Israeli army chief resigns over Lebanon offensive

Israel’s military chief quit on Wednesday over the failures of the Lebanon war, in a second blow to Prime Minister Ehud Olmert’s unpopular government after a graft probe was launched.

In what several newspapers called an “earthquake”, Lieutenant General Dan Halutz became the most senior head to roll over last year’s war against Lebanon’s Hezbollah militia, which has been bitterly criticised in Israel.

“I have accomplished the objective that was set for me at the end of the Lebanon war, which was to study and learn the lessons from what transpired,” wrote Halutz (58) in his letter of resignation.

“I consider under the conditions it is my duty to resign my office immediately.”

He went on to tell military chiefs of staff on Wednesday that he had “no intention of packing up my desk and leaving in a rush”, adding: “I intend to ensure an orderly transition for my replacement.”

Defence Minister Amir Peretz said Halutz would remain in his post until a successor is named.

Olmert, scraping the bottom of public-opinion ratings, said a successor would be chosen in the coming days after consultations with former prime ministers, defence ministers, chiefs of staff, the foreign minister and the opposition in Parliament.

“I very much regret the chief of staff’s resignation,” he said.

Halutz resigned just hours after Israel’s chief prosecutor ordered a criminal investigation against Olmert—the latest in a string of corruption scandals described by one newspaper as “Sodom and Gomorrah.”

Olmert, who has been hounded by allegations of corruption since before he took office last May, is suspected of intervening on behalf of a friend while acting as finance minister in 2005 during the privatisation of Israel’s second-largest bank. He has denied any wrongdoing.

Following Halutz’s resignation, political commentators in Israel turned their attention to who could be the next official to pay the price for the mid-summer war, which failed to achieve its goals of freeing two captured Israeli soldiers and stopping Hezbollah rocket fire.

Israeli army radio said Halutz’s resignation would, in a “domino effect”, lead to the resignations of Peretz and Olmert himself, sentiments echoed in the press and by opposition lawmakers.

“The chief of staff’s resignation officially confirms the failure of the Lebanon war and compels the prime minister and the defence minister to stop holding on to their positions and resign from their posts,” Yisrael Katz of the right-wing opposition Likud party told the Ynet news service.

Zahava Gal-On of the liberal opposition Meretz party echoed the view.

“The responsibility for the failure of the Lebanon war cannot stop at the military echelon but must include the political echelon as well for making irresponsible decisions before the war,” Gal-On said.

Wrote the Maariv daily: “Now it is Defence Minister Amir Peretz’s turn to hand over the keys, so that the IDF [Israel Defence Forces] will be able to embark on a new path.

“And what about Olmert? The public will judge his performance,” it said.

Roni Zweigenboim, a leader of military reservists protesting over the conduct of the war, said: “We will continue our struggle until Olmert and Peretz step down, because we are worried for the country. As long as they are prime minister and defence minister, our condition is very dangerous.”

According to opinion polls in recent weeks, the public has already passed harsh judgement on the prime minister—Olmert’s approval rating is 14 %, half of Israelis think he should resign and 85% think the nation’s leadership is corrupt.—AFP

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