PM Olmert reviews the outcome of the war in Lebanon and announces that the government will appoint of a committee of inquiry to examine the functioning of the government, alongside examinations by the IDF and the State Comptroller.
I am pleased to have this opportunity to meet with you again. I will share with you the ways in which I intend to examine the events of the war, learn all the lessons and prepare for the future as quickly as possible.
I want to make one thing clear: the responsibility for the decision to go to war, to react with military force, not to keep quiet over the attack on our soldiers, citizens and sovereignty, as well as the responsibility for the results of the war, is wholly mine.
During the last campaign, the Israeli civilian home front was the enemy’s main target. And this is not by chance. Hizbullah’s goal was to prove its "spider web" theory: To damage the home front, kill, terrorize with the intention of causing alarm, panic, a public outcry which would paralyze IDF activities. They believed that pressure on our home front was their life boat. They hoped our civilian home front would not withstand it, and they were surprised. The home front withstood it.
It withstood it, because of the conduct of the citizens in the shelters and workplaces. It withstood it, because of the volunteer spirit and solidarity displayed by Israeli society, which mobilized in its entirety, to help, volunteer, contribute, host, and do whatever was needed. It withstood it, because of your leadership, in your hometowns, among your residents, and because of your wisdom and courage. It is also because of the actions of the government, from the first few days, at the height of a difficult military campaign which was forced on us. The home front stood firm, and because of this, largely, the Hizbullah failed in deterring us.
You remember Nassrallah’s first speech on television, his smugness, his scorn for us, his confidence in his victory.
I know there are disagreements regarding the level of success, which is perhaps dependent on the level of early expectations. There were those who were quick to summarize. Gentlemen – patience. One thing is clear: in Beirut and other capitals in the Middle East, they understood that we are not going to tolerate attacks on our sovereignty, our citizens and our soldiers. This lesson, which is so important, is one we have learned for ourselves, and the world has also learned it. We saw Nassrallah yesterday say simply in his speech of regret: “If I had known that these would be the consequences, or even one percent of them – I would not have ordered the kidnapping and begun the war.” Very simple.
If, two months ago, someone would have predicted results like these, we would have said that he was exaggerating.
What is the situation today?
• Hizbullah has been pushed back from the fence, from the border. There are no more Hizbullah posts over Manara, Dovev, Avivim or Margaliot. There are no positions which control the border.
• Most of the forces on the front line of Hizbullah have been destroyed. Hundreds of dead, hundreds of wounded. This force, which trained for years to attack us, was hit hard from the air and on the ground.
• Most of the long-range missiles, which were the enemy’s strategic threat over Israel, were destroyed in the first hours of the campaign, in a grand campaign by our air force, within 34 hours – a campaign which reminds one of the destruction of the Arab air forces during the Six Day War and the destruction of the Syrian missiles in the Peace for Galilee War.
• Hizbullah strongholds in Beirut and all its command centers and facilities were destroyed. The heads of the Hizbullah are homeless, rootless, hunted and seeking shelter.
• The Lebanese Army has deployed in the south, on our northern border, in order to prevent the Hizbullah from renewing its threat to us, for the first time since the outbreak of the Lebanese civil war 35 years ago.
• A strong international force, comprised of armies from European countries is organizing to enter Lebanon and assist in stopping the Hizbullah.
• Resolution 1701 is one of Israel’s most important accomplishments in the international arena. If it is fully implemented – our situation along the northern border will be infinitely better than it was on July 12th.
This was not just a war against Hizbullah. Hizbullah was equipped with the best weapons, missiles, night vision equipment, anti-tank missiles, katyushas, and every destructive tool possible. Iran and Syria operated all the mechanisms, provided total backup, and were, in fact, the infrastructure and basis which the State of Israel faced during the last month.
It is clear to the world that Hizbullah has been beaten. The President of the United States, which is Israel’s great friend, George Bush said it best a couple of days ago when he said that very soon it would become clear just how much Israel won, and how much Hizbullah was defeated, as well as those who stood behind them.
For the first time, there is a chance for an agreement in Lebanon which would remove the immediate threat on Israel. There is a chance – not a certainty. We must stand guard, continue in our diplomatic efforts, and be prepared to use force in order to defend ourselves if need be, if the political arrangement fails.
We achieved this because we did not hesitate to use force when necessary, but we acted with restraint and responsibility whenever possible. We knew to instruct the Army to act unhesitatingly when there was need, and we also knew to finish when the first appropriate diplomatic opportunity was created.
