Israeli defence chief resigns over Lebanon invasion

Issue 

After months of pressure following the debacle of the July-August war in Lebanon, Israeli defence chief Lieutenant General Dan Halutz announced his resignation on January 16, prompting thousands of Lebanese to take to Beirut's streets in celebration.

Halutz's resignation came despite his public statement two weeks earlier that he would wait until the release of the findings of the Israeli-government Winograd Commission into the political and military conduct of the war. The commissions findings are due to be released in February.

According to the January 17 edition of the Jerusalem Post, "senior officers estimated that Halutz's decision was made after he received inside information that he would take the fall" in the commission's report.

Halutz's resignation indicated that he would remain chief of defence until the 50 internal probes into Israel's offensive against Lebanon and the military's work plan for 2007 are completed.

Halutz's resignation has increased calls for the resignation of Prime Minister Ehud Olmert and defence Amir Peretz. In recent months, Olmert's personal popularity has plummeted to an all-time low in the wake of the war, the failure of his political party Kadima's "convergence" plan (unilateral "withdrawal" from the West Bank) and a probe into whether Olmert attempted to influence the sale and privatisation of Israel's second largest bank. According to the survey by the Dahaf Institute released on January 4, 77% of Israelis are dissatisfied with Olmert's performance as PM.

Many Israelis have called for the establishment of a national commission of inquiry into the war. Olmert, however, has consistently fought the establishment of such an inquiry. On August 28, he announced that there would be no independent national commission and instead established the Winograd Commission.

The parameters of the Winograd Commission have been determined by the government. Unlike a national commission of inquiry, it does not have the power to remove public officials, including the PM and members of the government. A national commission of inquiry would have been headed by a justice of the Israeli Supreme Court, who would have been responsible for determining the parameters of the commission independently of Olmert's government.

In 1974, a national commission of inquiry into the 1973 Arab-Israeli War was responsible for bringing down the government of Golda Meir. The Agranat Commission was set up in the wake of the war (also known as the Yom Kippur War). Although Israel ultimately won, early defeats in the war had a huge psychological impact on both Israeli and Arab consciousness as it revealed that Israel's military supremacy in the region could be challenged. While the commission cleared Meir and her defence minister of responsibility, they and the rest of Meir's government were forced to resign due to public outrage generated by the commission's findings.

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