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Investigating the Hezbollah War By: David Bedein
FrontPageMagazine.com | Wednesday, September 20, 2006

A panel set up by the Israeli government to look into incompetence in the recent war with Hezbollah may and should draw on American testimony to determine the truth.

It is now official: On Sunday, September 17, 2006, the Israel Cabinet Secretary Yisrael Maimon announced that the government of Israel convened an official judicial panel to examine the Israeli government's “ill preparedness”  in the wake of the war in Lebanon during Summer 2006.

This falls short of an official government commission of investigation that some Israeli reserve officers and families of fallen soldiers have demanded.

However, the Israel Cabinet Secretary added that the chairman of this judicial panel, Judge Eliyahu Winograd, has been mandated by the government of Israel to “operate autonomously and independently,” and to make recommendations that will resonate in the public domain in Israel.

To give it some teeth, the “Winograd panel” has been invested by the Israeli government with judicial power to subpoena witnesses and to recommend prosecution of any Israeli public official whom it finds was involved with willful or negligent criminal behavior.

One area that the investigation panel will examine will be the  “management of the political echelon as it related to the…preparedness and readiness of the threat from Lebanon, including intelligence preparedness and the force building and its readiness…” (Clause C)

In that context,  American citizens who witnessed security briefings from Israeli officials over the past few years may be called upon to testify at the Winograd panel.

A case in point:

On February 18th, 2005, during a public presentation for the annual Jerusalem meeting of the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations, Israel’s Deputy Prime Minister Ehud Olmert faced a question from Morton Klein of Philadelphia, who is the president of the Zionist Organization of America. Klein asked Olmert how he could trust the intentions of Abu Mazen, since Abu Mazen had been allowing terrorists under his jurisdiction to arm themselves to the teeth.

Olmert pounded on the podium and exhorted his questioner to examine “Israel’s withdrawal from Lebanon as a model which Israel would apply to Gaza and Samaria.” Olmert went on to say that although Hizballah terrorists had stationed 15,000 missiles and mortars in Lebanon that “they have never, never, never used missiles against Israel on the northern border since Israel’s withdrawal from Lebanon in May, 2000.”

Olmert’s response was incredible. This reporter’s oldest son served on the northern border in an IDF combat unit for three years, 2001-2004, and was under fire the entire time. He was not at some kind of summer camp.

A few days later, this reporter dispatched a colleague to a press reception on February 23rd, to ask Olmert if he stood behind his statement that the Hizballah had not fired any missiles into Israel since Israel’s withdrawal in May, 2000. The reporter showed Olmert the declassified IDF situation report from June 8th, 2004, the day that this reporter’s son completed his IDF service in northern Israel.

The IDF document contradicted what Olmert had reported to 57 American organizations:

“In the four years since the IDF unilaterally redeployed its troops from Lebanon, the following attacks on Israel took place from the north: 34 attacks with mortar shells and anti-tank missiles into northern Israel; 7 shooting attacks with light arms fire into northern Israel; 8 roadside bombs that were planted in northern Israel; 127 times when anti-aircraft missiles were fired into northern Israel; 5 Katyusha rocket attacks into northern Israel; 10 infiltrations into northern Israel; 11 soldiers killed in northern Israel, while three IDF troops were kidnapped and murdered; 50 soldiers were wounded in northern Israel; 14 civilians were killed in northern Israel.”

However, Olmert glanced at the IDF report, and, surprisingly, stood his ground, and reiterated his stand that “I meant to say that they have not fired into Israel in the last five years.”

When the reporter showed Olmert that the IDF report demonstrated that the Arab terrorists had continued firing missiles into Israel, killing 28 people, Olmert walked away, saying that he did not want to discuss it.

In other words, representatives of 57 American organizations heard Ehud Olmert, in his capacity as the “heir apparent” to the Israeli Prime Minister, present a false picture of what was occurring on the Northern Border that contradicted official Israeli security reports at the time of continuing attacks from the North.

Since Olmert assured American supporters of Israel that there were no attacks from the North, that is the message that they conveyed to the U.S. Congress and to the White House.

These representatives of 57 American organizations who heard Deputy Prime Minister Olmert in February, 2005 can now provide evidence to the Winograd Panel about how Israel’s political echelon misrepresented the attacks that were then emanating from Lebanon.

It will be instructive to see if representatives of these American groups will come forth to testify to the Winograd Panel. The question remains: Do these American citizens not owe it to the people of  Israel to report the distortions of what their leaders reported less than two years ago?

If these Americans do testify, the Winograd Panel will then be obligated to cross examine Olmert and ask him why he chose to misrepresent Israel’s security situation in the North, as reported by the IDF at the time.

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David Bedein, author of the forthcoming book, "Swimming Against the Mainstream", has run the Israel Resource News Agency. www.IsraelBehindTheNews.com, since 1987, at the Beit Agron Press Center in Jerusalem, where he also heads the Center for Near East Policy Research and serves as the Middle East correspondent for the Philadelphia Bulletin, www.thebulletin.us.

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