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Monday, January 28, 2008

Why Olmert ordered a ground operation in Lebanon with the UN about to adopt a resolution ending the war

As I have noted, the main content of Wednesday's final report of the Winograd Commission is expected to be a recounting of the final sixty hours of the war. In the final sixty hours, the IDF was ordered by Prime Minister Ehud K. Olmert to undertake a ground operation - one he avoided undertaking during the entire month of the war up to that point - to reach the Litani River. The operation started just hours before UN Security Council Resolution 1701 was adopted. Thirty-three soldiers were killed in the push to the Litani and the soldiers withdrew within a couple of days. Much of the country feels that Olmert played with soldiers' lives for his own political gain. So why did Olmert order this operation?

At the moment, I am live-blogging an Israel Radio broadcast that is about to read the contents of a telegram that Israel's ambassador to the UN sent to Olmert right before the operation started. Here we go:

Friday August 11 - preparations were already completed for adoption of Resolution 1701. Here's the telegram which deals with a conversation between Israel's ambassador to the UN Danny Gillerman and US ambassador to the UN John Bolton. The telegram was sent by Danny Carmon, Gillerman's deputy. Bolton - clearly frustrated - described a situation in which France caved in completely to all of the Arab demands regarding 1701, and said that the US wouldn't break its "sacred covenant" with the Europeans to stand up to the Arabs. They were going to put into the resolution a requirement that Israel turn the Shaba Farms over to the UN, and only a conversation between Olmert and Bush could save the situation.

Apparently, one thing that happened after that telegram was sent - and it was sent to the foreign ministry - was that Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni called Secretary of State Condoleeza Rice. This is from Caroline Glick's column on Friday:
And yet, Livni's diplomatic skills couldn't even secure her own limited and incorrect goal of securing a binding, strong international force in south Lebanon. In his book, Surrender is not an Option, former US ambassador to the UN John Bolton wrote that on the eve of the Security Council vote on Resolution 1701, which set the terms of the cease-fire, Livni complained to Rice, "You've given away the cease-fire, you've given away Chapter VII, you've given away Shaba Farms, now tell us why we should sign on to the resolution?"

But of course, when the next day the resolution passed unanimously in the Security Council, Livni was quick to tout it as a strategic success. And ever since, in spite of the fact that under 1701 Hizbullah has rearmed and reasserted its control over south Lebanon; paralyzed the Lebanese government; expanded its influence over the Lebanese military and intimidated UNIFIL, Livni continues to uphold the resolution as proof of her own competence. And she has yet to be called on this.
Let's go back and look at what Security Council Resolution 1701 said about Shaba Farms (OP means Operating Paragraph, which is a binding part of the resolution as opposed to PP which means Preparatory Paragraph):
OP4. Reiterates its strong support for full respect for the Blue Line; [the 'Blue Line' is the internationally recognized boundary. It regards the Shaba Farms as "Israeli occupied Syrian territory." CiJ]
That was the sum total of it. The US had been pressuring Israel to 'negotiate' Shaba Farms during the war (Hezbullah has used it as a pretext for continuing to attack Israel).

Bottom line: I don't think this telegram changes anything. It certainly does not tell us anything we didn't know already. It doesn't justify the ground invasion that Olmert ordered within hours of the resolution's adoption, which should have been ordered a month earlier. I don't believe that Olmert's sending the IDF on a race to the Litani changed the content of the UN resolution - especially when it was adopted while that race was going on. The resolution left Shaba Farms classified as 'occupied Syrian territory' (a classification which the UN changed in July of 2007).

Two other points: First, after last night's selective release of 'secret' transcripts of Olmert's testimony before the Winograd Commission, people woke up and realized that Olmert is trying to manipulate the news and the report's presentation by controlling what's in the news.

Second, there's a major snowstorm forecast for Jerusalem on Tuesday night, all day Wednesday (the day of the report's release) and all night Wednesday night. So much for global warming! If the press conference is not postponed, I hope to live-blog the report's release beginning at 5:00 Israel time (10:00 AM US Eastern time). If I keep the kids (at least five will be home) out of my office....

Update 11:17 AM

The radio just interviewed Danny Ayalon, who was Israel's ambassador to the US during the war. Ayalon says he 'hopes' that they didn't decide on the ground operation based on that telegram, and that you have to read the severe description of Israel's position against the tensions between John Bolton and Condoleeza Rice. He doesn't believe that telegram justifies a ground operation. I don't either. It should have happened long before that telegram was sent.


At 6:23 PM, Blogger NormanF said...

Its hard to see how launching the ground operation after it was too late to achieve Israel's war aims bolstered Ehud Olmert's standing.

The reason he called Winograd was precisely because the operation didn't. Which reminds me of the old and trite saying "victory has a thousand fathers; defeat is an orphan."

And even Olmert is not claiming the war's end brought the boys who were kidnapped by Hezbollah home or that it really eradicated Hezbollah. So it begs the question: why was it fought in the first place, if the government had no serious plan to win it?

Olmert from all indications was forced into it and then he prosecuted the war in a half hearted and desultory manner. He may well survive the Winograd fallout but not because Israelis are enthralled with him.


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