear their own responsibility for the failures which were uncovered.

I believe that the Winograd Committee provided a clear, overwhelming, and reasoned answer, based on a detailed, extensive and comprehensive examination of the facts, details and chain of events, to all claims.

It would have been better had this false claim not been raised at all. It is good that it was removed from the public debate by the Winograd Committee.

As to the rest – a debate is raging and will continue to be conducted based on facts and to the point. The Winograd Committee has had its say. Its words were harsh about the political echelon and other bodies, including the security services and the IDF.

I bear ultimate responsibility for all the failures – I said so the day the fighting ended and never attempted to avoid it or renounce it.

I am not here to get even with individuals or groups regarding what became increasingly weaker over the years, what was not dealt with, was neglected; all the budgetary cuts; changes in military parlance and thinking; the lack of an effective National Security Council; and the many other failures which the Committee uncovered and emphasized.

I declare that I take upon myself the full responsibility for all these failures as well. I am the Prime Minister. I was elected Prime Minister two months before July 12. There cannot be an effective democracy without those who bear responsibility. I accept this.

I will use this responsibility to correct the flaws, learn the lessons, jumpstart the inevitable changes which must be made. I began doing so the day after the war, with the assistance of the then-Chief of General Staff, Lt. Gen. Halutz and then-Minister of Defense Amir Peretz, and for the past year by the Chief of General Staff Gaby Ashkenazi and Minister of Defense Ehud Barak. I will continue to do so.

This is a complex and comprehensive job, which includes determining new agendas in many fields.

At this point, following the recommendations of the Brodet Committee, I determined – for the first time in history – a budgetary framework for the next ten years for the security services, including an addition of NIS 100 billion, and we initiated proposed legislation to establish the status of the National Security Council following the recommendations of the committee headed by Lt. Gen. Amnon Lipkin-Shahak. This proposal, together with the proposal of MK Amira Dotan, will become the Law for the National Security Council in the near future. We rehabilitated the North; we invested billions of shekels in upgrading the quality of life in that region. At the same time, the IDF and security system implemented a dramatic series of changes and improvements in learning the lessons and changing training, qualification, equipping and preparedness to fight.

The Winograd Committee Report refers to the reality which existed in August 2006. Now it is February of 2008 and we have a different army, more prepared, better trained and organized. It is not braver or bolder. IDF fighters, all of them, revealed unparalleled bravery and daring during the fighting.

We have no better fighters than you; we have no bolder commanders; we have no more excellent units.

Madam Speaker,

I wish to say something personal, and even take advantage of this moment to appeal to the people of Israel, the bereaved families, the reserve soldiers from all ranks, the opposition – and especially you, Chairman of the Opposition, who serves as their authorized and official spokesman.

The debate being conducted by the Israeli public is not easy. We have adopted a culture of argument, which includes very little listening and a lot of noise. For some time we have forgotten to practice patience and primarily tolerance, and we have transformed the personal, aggressive, belligerent and rude dimension into a characteristic of the manner of our public functioning. I do not exempt myself from being a partner to this atmosphere, at various other times of my public life.

It is time to stop this. I remember, Mr. Chairman of the Opposition, the days during which you served as Prime Minister. I remember well what you said to me, how you advised me, when I got the job and you, based on your experience and pain, told me honestly: "You will find out how hard it is." You who were informed, you who received almost daily updates from me starting on July 12, you who participated in all the main steps and supported them at the time, you who received information of the most sensitive of steps, who heard from me on Friday, August 11 about my decision to order an additional ground operation in Lebanon and who told me that you support me with all your heart and that you were a partner, even by your own words, to other fateful matters with which the Government was involved: do not give a hand or your voice to the argumentative and inciting tone. Stop this baseless vilification about champagne and parties. Allow the grief and the bereaved parents to speak without mediators and political and party motivations. It is clear to me that the opposition wishes to bring down the Government, and you want to replace me. This is natural, it is obvious and it is inevitable. It is also legitimate. Distorting reality is not.

You expressed your lack of confidence before the fighting in Lebanon.  You would have demanded my resignation had we not responded on July 12. You are demanding that I resign because of the reaction of July 12, despite the fact that you were informed of it ahead of time and supported it; you ask for my resignation because of the final ground operation on August 11 of which I informed you ahead of time; and you would ask for my resignation if I had not ordered that it be implemented. All this is acceptable to me; it is your political duty and I bow my head in respect to the rules of democracy.

I recommend that we not deviate from these rules to a form of personal attacks, in which there is no respect for ourselves, for the Israeli public and for the parties which we represent.

Members of Knesset,

In light of the circumstances and according to the results of the elections in March 2006, I, as Prime Minister, was charged with standing at the forefront of national decision making over the past two years.

At the end of the fighting, in August 2006, together with the Minister of Defense, I proposed the appointment of an examination committee in accordance with Article 8A of the Law of Government 2001. Heading this committee was the retired President of the Tel Aviv Regional Court, Justice (Ret.) Dr. Eliyahu Winograd. Its members included Prof. Ruth Gavison, Prof. Yehezkel Dror, Maj. Gen. (Ret.) Menachem Einan and Maj. Gen. (Ret.) Dr. Chaim Nadel.

