War Leaves Israel's Olmert Fighting for Political Life

Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert announced Monday that there will be an inquiry into how the war with Hezbollah was conducted. It's another sign that Olmert is under political pressure in the wake of Israel's recent war along the Lebanon border with Hezbollah guerrillas.

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Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert says there will be an inquiry into the month-long war with Hezbollah. He's rejected calls for a more independent investigation, which would have the authority to dismiss senior officials.

NPR's Linda Gradstein has more.


Olmert announced two separate panels: one to investigate the government's handling of the month-long war, and one to look into the military. Speaking in the Israeli city of Haifa, which was hard hit by Katyusha rockets during the war, Olmert said the decision to go to war was his alone. He also defended that decision and said the war had many achievements, including the destruction of Hezbollah's long-range rocket capability and the ongoing deployment of the Lebanese army in southern Lebanon.

At the same time he admitted there were what he called shortcomings and failures, and said there was the need for an investigation.

Prime Minister EHUD OLMERT (Israel): (Through translator) What we need is an effective, professional inquiry to examine the issues in depth, draw conclusions and learn lessons.

GRADSTEIN: Olmert announced a committee headed by Nahum Admoni, a former head of the Mossad spy agency. Polls show a majority of Israelis had wanted a full-fledged government commission of inquiry appointed by the chief justice of the supreme court. That kind of panel could have recommended the resignations of top military and political officials, including Olmert himself. That's also the kind of commission appointed after Israel's 1982 war in Lebanon, which forced the resignation of then-Defense Minster Ariel Sharon.

Olmert said a government probe would be faster, more efficient, and better for the Israel Defense Forces, or IDF.

Prime Minister OLMERT: (Through translator) I will not allow the army to stand a public line of a collective flogging. We do not have another IDF. We do not have another army. The IDF cannot be replaced. I will not allow the IDF to be paralyzed for many months or more only to please one person or another. I will not let this happen.

GRADSTEIN: Criticism of Olmert's decision came quickly, even from within his own ruling coalition. Two cabinet ministers from the center-left Labor Party said only a state commission of inquiry will restore the public's faith in the government. Many Israelis say the war was not well planned and the prime minister made many mistakes in judgment, leading to unnecessary Israeli casualties.

Joseph Alpher(ph), a former senior official in the Mossad and currently the director an Israeli-Palestinian Web site, says the committees Olmert appointed cannot do what is needed.

Mr. JOSEPH ALPHER (Former Senior Official, Mossad): Anything that is not headed by a judge and is entirely appointed by Olmert himself, and with appointees who agreed to take on the job without knowing yet what their mandate is, appears to me to be insufficient, and is undoubtedly going to be seen by broad sectors of the public as a whitewash.

GRADSTEIN: One recent poll found almost two-thirds of Israelis want Olmert to resign. But Alpher and other analysts say it's too early to say if the prime minister will be forced to leave.

Linda Gradstein, NPR News, Jerusalem.

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