Israeli chief slammed for war with Lebanon

Published: Tuesday, May 1, 2007 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Monday, April 30, 2007 at 10:18 p.m.

JERUSALEM - In extraordinarily strong language, a high-level investigative panel sharply criticized Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert on Monday for "severe failure'' in his handling of the war in Lebanon - a potentially fatal blow to his political survival.

Whether Olmert can hang on to his job will depend on how the Israeli people respond to the panel's report, which blamed him for "hastily'' rushing into a war the army was not prepared to wage - and that many Israelis think emboldened the Jewish state's enemies.

An expressionless Olmert stared straight ahead and slumped against the back of his chair as the panel's chairman read the report, which cited "a severe failure in the lack of judgment, responsibility and caution.''

However, Olmert vowed to remain in office despite calls for his resignation from coalition partners as well as opponents. "It would not be correct to resign,'' he said in a televised statement, "and I have no intention of resigning.'' Instead, he said he would convene a special session of his Cabinet on Wednesday to begin implementing the report.

Olmert's best hope for remaining in office appeared to rest in his coalition partners' fear of new elections, which polls predict would bring opposition leader Benjamin Netanyahu of the hard-line Likud Party to power. Olmert's centrist Kadima Party might seek to replace him, which would put the popular foreign minister, Tzipi Livni, in a good position to become Israel's second female prime minister.

The report capped a six-month investigation into the war, which erupted July 12 when Hezbollah guerrillas killed three soldiers and captured two others in a cross-border raid. In 34 days of fighting, Israel failed to secure the return of the captured soldiers or to prevent Hezbollah from firing thousands of rockets into Israel.

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