The attacks on its members, the desire to dictate content to them, a positive or negative opinion, did not stop from the first moment of their activity.

The Committee Report can be argued with, agreed with or disagreed with; some of its determinations can be agreed with and the rest disputed. It is proper to ask all those who argue not to drag the Committee and its members into the belligerent style of Israeli political debate. The members of the Committee were not appointed in order to please anyone. They are all independent and reasonable people; they were asked to examine what occurred, how it occurred, what was done over the past several years and primarily: how to learn, correct and move forward.

They did a serious and comprehensive job. After reading the entire Report, I would like to say to you, Madam Speaker, Members of Knesset and people of Israel, sincere words from my heart:

The Government acted correctly when it resolved to respond on July 12 in order to stop the intolerable magic circle of terror attacks, kidnapping of soldiers and disruption of life in the North.

Today I still think that this was a proportional, obligating and unavoidable decision. If I faced the same data today, I would recommend making the same decision.

The Government was correct in acting immediately to form an international front of support for the targets of the war, and earned the unprecedented backing of the G-8 countries and the Rome Conference.

The Government was correct in acting, through the steering committee headed by the Chief of Staff of the Prime Minister’s Office, Dr. Yoram Turbowicz, along with the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, inspired by the Minister of Foreign Affairs, to formulate a proposed UN Resolution which allowed for an end to the fighting, the deployment of the Lebanese Army in the South and the deployment of an effective multi-national force there.

The Political-Security Cabinet was correct in instructing the Prime Minister and Minister of Defense to expand the ground operation on August 9, and we were correct to start this operation for a limited period of time in order to bring about the desired diplomatic decision for Israel.

We will strengthen the weaknesses, correct the failures, learn the lessons and embrace and love the soldiers – for without them we have nothing.

I will say to the bereaved families and the families of the kidnapped soldiers: I accept with humility your expressions of pain, distress and longing. I know that public protest is a legitimate expression in a democratic system.  here you can be found – no politicians can be found, no casual hitchhiker and no preachers, with rank or without.  Where you are – there will never be disagreement, dispute or argument.

Only pain which will never cease and endless gratitude!

Members of Knesset,

The Winograd Committee obligates the entire people of Israel, first and foremost its leadership, to genuine and thorough soul searching. Not only of the omissions and failures of the recent fighting in Lebanon, but also of basic values, of social commitments – which have been worn away over the years, along with the feeling of profound solidarity which once typified Israeli society at all its levels – and now seems to have weakened, with a lack of compassion and proportionality, with an uncontrolled belligerence which characterizes our public debate, with a lack of appropriate treatment for the weaker segments of Israeli society – who were subject to murderous attacks for over one month and who did not have the feeling that the bodies responsible for them, including the Government which I head, had done all they could to ease the hardships they faced, also given the character of the internal relations between the Jewish majority and the minorities among us, who are an inseparable part of Israeli society and are entitled to be partners in all its accomplishments.

I believe that none of us can avoid this soul searching; it reaches down into the most basic roots of our shared lives, and is vital to strengthening the solid foundations of the existence of Israeli society from the force of the challenges it faces.

And we face many challenges. The State of Israel is threatened by murderous terror – as we saw today – which seeks to slaughter the best of our citizens in various parts of the country. We are attacked from the South by the Hamas, which dismisses any willingness for dialogue with us; we are threatened in the North by the Hizbullah, which stockpiles its tools of destruction with the help of the enemies of Israel; and we are attentive to the voices of hatred emanating from further east and which initiate waves of hatred and hostility towards our very existence.

We are a strong country, stronger than all our enemies. They are aware of our power and sensitive to our immense deterrent force. Deterrence exists. There is no need to add to this. We are a country of almost unprecedented accomplishments in modern human history.

We established the country against all odds and in spite of the dangers and threats; we have defended it and nurtured culture and quality of life in it which are unlike many countries in the world, which are richer and more tranquil than we are.

There is much work ahead of us in the fields of security of daily life and the war against terror. We must improve our education system, which is the true infrastructure and unmistakable chance to preserve our supremacy vis-à-vis those who wish us harm. We must close the social gaps which are no longer possible in a prosperous society with many means as is ours, and we must distribute Israeli economic accomplishments in all regions of the country, center and periphery alike, in a manner which we have yet to adopt and to take care of children at risk and the needy elderly.

And yes, we must continue the enormous effort to create a reality of peace and reconciliation with our Palestinian neighbors.

These are difficult tests, strewn with obstacles, laden with dangers, and full of hope.

The Government, which I am honored to lead, is making a tremendous effort to deal with these missions. I am convinced that we are on the path which allows us all a chance and an opportunity.

I am not prepared to avoid the responsibility and opportunity to influence these chances – for days of internal unity, for a common national effort, for internal reconciliation and human compassion, which will lead the people of Israel to that which we desire above all else – security and peace.

I will be occupied with this for the entire time I bear this responsibility. This obligates us all to diligence and seriousness, to self discipline and to level headedness. I am committed to this.  I pray that all those who sit here and many others who are watching us with hope, share this binding seriousness and diligence. Together we will lead the country to fulfilling its goals.