Israeli general who led war against Hezbollah resigns

Posted in Israel / Palestine | 17-Jan-07 | Author: Greg Myre| Source: International Herald Tribune

Israeli army Chief of Staff Lt. Gen. Dan Halutz.

JERUSALEM: The Israeli military's chief of staff, Lt. Gen. Dan Halutz, submitted his resignation after facing months of fierce criticism over the military's performance in last summer's war in Lebanon, officials said early Wednesday.

In a separate development, an Israeli prosecutor on Tuesday ordered a criminal investigation to determine whether Prime Minister Ehud Olmert exercised improper influence in the privatization of the country's second-largest bank in 2005.

The two developments were the latest blows to a political and military leadership that have been tarnished by its collective handling of the Lebanon war and a number of scandals.

The Israeli public has widely blamed Halutz, along with Olmert and Defense Minister Amir Peretz, for mismanaging the 34 days of fighting with Hezbollah guerrillas in Lebanon, which turned into a much tougher battle than Israelis expected.

Halutz, 58, sent his letter of resignation to Olmert, saying he was taking responsibility for the war. "For me, the concept of responsibility is everything," Halutz wrote, according to Israeli Army radio.

Halutz rose through the ranks and was head of the air force before becoming the military's chief of staff in 2005.

When Hezbollah staged a surprise cross-border raid on July 12, killing three Israeli soldiers and seizing two more, Israel immediately responded with intense airstrikes, and the war was under way.

Israel relied heavily on the air force to strike at Hezbollah's rocket launchers, but the Lebanese group was able to continue firing 100 or more rockets daily on northern Israel throughout the war, to the great frustration of the Israelis.

Olmert and Peretz, who both have limited military experience, were seen by many as indecisive and reluctant to send a large ground force into southern Lebanon, fearing heavy casualties.

Halutz, in turn, was seen as overly reliant on air power. In addition, the Lebanese reported that many of their casualties were civilians, which worked in many quarters to turn international opinion against the Israeli campaign.

A United Nations resolution brought the fighting to a halt on Aug. 14, and Israel claimed victory, but many saw the battle as inconclusive, or at least far short of a decisive victory that many Israelis had expected.

Halutz faced further criticism when it was disclosed that he sold part of his stock portfolio only hours after the fighting began on July 12.

He said he had left a message for his broker before the Hezbollah raid. When the broker called back several hours later, the fighting had already begun. The general told the broker to sell some mutual funds as planned. But the episode only added to the sense of public outrage.

Just hours before Halutz resigned, . Olmert received the news that he would be formally investigated for his role in the 2005 privatization of Bank Leumi.

The criminal investigation, which is expected to last months, only adds to Olmert's woes. Elected less than a year ago, his popularity has plummeted in opinion polls.

Olmert is the fourth consecutive Israeli prime minister to be investigated. No charges were brought in the other three cases, involving Benjamin Netanyahu, Ehud Barak and Ariel Sharon.

According to reports in the Israeli news media, the investigation will seek to determine whether Olmert, as finance minister in 2005, tried to guide the privatization sale of Bank Leumi toward friends.

Ultimately, a stake in the bank was sold to companies that have not been linked to the investigation.

However, the Justice Ministry said in a statement that "preliminary findings have led to the conclusion that enough evidence has been gathered to justify opening a criminal investigation."

Olmert has denied any wrongdoing, saying last week that, "I have no doubt that the process was conducted in the best way possible." His office said Tuesday evening that the "prime minister will cooperate with any investigation."