Israeli Army Chief Resigns
ALEX CHADWICK, host:
In the Middle East, Israel's top military officer, Lieutenant General Dan Halutz, suddenly resigned today. This comes during an investigation into last summer's war with Hezbollah in southern Lebanon. Many Israeli's were very critical of how that fight went. Joining us is NPR's Eric Westervelt in Jerusalem. Eric why now? There have been calls for General Halutz to step down in the past.
ERIC WESTERVELT: That's right, but he was under intense public pressure for months from reservist soldiers, Alex, who fought in the war and families of service members - some of whom camped out outside government buildings demanding that he and other Israeli leaders step down. One headline today, in an Israeli paper, said better late than never. He-the public largely blamed him for the wartime shortcomings. But why now? Well an interim report on the government's conduct during the war comes out next month. It's expected to be highly critical of Halutz and there continues to be fierce public criticism on the way civilian and military leaders managed the war, this past summer, with Hezbollah. Critics say leaders rushed into a large scale fight after the guerilla force attacked and kidnapped two soldiers. And then critics say leaders dithered in making key decisions about deployments and tactics. And on the ground, Alex, soldiers complained not only of receiving confusing orders, but of not having enough of the basics. There were reported shortages of food and water as well as serious equipment problems.
CHADWICK: Well what is the resignation going to mean for the Israeli military and for how things are there?
WESTERVELT: Well it's significant but it was expected. Halutz was the top commander, the leader of the military. The Israel defense forces are currently trying to assess the lessons learned from those serious problems during what's been called the second Lebanon war. But now they'll have a new commander to try and lead them through that long process.
CHADWICK: Other political news, General Halutz is not the only person in trouble there. Ehud Olmert faces a very serious problem of his own, the prime minister of Israel.
WESTERVELT: That's right. I mean the military chief resigning is another blow to the prime minister, who's facing incredibly low public approval ratings. Some of the polls have put his support in the teens and the single digits -largely form his handling of the war. But there are other issues. He's facing a series of corruption allegations involving people in his administration. And now there is a criminal probe of Olmert's role in the privatization of Israel's second largest bank when he was finance minister. On top of that, there's been very little progress on any peace talks with the Palestinians. So Prime Minister Olmert's administration continues to face some serious challenges.
CHADWICK: Well secretary of state Condoleezza Rice is in the Middle East this week, she says there's going to be a three way meeting between Israel and the U.S. and the Palestinian's to discuss what's called the road map. Given all this, is anything going to happen there?
WESTERVELT: Well I think both sides are starting to downplay expectations for that initial meeting, anyway. But it certainly could make things more complicated that the U.S. is trying to restart this peace process at a time when leaders on both sides, Alex - Palestinian president Abbas and Israeli Prime Minister Olmert - are incredibly weak at home, politically. Abbas is entangled in a bitter internal fight with Hamas and this political fragility both leaders could only add to the complexity when, you know, there haven't been any serious peace talks for more than six years.
CHADWICK: Eric Westervelt in Jerusalem. Eric thank you.
WESTERVELT: Thanks Alex.
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