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Last Updated: Thursday, 8 March 2007, 18:42 GMT
PM 'says Israel pre-planned war'
Ehud Olmert
Two new polls indicate just how far Mr Olmert's popularity has dropped
Israel's prime minister has said that the strategy used in last year's war with Lebanon was drawn up months in advance, an Israeli newspaper reports.

According to Haaretz, Ehud Olmert said it was decided at least four months before that any kidnap of Israeli troops on its border would trigger war.

On 12 July 2006 Hezbollah militants seized two Israeli soldiers sparking an all-out assault by Israel's military.

Mr Olmert reportedly made the claim to an inquiry last month.

The Winograd Commission is an Israeli government-appointed commission tasked with investigating last summer's conflict with Lebanon and identifying lessons to be learned from it.

It is expected to release its interim report this month.

Knee-jerk reaction?

Mr Olmert testified before the commission on 1 February. Haaretz did not reveal how it uncovered details of that testimony.

About 1,000 Lebanese, most of them civilians, died in the 34 days of fighting along with 116 Israeli soldiers and 43 civilians.

The war began within hours of reservists Ehud Goldwasser and Eldad Regev being captured by Hezbollah in a cross border raid into Israel.

WAR IN LEBANON
Man stands near his destroyed house in Qana, Lebanon
Began on 12 July 2006 and lasted 34 days
Israeli deaths: 116 soldiers and 43 civilians
About 1,000 Lebanese killed, mostly civilians
Extensive damage to infrastructure, thousands of homes destroyed

But it ended without Israel achieving its main aim, the release of the two soldiers.

Mr Olmert has borne much of the blame for that failure, with critics accusing him of reacting too hastily with a knee-jerk military strategy which had not been properly thought through.

But if the Haaretz report is correct, Mr Olmert said that in fact the plans had been in place for a long time.

According to the newspaper, Mr Olmert said he held several high-level meetings on the situation in Lebanon - the first on 8 January 2006, just four days after he took over from Prime Minister Ariel Sharon, who was in a coma following a massive stroke.

Mr Olmert reportedly told the commission that at a meeting in March he asked whether any plans existed about how Israel should react in the event of one of its soldiers being taken across its northern border.

He is said to have claimed that he looked at the various strategies tabled and decided that a plan, which Haaretz described as "moderate", of air strikes and a limited ground operation would be best.

Polls slump

Mr Olmert is also reported to have said that he believes in the event he acted as his predecessor Mr Sharon, a man with far greater military experience, would have done.

Along with criticism over its handling of the Lebanon crisis, Mr Olmert's government has been beset by a number of political and financial scandals.

In two new opinion polls released in Israel on Thursday the prime minister fared badly.

In one by Israel's Channel 10 television, 72% said they believed Mr Olmert should not continue in office and 57% favoured holding early elections.

And in an opinion poll for the mass-circulation newspaper Yediot Aharonot, just 2% of respondents said that they trusted the current leader.




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