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Resignation of IDF Chief of Staff Dan Halutz May Topple Olmert Government

Opposition & Some Coalition Members Call On Prime Minister Olmert & Defense Minister Peretz To Follow Halutz Example

The question being asked in Israel and in corridors of power in the Middle East and beyond is what happens now on the Israeli political scene after the surprise resignation of IDF Chief of Staff Dan Halutz. The General as well as Prime Minister Ehud Olmert and Defense Minister Amir Peretz are blamed by many Israelis for bungling last summer's war with Hezballah in Lebanon. David Essing spoke to both opposition and coalition MK's:

:: IsraCast Audio ::

The sudden resignation of DF Chief of Staff Dan Halutz has rocked Israel like an earthquake. The aftershocks may now topple Prime Minister Ehud Olmert and defense minister Amir Peretz. This is David Essing reporting.

Facing severe criticism since last summer's war with Hezbollah, IDF Chief of Staff Dan Halutz has called it quits. Demands are mounting in and out of the coalition for Olmert and Peretz to also resign. Likud MK Silvan Shalom first says general Halutz has done the right thing:

Silvan Shalom

Silvan Shalom : I think first that we should respect and honor the decision that the Chief of Staff of the army took last night, because it shows once again that he puts the needs of the State of Israel before his personal career. I think that this resignation, if we'll take the examples of '73 and '82, might bring a snowball that will come to the minister of defense and the Prime Minister as well.

Question: The dominos will begin to fall then, do you think?

Silvan Shalom: It looks like it.

But MK Arie Eldad of the National Union, also in the opposition, believes Olmert and Peretz will do all they can to keep their positions:

Arie Eldad

Arie Eldad: If they are honest guys they should do the same thing. The problem is that they are not honest, and that they will try to stick to their chairs as long as possible. Eventually they will be kicked out, almost to the same degree that Dan Halutz was kicked out. He didn't take responsibility. He was beaten very severely by everybody in the last four months. Eventually he had to go. I think that pretty much the same will happen to Olmert and Peretz.

And Likud MK Yuval Steinitz has no doubt, that the political leaders are as much at fault as General Halutz:

Yuval Steinitz

Yuval Steinitz: Certainly, we should bare in mind that the responsibility for Israel's national security is not in the IDF, its in the government and the civilian leadership, civilian political leadership. And if the IDF fails to understand the difference between fire exchanges on the border and rockets on Qiryat Shemona, and katyusha barrages on Haifa and several millions Israelis, which means total assault, major assault on the country of Israel, on the State of Israel, the Prime Minister Ehud Olmert and defense minister Peretz should understand it as the political leadership of this country. And since they failed to understand it, they had to resign before Halutz, not after.

Question: You are a former chairman of the Knesset's Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee, and as such you are privy to much secret intelligence information. How do you think this dramatic move, the resignation of the IDF Chief of Staff, is going to be viewed in Arab capitals, and perhaps in Iran?

Yuval Steinitz: It will make no serious difference. They do understand the difference between their own regimes, and a true vivid democracy like Israel, and although some of them will present it as an achievement, most of them do appreciate the advantage of Israel as a vivid democracy, and the fact that in vivid democracies, somebody can replace the Chief of Staff, or he can resign, like in the United States, like in Britain, like in Israel, and even the Prime Minister and defense minister, unlike in Egypt, unlike in Syria, unlike in Iran, can be replaced.

Over in Olmert's Kadima party, the politicians are keeping numb. Labour MK Danny Yatom, an IDF reserve General, feels that Olmert and Peretz are near their political end:

Dani Yatom

Danny Yatom : I think that it might happen. I think that it might bring the government to fall apart. I think that the fact that the Chief of Staff resigns, means that the possibility that the minister of defense and the Prime Minister will resign, the probability of that, is much higher than prior to the resignation of the Chief of Staff.

Question: You are a reserve General in the Israel Defense Forces, you are also a former Chief of the Mossad - how will this impact on the Israeli military establishment, this resignation?

Danny Yatom: I think that the Israeli military establishment is a strong one. I don't think that it is going to shake it. I don't think that it will have any prominent negative effect. Of course there will be some moves. There is now tension about the question who is going to be the next Chief of Staff, so I assume that some Generals feel a little bit tensed. There is tension prior to the publication of the interim report of the enquiry committee, headed by Judge Vinograd, but other than that I don't think that it will have any unique effect on the troops. I think that the troops are strong, I think that we have very good soldiers, we have very good field commanders, and the problem during the last war was at the highest military echelon, and at the highest political echelon.

Question: Well, could we make a comparison with what happened after the Yom-Kippur war - although Israel was caught by a surprise attack it did, under Chief of Staff David Elazar, achieve a brilliant victory - but he was forced to resign by a commission of enquiry. After that, they went outside of any Generals involved in the military operations at the time and went to General Motta Gur, who was a military attachй in Washington. Do you think this would be the right approach now, to go to someone, to some General, who was not involved in the military operations?"

Danny Yatom: I think that those who were involved in the last war in Lebanon should wait until the final results of the enquiry committee, because those who were involved should be found clean, so to speak, and the committee should pave their way, if they are candidates to the highest post of Chief of Staff. So I don't see that the next Chief of Staff can be somebody that served during the last war in an active duty status, before the enquiry committee finds that there is a possibility to nominate him. So there are now two possibilities: the first one is to bring somebody from outside the military apparatus, reserve General, and the other possibility is to nominate the deputy Chief of Staff as an acting Chief of Staff, not a permanent one, until the enquiry will come out with its at least interim report.

Question: And finally, when it comes to the enquiry, the Chief of Staff Dan Halutz has yet to testify. If he goes to that enquiry and says that he got mixed messages from the political leadership, from Olmert and defense minister Peretz, could this not lead to their own downfall in the commission findings?"

Danny Yatom: Even if Dan Halutz will not say it, even if he will say that he got very precise directives, even if he will say that what they asked him or demanded from him to do was very very clear, even then they cannot escape from the fact that they carry vast part of the responsibility. Dan Halutz should not be alone. The responsibility lies upon the shoulders of mainly three people: the Chief of Staff, the minister of defense, and the Prime Minister.

The Vinograd commission is due to reveal its findings in a couple of weeks. If Olmert and Peretz are forced to resign, there is talk about the ruling Kadima party forming a new government under a new leader, without going to a new election. This is the view of opposition MK Yossi Beilin of Meretz:

Yossi Beilin

Yossi Beilin : Well I do believe that it might be conducive to the fall of the government, but it doesn't mean, necessarily, that we are approaching new elections. Another option is that there will be another government in this Knesset, lead by the ruling party of Kadima, but by another Prime Minister

In Lebanon Hezbollah claimed that the Halutz resignation is proof they won the war. To make things worse for the prime minister, attorney general Mazuz has ordered a police investigation into allegations that Olmert tried to fix the huge "Bank Leumi" contract for two of his personal friends. That is why the resignation of IDF Chief of Staff Dan Halutz, may spell the beginning of the end for the Olmert coalition.

Transcript by Dar Translations
972-2-6414722 | dar_doc@smile.net.il


Read IsraCast's past coverage of the appointment of Halutz and of the 2006 Lebanon War:



David Essing

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