Olmert stands firm ahead of war report

The Baltimore Sun

JERUSALEM -- On the eve of the publication of an official report on the Israeli government's failings during last summer's war against Hezbollah in Lebanon, the main topic of public debate is whether Prime Minister Ehud Olmert will be able to hang onto power.

Support for Olmert has been shaky since the war, which many Israelis consider to have been a failure. Polls show his approval ratings hovering between 2 percent and 3 percent.

Yesterday, a well-informed senior official said Olmert did not intend to resign. But the official said that could change if the report stated that he bore "personal responsibility" for failures in the war.

The much-anticipated interim report, prepared by a government-appointed committee led by Eliyahu Winograd, a retired judge, is to be made public this afternoon. It is widely expected to contain harsh criticism of the decision-making process leading up to the war and the performance of the prime minister; the defense minister, Amir Peretz; and the wartime army chief of staff, Lt. Gen. Dan Halutz. Halutz resigned in January, and Peretz has said he will leave the Defense Ministry in late May or soon after.

Over the weekend, the Israeli news media reported on what they described as leaks from the report indicating that the three were considered to have failed in their duties.

Opposition politicians from the left and right have called for the prime minister to resign. A recently formed protest movement, led by a former national security official, is organizing a rally around the slogan "You've failed; go home," to take place in Tel Aviv on Thursday.

The war occurred after Hezbollah's seizure of two Israeli soldiers in a cross-border raid June 12. It lasted 34 days and claimed the lives of 160 Israelis -- 119 soldiers and 41 civilians, according to officials. About 1,000 Lebanese, mostly civilians, are believed to have died in the fighting. Israel was not able to secure the soldiers' release or destroy Hezbollah.

The interim report deals with the period leading up to the war and its early days, until July 17. That is when Olmert made a speech in Parliament declaring that Israel was at war. The Winograd Committee's full report, dealing with rest of the war, is due this summer.

According to what were said to be leaks published in the Israeli media, the interim report will accuse Olmert of acting hastily, criticize Peretz for failing to understand the magnitude of the problem posed by his lack of experience and take Halutz to task for silencing dissenting views.

The spokesman for the Winograd Committee, Eli Shaked, would not confirm the veracity of the leaks.

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