JERUSALEM, Jan. 18 (UPI) -- Israel's failures in the last Lebanon War have led Chief of General Staff Lt. Gen. Dani Halutz to resign in a move that could further shake the positions of Prime Minister Ehud Olmert and Defense Minister Amir Peretz.
Halutz has been roundly criticized for the way he conducted the war. Lebanon's Hezbollah guerilla organization might have sparked the hostilities by kidnapping two Israeli soldiers in a cross-border operation, but it was Israel's decision to go to war over it.
The Israelis inflicted heavy damage in Lebanon and around 1,000 people were killed, but the war ended last August with the two soldiers still in Hezbollah's hands. The Lebanese militants fired some 4,000 rockets into northern Israel and the military failed to stop that during the 34-day war. Some 160 Israeli soldiers and civilians were killed, more than 3,000 were injured and on Jan. 2 Halutz acknowledged: "To a certain extent, the fact Hezbollah was not decisively defeated harmed (Israeli) deterrence of radical elements in the area."
Halutz put it mildly. A former head of the Northern Command, retired Maj. Gen. Avigdor Bengal, said Israel's failure was "colossal."
Halutz, an air force man, became chief of the armed forces in June 2005. The air force's standards have long been considered way above the army's and Halutz was expected to instill those standards throughout the military. Moreover, Iran's nuclear ambitions are considered the main threat and an air force man seemed more suitable to cope with that.
The focus on air power came at the expense of the ground forces. Soldiers were bogged down with fighting the intifada, the Palestinian uprising, which was considered a low intensity conflict. Training for full-scale war was neglected and when equipment was needed the army sometimes took it from emergency stores.
Dozens of military committees investigated all aspects of the war. And the military concluded it had been wrong to rely so heavily on the air force's ability to stop the short-range rocket attacks that Hezbollah concealed so effectively. Halutz reportedly acknowledged the army should have called up reserve divisions at an earlier stage and prepared them for a ground offensive.
A general in active service who was not named told the Haaretz newspaper that "many" participants in the army's final analysis sessions had reservations about the senior command.
Halutz sought to correct the mistakes and prepare the army for another war. However, a study of the General Staff's failures made him realize that if he does not quit, he will be forced out, wrote Ynet's military analyst Ron Ben Yishai.
A government-appointed commission of inquiry, headed by Judge Eliyahu Winograd, is studying the war and officers who appeared before it had the impression the committee is going to target Halutz.
Halutz told Olmert Sunday he was going to quit but asked to keep that a secret for a few days. The resignation was announced shortly after midnight Tuesday.
"Following completion of the investigations and the formation of the 2007 work plan, which will implement the lessons learned, I proudly feel that I have reached the goals I set for myself at the end of the conflict in Lebanon and have lived up to my responsibility," Halutz wrote Olmert. "I hereby announce to you my intention of resigning from my position as Chief of Staff, effective immediately."
Later he agreed to stay on until his replacement takes over.
The main candidates are former Deputy Chief of General Staff Gabi Ashkenazi who had lost to Halutz in the 2005 race for the top military post and is now the Defense Ministry's director general; Deputy Chief of General Staff Maj. Gen. Moshe Kaplinsky; and the head of the Ground Forces Command Maj. Gen. Benny Ganz.
Ashkenazi and Ganz had headed the Northern Command, Kaplinsky was sent there during the war to oversee its commander (who has since resigned), and Ganz, in his present post, is responsible for training the ground forces. The Winograd committee might fault some of them, which is why retired Maj. Gen. Yossi Peled recommended the government wait with its appointment until the committee published its preliminary findings. Haaretz said the government would consult the committee before nominating Halutz' replacement.
Meanwhile, opposition parties have called for early elections and the Likud tabled a no-confidence motion, arguing that Olmert and Peretz were also responsible for the war.
Peretz seems to be on his way out. He is a professional trade unionist who is widely considered to have erred by taking the defense portfolio and refusing to resign following the war. Peretz' Labor Party is preparing to elect its new chairman, and public opinion polls show Peretz is lagging way behind his rivals, former Prime Minister and retired Lt. Gen. Ehud Barak and retired Vice Admiral Ami Ayalon who is now a Labor Party Knesset (parliament) member. After the party elections, if not earlier, Peretz will no doubt have to step down.
Olmert is also in trouble as he faces a criminal investigation into his involvement in the privatization of Bank Leumi.
At the moment there is no alternative coalition to Olmert's. The prime minister has a comfortable majority in the Knesset.
However his future is uncertain. If a charge sheet is presented against him, if the Winograd commission faults him, or if the opposition generates enough pressure forcing him to resign, he too would have to go.