So, is everything good? No. Not everything is good. We suffered heavy losses. It is true that they suffered heavier losses, but this does not console us over the loss of one soldier, one person who was killed, one citizen who died.
We were not successful in stopping the Katyushas. It must be admitted – we did not, nor did anyone, have a suitable solution to stopping the curved trajectory weapons. Even complete control over the territory did not afford us total immunity. However, it must be remembered that even the Katyushas from Lebanon – like the Kassams from Gaza – cannot stop us.
Most importantly – we have not brought the boys home. The government of Israel, and I as its head, will spare no effort to find them and bring them home. I, Ehud Olmert, Prime Minister of Israel, promise you that they will come home, perhaps not as soon as we would like, but they will come home.
It is true, not everything worked as we would have liked. We were not as ready as we needed to be in every place. We did not always achieve the results we hoped for. Not everything worked. There were incidents. There were deficiencies. There were also failures. Even if the overall balance is positive, we cannot ignore the failures, we must not cover them up, we must not overlook anything. We do not have time. We must act quickly. It is my duty, as Prime Minister, to examine everything, draw conclusions, learn lessons and fix everything that must be fixed. And I will fulfill this duty, as I promised immediately after the war.
From the first day, we all knew that this war would cost us dearly, on the front lines and on the home front. We knew that we would be exposed to rocket and missile fire directed at population centers. We seriously considered the risks and decided – if not now – when?
If we had not reacted thus, if we had again restrained ourselves from reacting to this serious provocation to our sovereignty and our citizens’
way of life – it is possible that in a short time, we would awaken to a new reality, immeasurably more difficult, dangerous and threatening than that with which we dealt.
The war in the north did not create new dangers of which we were not previously aware. It obligated us to deal with these dangers without compromise, and before it was too late.
It was clear ahead of time to everyone that this war would eventually end in the diplomatic step of a cease-fire, because we never intended to stay in Lebanon, and did not want to wallow there for many years as we did in the past. On Wednesday, August 9, the U.S. government informed us that a process was ripening which would bring about a cease fire under conditions which were acceptable to Israel. The Government, and I as its Head, was convinced that this opportunity should not be missed. However, in the following days and especially on Friday, August 11, it became clear that the proposed draft of the resolution which would be presented to the Security Council was completely unacceptable to Israel. Under these circumstances, I instructed the IDF to continue to expand its activity on the ground in the south of Lebanon.
On Saturday morning, August 12, the resolution was accepted by the UN, largely due to the continuation of Israel’s warfare. The IDF was on the move. Hizbullah declared it would continue to fight. The Lebanese government had not yet convened to approve its support of the resolution. Under those circumstances, in agreement with the top command of the IDF, it was necessary for the troops to move forward to ensure that the best possible conditions for us would be achieved. We suffered painful, heartbreaking losses, also during the last hours of warfare. Like the rest of the people of Israel and, first and foremost, the bereaved families, I carry in my heart the pain of these losses as also the indescribable sorrow for all the fallen and wounded soldiers.
In this case too, I am convinced that this difficult decision was inevitable. Because of it we could end the warfare and remain in Lebanon for two weeks without continuing to fight.
I hear the voices of criticism. There is, of course, professional protest and political criticism. I ignore these. We all know these games, of those who smell the political opportunity or let the surveys go to their heads. But, there is also true, genuine, heart-felt criticism – that of reservists, citizens – of those who are driven by love and not hatred. They stand and protest – also against me, and I hear them and respect what they have to say.
They are right about certain issues, and I disagree with them on other issues. However, the question is what should be done with this criticism, how we take the rage, disappointment, frustration and despair, as well as the sense of responsibility and the love we all feel for the country, and use them to rectify that which needs to be rectified. And rectification is required.
During the past few days, I struggled with myself on this question. I consulted many people, including the Attorney General, many experts in the fields of security, government and justice, and with my fellow ministers. I mainly debated about my duty as Prime Minister, who bears supreme responsibility not only for what was, but mainly for what will be, and for what may be.
The solution is simple on the surface: a judge will be appointed to chair a state judicial commission of investigation, which will hear witnesses, collect evidence and pass a verdict – an external, impartial, objective body. This may be a tempting solution, politically, and may appeal to certain public opinion – one which would ensure tranquility for a long period of time until the investigation is completed. However, this is not what the country needs. It is clear to everyone what will happen. For a long period of time the top of the military and security leadership, including the IDF command will be completely paralyzed in fear of the verdict. Many will quickly equip themselves with top lawyers, create narratives, cleanse themselves of guilt and, God forbid, place the blame on others. This is the nature of things. This is how it goes. This is how it has been.
