War report sparks calls for Olmert to quit
JERUSALEM - Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert faced strident calls for his resignation in the wake of harsh findings of an official inquiry into the shortcomings of his leadership during last summer's costly but inconclusive war in Lebanon.
The commission's first report was to be released later Monday, but government officials confirmed an earlier TV report that the findings would be strongly critical of Olmert and his defense minister, Amir Peretz. That was enough to trigger calls for Olmert's resignation from coalition partners as well as opponents.
Olmert and Peretz, who took office with limited security experience less than two months before the war, already had lost much of their public support because of the conflict, launched when Hezbollah guerrillas captured two soldiers and killed three others in a cross-border raid on July 12.
Relying heavily on massive airstrikes recommended by the military chief, Lt. Gen. Dan Halutz, Olmert pledged to his people that Israel
would crush Hezbollah and force return of the captured soldiers. Neither goal was accomplished, and Halutz already has resigned.
Instead, Hezbollah pounded northern Israel with nearly 4,000 rockets, halting only when the U.N. Security Council
imposed a cease-fire, its short-range rocket capacity intact. Israel launched a late, costly ground offensive with the Security Council nearing completion of its cease-fire resolution.
In 34 days of fighting, between 1,035 and 1,191 Lebanese civilians and combatants were killed, as were 119 Israeli soldiers and 39 civilians.
The report covers the first six days of the war, when Israel battered Lebanon with massive airstrikes as Hezbollah pounded Israel with rockets. Also, the report looks at developments during the six years that followed Israel's overnight pullout from southern Lebanon in 2000 â€” tracing the Hezbollah buildup across from the Israeli border.
According to the TV reports confirmed by Israeli officials, the commission appointed by Olmert and chaired by a retired judge, Eliyahu Winograd, aims withering criticism at Olmert and Peretz over their decision-making, inexperience and failure to question plans presented by the military.
The report also says that Halutz, a former air force commander, did not provide political leaders with a sufficient range of military options, played down the rocket threat and silenced dissenting opinions within the army command, Israeli media said.
The Winograd panel does not have the authority to fire officials, but the scathing report could ignite public protests and demonstrations, coupled with political infighting, that could force the resignation of Olmert and Peretz. Noisy public demonstrations were expected to back demands that they step down.
Already Sunday, a demand their for resignations came from Labor Party lawmaker Ofir Pines-Paz, who is challenging Peretz for party leadership in a May primary election.
"They should follow the example of Halutz, who did not wait for the Winograd commission to show him the door," he said.
Opposition lawmakers from the dovish Meretz as well as the hard-line National Religious Party also called for the government to step down.
Olmert's office declined comment until the report's official publication, but aides said Olmert was confident he would weather the storm and that he had no intention of quitting.
Speaking to reporters on Sunday, Vice Premier Shimon Peres pledged that the report's findings would be taken seriously. "We shall correct everything that calls for correction," he said.
Olmert's popular support is nearing single figures in newspaper polls, mostly because of the Lebanon war, but also because of allegations of his involvement in alleged corruption including real estate deals and undue interference in government transactions to favor friends and backers. Olmert has denied any wrongdoing.