Lebanon War Panel Apparently Won’t Seek Olmert’s Ouster
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Lebanon War Panel Apparently Won’t Seek Olmert’s Ouster

Leaked details of an imminent Israeli commission of inquiry report on the Lebanon war spell tough criticism for Prime Minister Ehud Olmert and Defense Minister Amir Peretz, though both appear likely to be spared formal calls to resign.

The question is whether the outrage felt by the public is enough to mobilize Israelis into a mass protest that would make Olmert consider stepping down.

Israel’s Channel 10 television on April 28 quoted the Winograd Commission report, which is due out Monday, as censuring Olmert for his “misguided and rash judgment” in going to war after Hezbollah guerrillas killed eight soldiers and abducted two in a July 12 border raid.

Peretz, Channel 10 reported, would be criticized for his lack of expertise in matters of national security.

But the two officials, who have faced mounting pressure to resign over the failings of the 34-day war, are not expected to hear those calls endorsed by the Winograd Commission.

“They are not telling them to go home,” said Chico Menashe, diplomatic correspondent for Channel 10.

Should the leaked version of the report be borne out, it could be enough of a reprieve for Olmert, who has vowed to see out his term in office.

You know me, I have no intention of folding. I have no intention of resigning after the report,” Yediot Achronot quoted Olmert as telling his confidants. “I don t think that my judgment was unreasonable, and I don t intend to hide. I mean to defend the decisions I made in the course of the Second Lebanon War.

The commission’s findings are unlikely to mollify Olmert’s critics and the Israeli opposition.

That the five-member panel was appointed by the government incensed many Israelis, who wanted a more independent probe. And the report will confine itself to the first five days of the war — before, by most experts’ accounts, the Israeli campaign really lost direction. A report on the rest of the war is not expected out until next year.

“This commission was born in sin,” Ma’ariv pundit Ben Caspit wrote.

Uzi Dayan, an independent, reformist politician, has called for an anti-government rally to greet the release of the Winograd Commission. But it remains unclear how many people will answer the call.

After previous unpopular conflicts — for example, the 1982 ! Peace fo r Galilee operation in Lebanon — domestic rancor was enough to change Israel’s leadership.

But many in the Jewish state now see a fatigue in the citizenry that has grown used to an Olmert government rife with corruption scandals, and to a society increasingly polarized on ideological and economic lines.

“This report needs to seal the fate of the incumbent prime minister and defense minister in Israel,” Caspit wrote. “The sentencing will be given at a later date by the public. Will there be demonstrations of 250,000 people in the city square? Will Jerusalem be flooded with demonstrators?

“Those who want to topple the government are going to have to do that either in the Knesset or in the street. The Knesset, for the time being, belongs to Olmert. The street is free.”

Olmert is far from home free, however. His Kadima Party, worried by the prime minister’s record-low approval ratings, could vote him out of the top slot. Former Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who heads the opposition and has seen his popularity soar since the Lebanon war, could engineer a no-confidence vote in the Knesset.

The prime minister hopes to stay ahead of such scenarios by creating new diplomatic opportunities for Israel, political analysts say. There is the Saudi proposal for a comprehensive Israeli-Arab peace, which Olmert has recently spoken of warmly after years in which Jerusalem gave the initiative a cold shoulder.

Then there is next month’s primary election in the Labor Party, Kadima’s biggest partner in the government coalition. Peretz is widely expected to be toppled, either by former Prime Minister Ehud Barak or retired admiral and Shin Bet chief Ami Ayalon. That would restore the military polish to the Defense Ministry and could revitalize the coalition.

Asked in a television interview what he will do if he wins the primary, Ayalon said he would be willing to join Olmert’s government as defense minister.

“But,” he said, “firs! t I will look the prime minister in the eyes and ask him where he plans to lead the country.”

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