JERUSALEM (Mar. 15)
Findings in a report in a report about the Labor Party candidate for prime minister may deprive his political foes of at least one piece of ammunition against him.
Ehud Barak came out swinging Monday, lashing out at his accusers after a state report cleared him of charges involving a 1992 army training accident that killed five army commandos and left six others wounded.
“I have no use for apologies from cynical politicians who think the blood of Israeli soldiers” can be used for “political mud-slinging,” Barak said.
During Israel’s election campaign, political opponents have accused Barak, the army chief of staff at the time of the accident, of leaving the scene without attempting to help the injured.
Barak had been observing an exercise at the Tse’elim military base when a missile prematurely fired, causing the fatalities.
Foreign media reports later said the unit was training for a mission to assassinate Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein.
Shortly before Barak ended his tenure as army chief, a newspaper report raised allegations that Barak had left the scene of the accident before all of the injured were evacuated.
But the report by State Comptroller Eliezer Goldberg, most of which was released Monday, concluded that there was no basis to the allegations.
The report noted that all of the injured were being cared for when Barak left the scene.
It did not did not take any position regarding allegations that Barak did not help the injured, citing contradictory versions about the events immediately following the accident.
Barak, who has staunchly denied any allegations of wrongdoing, welcomed the report’s release, saying it brought the matter to a conclusive end.
An inquiry by the former state comptroller, Miriam Ben-Porat, had also found no basis for the charges.
Nevertheless, Barak’s political foes have continued to seize upon the incident.
During one heated Knesset debate after Barak entered the legislature after retiring from the army, Justice Minister Tzachi Hanegbi dubbed him Ehud “Barach,” Hebrew for “ran away.”
And “Barak Fled” has been used by the Likud Party as a campaign slogan against the Labor candidate.
Commenting on the report Monday, Hanegbi said the inquiry still left unanswered questions and had not “removed the stain” from Barak’s reputation.
For his part, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu of Likud called on the public to read the report and draw its own conclusions.
At a meeting this week, Likud ministers decided to stop using the Tse’elim incident as a campaign issue against Barak because opinion polls had shown it was not having much effect on the Israeli public.