on April 29, 2007 by in Uncategorized, Comments (0)

Calls grow for Olmert, Peretz, to quit after leaks of allegedly damning Lebanon war report

JERUSALEM (AP) _ Members of Prime Minister Ehud Olmert’s ruling coalition joined opposition lawmakers Sunday in calling for the Israeli leader and his defense minister to resign after parts of a government report criticizing their handling of last year’s war in Lebanon were leaked to local media.

Officials close to the investigation confirmed TV reports that the panel concluded Olmert and Defense Minister Amir Peretz made hasty and ill-judged decisions at the outset of the war.

The report found these errors were compounded by their lack of experience and unfamiliarity with defense issues, the officials said on condition of anonymity pending the report’s release.

Olmert’s office declined comment until official publication of the report on Monday. Olmert made no mention of the report in his opening statement at the weekly Cabinet meeting. Peretz also did not comment.

Olmert appointed the commission last year to stave off calls for a full-scale judicial inquiry into the government’s performance during the war, which began when Hezbollah guerrillas captured two Israeli soldiers in a July 12 cross-border raid.

Although the five-member commission, headed by a retired judge, has no authority to order resignations, a harsh report could be the final blow to Olmert’s grasp on power. Heavy public criticism of the war, along with a string of corruption investigations, have sent his approval rating into free fall.

Olmert has been widely criticized for failing to achieve his goals of returning the soldiers or destroying Hezbollah, which fired nearly 4,000 of rockets into northern Israel. Soldiers returning from the battlefield also have complained of poor training, conflicting orders and shortages of ammunition and food.

The interim report will analyze the first days of the fighting, when the war’s objectives were formulated, and the six years between Israel’s May 2000 pullout from southern Lebanon and the outbreak of the conflict.

According to the people familiar with the investigation, the panel concluded that Olmert failed to sufficiently question the army’s battle plans, publicly stated his war aims without ensuring they were attainable and failed to demand a clear exit strategy.

But after sections of the report reached the Israeli media, a growing number of critics, including members of the ruling coalition, called on Olmert to step down.

Former Cabinet minister Ofir Pines, a member of Peretz’s Labor Party, said both men should follow the example of wartime military chief of staff, Lt. Gen. Dan Halutz, who quit in the face of criticism of his performance.

“I expect the prime minister and the defense minister to stand up and take responsibility and resign,” he told Army Radio.

Another Labor lawmaker, Danny Yatom, said the entire Cabinet should resign, since they unanimously approved the decision to go to war.

“The whole Cabinet is party to these matter, he told Israel Radio. “They are all partners … by virtue of their vote, and by the fact that they didn’t stand up and say a word even if they had something to say.”

Gideon Saar, of the opposition Likud, agreed: “The government is the body in charge of the military campaign and the government failed,” he told Israel Radio.

Even members of his Kadima Party gave lukewarm support for their leader.

“Members of Kadima all understand the need first and foremost to preserve the party,” lawmaker Yoel Hasson told Army Radio. “I really think the prime minister will win the support of Kadima.”

In addition to its criticism of Olmert and Peretz, the interim report will say Halutz did not provide political leaders with a sufficient range of military options, played down the Hezbollah rocket threat and silenced dissenting opinions within the army command, Israeli media reported.

The full report, looking at the entire war, is to be released in the summer.

Nearly 160 Israelis, including 39 civilians, and more than 1,000 Lebanese died in the fighting, according to tallies by government agencies, humanitarian groups and The Associated Press.

The count includes 250 Hezbollah fighters that the group’s leaders now say died during Israel’s intense air, ground and sea bombardments in Lebanon. Israel has estimated its forces have killed 600 Hezbollah fighters.

Olmert has said the war dealt a heavy blow to Hezbollah and praised the U.N.-brokered truce that ended the fighting. Thousands of international peacekeepers now guard Lebanon’s border with Israel.

Still, analysts say the fighting, and the army’s failure to halt the Hezbollah rocket fire, dealt a major blow to the army’s prestige in the Arab world and its ability to deter attacks.