Israeli army chief of staff resigns

Iran Materials 17 January 2007 12:53

(AP) - Israeli military chief Lt. Gen. Dan Halutz has resigned, yielding to vocal demands that he pay the price for Israel's flawed summer war in Lebanon.

Halutz's decision to step aside, announced early Wednesday, increased pressure on Prime Minister Ehud Olmert and Defense Minister Amir Peretz, whose roles during Israel's largest military operation since 1982 also have been assailed, reports Trend.

Halutz stepped down at the end of an already turbulent day for Olmert. Hours earlier, the Justice Ministry ordered police to launch a criminal investigation into his conduct in the sale of Israel's second-largest bank before he became prime minister last year.

Troops, bereaved families and even members of Israel's tightly knit military elite have been calling for Halutz's head ever since the monthlong war against Lebanese Hezbollah guerrillas ended on Aug. 14.

Israel launched the full-scale assault just hours after Hezbollah captured two Israeli soldiers and killed three others in a July 12 cross-border raid.

Many Israelis now feel the country went too hastily to a war that ended without achieving its objective вЂ" recovering the captured soldiers and crushing Hezbollah.

The 34-day fighting killed more than 1,000 people on both sides, according to the U.N. and Israeli and Lebanese officials. Lebanon says the majority of those were Lebanese civilians.UNICEF also says most of those killed were civilians, and about a third of them were children.

Israel estimates 600 Hezbollah fighters were killed, while the militant group says 250 of its fighters died.

Of the total deaths, 159 were in Israel, including 39 civilians who died in rocket attacks.

Criticism of the military's preparedness and tactics swelled after the battles ended without a clear-cut Israeli victory.

Questions about the wisdom of 11th-hour battles and reports of food and water shortages fueled demands for inquiries into the war's conduct and the resignation of Israel's wartime leaders.

Halutz acknowledged the shortcomings, but had earlier resisted pressure to resign.

The military said Wednesday that Halutz decided to step aside now that dozens of military inquiries into various aspects of the war had been concluded. "Now that this process has been completed, the chief of staff has asked to resign immediately," the military said in a brief statement.

None of the inquiries concluded he should quit or be dismissed.

"For me, the word 'responsibility' is very significant," Halutz wrote in his resignation letter. "My concept of responsibility is what led me to remain in my position until this point, and to place this letter on your desk today."

Both Olmert and Peretz accepted the chief of staff's resignation, the military said. There was no immediate word on when the resignation would go into effect, but Halutz was expected to remain on the job until a replacement is named.

Three candidates dominating the succession speculation are deputy chief of staff Maj. Gen. Moshe Kaplinsky, who was dispatched to the Lebanon front to assume command during the war; Gabi Ashkenazi, a retired general and current director general of the Defense Ministry; and Maj. Gen. Benny Ganz, Israel's top field officer.

Olmert's bureau said the prime minister initially asked Halutz to reconsider, but accepted his resignation after realizing the military commander was determined to step aside.

Peretz spoke with Halutz by phone and expressed regret over his decision, a Defense Ministry spokesman said. The two are to meet Wednesday morning after Halutz meets with generals, spokesman Goor Tsalalyachin said.

Halutz is not the first military chief to have his tenure abruptly end. Lt. Gen. David Elazar was fired in 1974 after Egypt and Syria launched the 1973 Mideast war with a surprise attack on Israel.

Halutz resigned before a government-appointed panel, which has the power to call on him to step aside, issued its findings on the war.

The war has cost two other generals their jobs вЂ" the commander in charge of the unit attacked in the July 12 raid, and the head of the army's northern command during the war.

Halutz also fired a third general who publicly criticized the war and government policy.

Halutz was Israel's military chief for less than two years, having assumed the post on June 1, 2005. He was the first air force chief to have commanded the entire military.

He was a controversial figure in some quarters even before he took over as chief of staff. Complaints have been filed against him abroad in connection with his decision, as air force commander, to drop a one-ton bomb on a Gaza Strip home in a 2002 airstrike that killed a Palestinian militant leader and 14 others, including nine children.