Tuesday, August 22, 2006

TEL AVIV — Israeli opposition leader and former Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu broke his silence yesterday on the cease-fire between Israel and Hezbollah, calling for an independent investigation of the monthlong invasion of southern Lebanon.

Mr. Netanyahu also predicted that the government of Prime Minister Ehud Olmert would not finish its four-year term.

Mr. Netanyahu was unusually soft-spoken and diplomatic as he spoke, and he resisted cues by a television interviewer to attack Mr. Olmert.

“The problem is not looking for the guilty but learning lessons,” he told Israel’s Channel 2 nightly news broadcast.

“We need to decide what will we do in preparation for the next round. If we don’t learn the lessons, the next round will be bad as well.”

Mr. Netanyahu said Israel’s biggest challenge will be to ensure that Iran does not obtain nuclear weapons. He added that Israel needs to change its doctrine of conventional warfare.

During the war that began July 12, Mr. Netanyahu backed the government’s decision to retaliate fiercely for Hezbollah’s kidnapping of two Israeli soldiers inside the Israeli border.

He frequently appeared on foreign news channels defending the government amid criticism that Israel’s response was “disproportionate” to the provocation.

Mr. Netanyahu, chairman of the hard-line Likud Party, said the Lebanon war illustrates the perils of unilateral withdrawals by Israel.

“In 2000, we withdrew from Lebanon without guarantees and without security agreements, and this action brought about Hezbollah’s speech about spider webs, which was adopted by Hamas. The resulting [Palestinian uprising] made us decide, out of pain and out of good will, to withdraw unilaterally once more,” Mr. Netanyahu said. He was referring to Israel’s withdrawal from the Gaza Strip last year.

“These unilateral withdrawals deteriorate our deterrence and lend credence to our enemies, a credence that improves their ability to bombard our cities and towns. This concept is now disappearing, and rightly so,” he said.

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