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Olmert faces fallout from Lebanon war

Source:ap.org Author:AMY TEIBEL Date:03/25/14 Click:

JERUSALEM - An investigative panel looking into Prime Minister Ehud Olmert's handling of the 2006 war in Lebanon will release its final report on Wednesday, in what could be the tipping point of Olmert's political future.

The report's conclusions also may factor into whether Olmert's government lasts long enough or is strong enough to reach the ambitious goal of forging an Israeli-Palestinian peace agreement by the end of the year.

The government-appointed commission's report will deal with the war's last 28 days. A scathing interim report released by the panel in April accused Olmert of "severe failures" and hasty decisions at the beginning of the 34-day war against Hezbollah guerrillas.

Between 1,035 and 1,191 Lebanese civilians and combatants were killed in the war, as were 119 Israeli soldiers and 39 civilians, according to official figures from the two sides.

Olmert was able to beat back calls for his resignation after the interim report was released. This time, Labor Party leader Ehud Barak, Israel's defense minister, is under pressure to deliver on his promise to replace Olmert or advance elections after the full report is published.

If Barak pulls Labor's 19-member faction out of the coalition, Olmert would no longer have a parliamentary majority and could be forced to call an election. His coalition now controls 67 of parliament's 120 seats.

"All eyes are on Ehud Barak," Israeli political commentator Hanan Crystal told Israel Radio. "He needs to make the first move."

Barak recently said that he will "act in accordance with what is right and good for the state of Israel" after he reads the report.

Olmert has repeatedly said he would not step down after the findings are released. His confidants also say he rejects proposals by some Labor Party officials to hold elections in early 2009, more than a year ahead of schedule.

The two other main wartime decision-makers, former military chief Lt. Gen. Dan Halutz and former Defense Minister Amir Peretz, have already quit.

Olmert's fate appears closely linked to two former prime ministers who want to reclaim their old job, Barak and Likud leader Benjamin Netanyahu. Polls show the hawkish Netanyahu would easily win new elections, which helps to explain why Olmert's more dovish coalition partners are reluctant to abandon him.

Olmert enjoys greater popular support than he did in April. His revival of peace talks with the Palestinians and a daring and secretive attack on what Israeli defense officials have said was a Syrian nuclear facility have improved his standing.

The committee itself does not have the authority to remove Olmert or anyone else from power. But its findings could have an impact on public opinion.

The report is expected to scrutinize Olmert's controversial decision to send ground troops into a major battle just hours before a cease-fire went into effect. Thirty soldiers died in the offensive, which Olmert contends helped Israel improve its position in the truce.

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