It must be borne in mind: all this, while the warfare has not ended completely, while IDF soldiers are still in Lebanon, while the firing may still be renewed, while the threat has not yet been lifted. Still, beyond the approaching horizon, we should be prepared for the threat from Iran and its Israel-hating president. We do not have the luxury of sinking into years of investigations into the past, which have nothing to do with learning lessons or preparation for the future. Anyone, in all honesty, knows that this will not repair the defects or prevent incidents.
What we need is an effective, professional inquiry, to examine the issues in depth, draw conclusions, and learn lessons.
Firstly, the army actions. I wish to tell you something personal. I sat with the army commanders during the war and especially during its long nights. I saw the Chief of Staff , chief commanders and many other commanders. I saw them in doubt, in agony over each loss, and anxious about further losses. I saw them shoulder responsibility and do their utmost to forbear. I will not allow the army to stand a public lineup of collective flogging. We do not have another IDF. We do not have another army. The IDF cannot be replaced. I will not allow the IDF to be paralyzed for many months or more only to please one person or another. I will not let this happen. The army should be examined in the manner in which a civic democratic society examines its army, and the same applies to us – the political echelon.
My government will appoint a committee of inquiry chaired by Nahum Admoni, former Head of the Mossad. Among the committee members will be Maj. Gen. (Res.) Yedidya Yeari, Prof. Ruth Gabison, Prof. Yehezkel Dror.
The committee will be charged with the task of examining the functioning of the government, its proceedings and decision making, and anything else it sees fit to examine. The government will not be exempt from professional examination and criticism.
The defense system will act, in the framework of its authorities, to conduct a thorough examination in order to implement the necessary changes in the preparedness of the IDF, its combat doctrine and force structuring, in light of the lessons of this war and threatening scenarios. The government will request the State Comptroller to conduct an extensive and in depth examination of the defects which were discovered in the home front’s preparedness in the face of the threat of missiles and rockets. Thus, the three structures – political, military and civilian – will be examined.
I am confident that these extended examinations will teach us lessons in the shortest time possible, while at the same time conducting a reliable and an open procedure. Upon realization of these procedures our capabilities will improve significantly. In the long term, Israel will emerge from this more resistant, stronger, and, with G-d’s help, better prepared for the challenges of the future and its chances. And, the most important thing is that it will happen in a short time.
All of this is not enough.
This war, the difficult trials of a significant part of our civilian population, also revealed the terrible hardships which befell segments of Israeli society in the last few years.
We will not be able to avoid serious and thorough attention to these problems. The government resolved to carry out an extended action to strengthen the north and Haifa, while placing special emphasis on the physical rehabilitation of the affected areas, but also allocating special budgets to the education system, underprivileged population, single-parent families, new immigrants, minorities, senior citizens of whom many were affected in recent years, children at risk and underprivileged neighborhoods. This is true not only in regard to the north. This situation undermines the stability of the entire Israeli society and also other areas, especially the south and the Negev.
We will not be deterred from our commitments to prepare for the multi-annual plan in which the government decided to deal with this challenge. In the coming weeks the government will decide on a detailed plan for the fulfillment of these commitments. These plans will be presented to the public.
The campaign is not over – neither this campaign nor the others – on other fronts, from without or within. We will continue to discuss these issues.
Right now, I only wish to remember and remind you of:
• The families of the victims – bereaved families whose pain is unbearable. We shall not forget.
• The wounded who are still in hospital, struggling to recuperate, to be rehabilitated and return to their lives. We shall not forget.
• The citizens who face their ruined houses and deserve a helping, constructive, generous hand. We shall not forget.
• The employees, the self employed and business owners – small, medium or large businesses – who were the first to suffer the economic burden, and may collapse as a result. We shall not forget.
• The reservists who returned to their homes, some of whom are angry or disappointed, and have to make up for that which they missed. We shall not forget.
• We shall not forget Gilad Shalit, who today celebrates his 20th birthday. I take this opportunity to send a warm embrace on my own behalf and on behalf of all of you, to Gilad, to his family who so fear for his life and to all those who love him.
• Udi Goldwasser and Eldad Regev. We shall not forget.
We will examine with one hand and fix with the other. We have an opportunity here. From here, we will embark on a new path.
Thank you very much.