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Monday, September 11, 2006

Olmert tries to save face

Israel's Prime Minister (for the time being) Ehud Olmert has caved in to public pressure and has appointed Retired Judge Eliyahu Winograd to head a "governmental investigation" - and not a "state commission of inquiry" - into this summer's war in Lebanon and the management of the political echelons and the defense establishment during the war. It's not clear to me what the difference, if any, is between a "state commission of inquiry" and a "governmental investigation" headed by a judge that has the power to subpoena witnesses and grant immunity from prosecution. I would not trust a newspaper article to correctly portray the legalistic fine print. So for now, let's take YNet's assertions on this point at face value.
Attorney General Menachem Mazuz authorized Winograd's candidacy. The decision to appoint him was made in conjunction with the previous candidate for the position, former Mossad chief, Nahum Admoni. Admoni, however, will remain a member of the commission.

The commission will actually remain with the title "governmental examination," and not "state inquiry," as a number of reservist organizations and the Movement for Quality Government have demanded, but the retired judge will be at the helm and he will be authorized to invite witnesses and to grant them immunity.

Dr. Eliyahu Winograd, former president of Tel Aviv Magistrate Court, has already headed a number of public commissions. He investigated university tuition, and recommended to lower it. As well, he examined the information in the hands of the IDF regarding the captured navigator, Ron Arad. Alongside Winograd will serve the remaining members of the Admoni Commission who received the go ahead from Attorney General Menachem Mazuz – former Mossad chief Nahum Admoni, Prof. Yehezkel Dror, and Ruth Gabizon.


With the judge's appointment, the prime minister is looking to minimize public and political criticism waged against him regarding government investigation of the war in Lebanon.

At first, Olmert seemed determined not to appoint a commission, then he asked to split the commission into three – two state commissions of inquiry, one to examine the political echelons and another for the military, and a third commission of the state comptroller to investigate the management of government offices and home front functioning. Since this declaration, his expectations have collapsed one after the other.

Already the day after his declaration on the three commissions, a public debate arose between the prime minister and State Comptroller Micha Lindenstrauss, the latter emphasizing in the media that he is not a subordinate of the government and isn't obligated to act according to its wishes. In the State Control Committee, he detailed the steps of his investigation following the war in Lebanon, and that it turns out that both the political and the military echelons were in the crosshairs.

Even before the conflict with the state comptroller, Olmert took another hit. The attorney general disqualified two members of the Admoni Commission – Major General (Res.) Yedidya Yaari and David Ivri – citing conflict of interests.

Even the political blows did not tarry. Defense Minister Amir Peretz along with many others from his party crossed over to join the supporters of a state commission of inquiry. Recently, Shaul Mofaz has also joined this camp. Even Shas ministers are tending, contrary to their initial stance, to support a state commission of inquiry whose members are appointed by the president of the High Court, and not by the government.
Winograd's appointment is to be approved by the cabinet at its regular Sunday meeting this weekend.


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