מהטלוויזיה ABC האוסטרלית

Olmert stands firm despite damning war report

An Israeli cabinet minister has resigned after the administration was criticised for its handling of the war in Lebanon last year, and President Ehud Olmert has been largely blamed in a report let by a commission of inquiry.


TONY JONES: The Israeli Defence Force was poorly led and ill-prepared when it went to war with Lebanon last year, according to a commission of inquiry which reported today. The report largely blames Israel's Prime Minister, Ehud Olmert, for the defence force's failings. He's now under increasing political pressure. A Labor minister in his coalition government resigned today, saying he couldn't be a part of an administration headed by Mr Olmert.

Middle East Correspondent Matt Brown reports.

MATT BROWN: Israel is still raw from its perceived defeat at the hands of Hezbollah in Lebanon last year.

CHAIM TZEMACH, FATHER OF OZ TZEMACH: He told me, 'Don't be worried, I am in control, my tongue is very good, my team is the best in the unit'. Chaim Tzemach's son, Oz, was sent deep into Lebanese territory. Every time I told him, 'Oz, be careful from the missiles, they're killing tanks', he told me, "Daddy, don't be worried, don't be worried, sleep well'.

MATT BROWN: Oz died in Lebanon protecting the crew of another tank. The families of the dead soldiers are the best symbol of the pressure now on Israel's Prime Minister.

CHAIM TZEMACH: If Olmert can't feel it, he can't feel because his children are still alive.

MATT BROWN: A commission of inquiry headed by a retired judge, Eliyahu Winograd, has just slammed the Prime Minister's handling of the war. It found that Ehud Olmert's lack of military experience took a heavy toll.

OFER SHELAH, POLITICAL ANALYST: The war started out as a four to six-day operation and it's escalated into a war because Olmert did not stop it and at the same time he did not prepare, he did not force the army to prepare itself for a long war.

MATT BROWN: In an address to the nation, Ehud Olmert promised to act on the recommendations of the report to improve Israel's security but he vowed to remain in office.

EHUD OLMERT, ISRAELI PRIME MINISTER (translation): It would not be right to quit and I have no intention of doing so. This government made the decisions and this government will deal with correcting the defects.

MATT BROWN: At the outset of the war, Ehud Olmert ordered his generals to rescue two Israeli soldiers who had just been abducted by Hezbollah. He also ordered them to smash Hezbollah's rocket arsenal and stop the Shi'ite militia from launching rockets into Israel. The Winograd Commission says that was an ill-considered knee jerk reaction taken by an inexperienced leader. Ehud Olmert still leads, but now the nation does not want to follow and that has implications for much more than the Prime Minister's future.

CHAIM TZEMACH: We have to be strong and we have to have strong leadership that can take the broken country now to a safe place. We need it.

MATT BROWN: The United States also needs a strong leader in Israel. Marred in Iraq, it needs to curry favour with its Arab allies and its looking to Ehud Olmert to deliver progress towards peace with the Palestinians. But the Prime Minister is bogged down in a string of corruption inquiries and his standing as guardian of Israel's national security is almost non-existent.

CHAIM TZEMACH: You have to do an agreement when you are strong from power position, not from weakness position.

MATT BROWN: So, the fall-out from the war in Lebanon may have made peace with the Palestinians less likely.

OFER SHELAH: He made the cardinal, the most cardinal sin for an Israeli Prime Minister, that is, he mismanaged the war, according to public opinion. And for that I don't think the public will absolve him no matter what he does.

MATT BROWN: Ehud Olmert has already lost the trust of a nation and the Winograd Commission has a final report on the Lebanon war due in a few months.

Matt Brown, Lateline.