Prime Minister Ehud Olmert said Monday he took sole responsibility for the offensive against Hezbollah guerrillas in Lebanon, and said the war shifted the strategic balance in the region.
In a speech to parliament hours after a U.N. brokered cease-fire took effect, Olmert said the agreement eliminated the “state within a state” run by Hezbollah, and restored Lebanon’s sovereignty in the south.
Olmert’s statement to the Knesset was his first since the early days of the war, which broke out July 12 after Hezbollah guerrillas captured two Israeli soldiers in a cross-border raid.
With the cease-fire, the unity that has governed Israeli politics was expected to quickly fracture. Three Knesset members were ejected from parliament during Olmert’s speech for heckling; several others have called for a commission of inquiry into the offensive.
After Olmert’s speech, Benjamin Netanyahu, head of the opposition Likud Party, said there were serious problems with the war.
“It must be said honestly, there were many failures, failures in identifying the threat, failures in preparing to meet the threat, failures in the management of the war, failures in the management of the home front,” Netanyahu said. “Without doubt we shall need later on to learn the lessons and fix the mistakes.”
‘No plan to apologize’
Olmert acknowledged there were “deficiencies” in the way the war was conducted. “We will have to review ourselves in all the battles,” he said. “We won’t sweep things under the carpet.”
Anticipating that another war with Hezbollah may come in the future, the prime minister said Israel will learn the lessons of this war and “do better.”
He said the fighting brought a change in the strategic balance in the region, to Hezbollah’s disadvantage. The militia’s vast storehouse of weapons was mostly destroyed, Olmert said, and its self-confidence undermined.
“We will continue to pursue them everywhere and at all times,” he said. “We have no intention of asking anyone’s permission.”
Olmert advised patience for his critics who believe that the war fell short of Israel’s original goal of dismantling Hezbollah. “We don’t plan to apologize,” he said.
The prime minister also promised to do everything he could to win the return of two captive Israeli soldiers.