Peres says last year’s War was a mistake
JERUSALEM – Vice-Premier Shimon Peres told a panel investigating the government’s handling of last year’s war in Lebanon that Israel’s decision to invade was a mistake and the military was unprepared, according to testimony made public Thursday.Peres also said Hezbollah did a better job of handling media coverage than the Israelis did.The 15-page transcript of his appearance before the commission last November has large swathes deleted by Israel’s military censors on security grounds, but nevertheless provides insights into the veteran statesman’s thinking.”The greatest mistake is the very fact of war,” he told the commission. “If it had been up to me, I would not have gone into this war.”Prime Minister Ehud Olmert appointed the commission, headed by a retired judge, under intense pressure from a dissatisfied public because of the inconclusive war. Hezbollah rained almost 4,000 rockets on northern Israel, but Israel’s military failed to achieve the war’s stated aims – smashing the guerrilla group and returning two captured soldiers.Army chief Dan Halutz resigned as a result of the widespread criticism and there have been calls for Olmert and Defense Minister Amir Peretz to follow suit.While Peres refused to lay blame, he said the military “was not prepared for this war” and its inconclusive outcome harmed Israel’s deterrent posture in the eyes of the Arab world.”We are perceived today as weaker than we were before,” he said.Peres told the commission the war was neither a success nor a failure, but he said the government was wrong to publicly prioritize the return of the soldiers, snatched by Hezbollah in a cross-border raid on July 12.”If you say your primary objective is to free the abducted (soldiers), you in practice put yourself at the mercy of the enemy,” Peres told the panel. “Why would you say that?”He added that Hezbollah had been more effective than Israel in the battle for favorable media coverage of the monthlong conflict, finding an effective spokesman in its leader Hassan Nasrallah.”Hezbollah united around a spokesman of no little talent – Nasrallah,” Peres said. “We relentlessly attacked one another. One person blamed the other and the net effect was negative.”Peres, 83, told the five-member panel of jurists and retired generals, however, that he kept his misgivings about sending the army into Lebanon to himself for fear that arguing against it in Cabinet meetings would leak out and damage the public perception of ministerial unity.”It would have come out immediately,” he said. “I wanted to be cautious but effective and not like someone from the opposition.”The panel has said it will issue partial findings in late April, including assessments of decisions taken by Olmert and other key officials. Although the commission does not have the power to dismiss Olmert, analysts say a critical report could force the unpopular premier to resign under the pressure of public opinion.In February, Olmert gave seven hours of testimony and underwent intense questioning before the commission in a closed-door hearing widely perceived as his last chance to stave off censure. The transcript of that session is expected to be released in the coming days.The conflict took the lives of between 1,035 and 1,191 Lebanese civilians and combatants, according to tallies by government agencies, humanitarian groups and The Associated Press. A total of 120 Israeli soldiers were killed in fighting, and 39 civilians were killed by Hezbollah rockets fired into northern Israel during the conflict. The fighting ended on Aug. 14 with a United Nations-brokered cease-fire.In Washington, former U.N. Ambassador John R. Bolton defended the war with Hezbollah as a legitimate act of self-defense. He said it had tacit support from many Arab states.