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BREAKING RANK

Labor Party Caucus Defies Olmert By Supporting State Investigation Into War

Olmert officials: 'This Is Idiocy By Labor Party Leader Peretz'

Retired IDF Generals: 'Chief of Staff Dan Halutz Should Resign'

PM Ehud Olmert

Defense Minister Amir Peretz and his Labor party have decided to support an official state enquiry into the war with Lebanon. The move has sparked anger at the Prime Ministers office; Ehud Olmert is categorically opposed to such a binding investigation. IDF Chief of Staff Dan Halutz is facing more flak as retired generals call on him to resign.

After a meeting of Labor Knesset members, party leader Peretz announced support for the state investigation. He said: It will ensure equality for all, transparency and inspire public confidence. In defiance of the Prime Minister, Labor now backs an independent investigation of both the political and military echelons. It would be chaired by a supreme court judge with judicial powers and its recommendations are binding. Olmert categorically opposes such an enquiry. Instead, he has appointed three separate committees to examine what happened in the war. The PM has been trying to ride out the public storm demanding the official enquiry by saying it would paralyze the IDF.

He has argued that top commanders would be preoccupied with covering up their failings and putting their best foot forward to the commission. In Olmerts words Israel does not have such a luxury because the war in Lebanon could flare up again and the Iranian nuclear threat looms large on the horizon.

The Labor party decision is another body blow to Olmerts sagging credibility with the Israeli public. Olmert sources are quoted as saying that the move by Peretz is idiotic. Not everyone in Labor supports the judicial enquiry. At the Labor caucus meeting, cabinet minister Binyamin Ben Eliezer charged that Peretz was zigzagging after setting up his own private enquiry into the IDF. Three of Labors seven ministers oppose the state enquiry. In spite of Labors decision, Olmert will still be able to muster a majority for his three separate non-binding enquiries into the government, the IDF and the home front.

Many of the reserve soldiers mobilized to fight in Lebanon have returned home complaining of lack of equipment, food, water and even clear orders. They charge that the war was bungled and demand the official judicial enquiry. Many retired IDF generals are also up in arms calling for Chief of Staff Dan Halutz to resign. Former Chief of Staff Moshe Yaalon charges: The conduct of he war was a failure. People must draw personal conclusions and resign after what happened. Another retired general Amram Mitzna has also called publicly on Halutz to quit saying he had lost the confidence of the troops. Next week, the Chief of Staff is to meet with one hundred former generals to hear their views and he may get more than he bargained for.

As to why the PM is so opposed to the official enquiry another retired general Danny Yatom has no doubt:

To some pundits, it appears that Olmert seems to be saying the situation is too dangerous after we bungled so badly, that we have to correct the mistakes and not waste time with a full blown enquiry.

Kadima MK Schneller argues that the Prime Minister is putting the countrys interests above all else and now is not the time for chopping off heads:

The Labor decision does not obligate the partys cabinet members to vote against the Prime Minister next week. Why has Peretz broken rank with Olmert?

First, most Labor MKs support the official state enquiry and Peretz is also facing a move inside Labor to oust him as party leader. Second, the Defense Minister may suspect that Olmert appointed committees will make him the fall guy for the disappointing outcome of the war. Although actually the IDF inflicted five times at least five times more casualties on Hezballah fighters, the country expected a knockout not the Halutz victory on points. Opinion polls indicate the vast majority of Israelis think Peretz, the former trade union boss, was way over his head as defense minister. Both Olmert and Halutz can contend there really was no defense minister during the war and this was a contributing factor.

The fact is nobody expected the war with Hezballah. Galilee was enjoying a tourism boom and the Palestinian violence was still at low intensity. As for the Iranian nuclear threat, it was fine that the new Chief of Staff had served as the former Air Force commander. Thats why the newly elected prime minister was ready to give the defense portfolio to Labor rather than the treasury. And that is also why Amir Peretz took the job to help pave to becoming PM in the future. The result was the Israeli leadership conducted the war like a bunch of lawyers as one commentator put it. They confused the Clausewitz definition about war being the continuation of politics by other means. Olmert, Peretz and Halutz might have concentrated too much on achieving a political outcome and too little on the will to win the war. Or in Kissinger jargon: Dont expect to gain at the conference table what you havent won on the battle-field. There is another aspect that an enquiry should investigate. Was the IDF prepared militarily to change the rules of the game with Hezballah by going to war? Hezballah leader Sheik Nasrallah says he was caught by surprise and would not have ordered the deadly attack on July 12th, if he had known of the consequences for Lebanon. Even if Israel was justified and Olmert, Peretz and Halutz opted for war should they not have first checked whether the IDF was prepared? Even if the two greenhorn politicians accepted the Chief of Staffs assessment that air power could do the trick, did their responsibility end there?

David Essing, IsraCast, Jerusalem

David Essing

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