Defense Minister Ehud Barak lashed back at Prime Minister Ehud Olmert Sunday, hours after the PM criticized Barak and other MKs for calling for him to resign and for the Kadima party to hold primaries.
At a ceremony held in honor of War of Independence veterans, Barak told the veterans of the 48 war that the morals they exhibited "are no longer self-evident in Israel," a jibe that could be interpreted as directed at Olmert.
Barak told the veterans that the morals they instilled in future generations filled him and many others with "love of the homeland, acknowledgement of the integrity of our national mission, solidarity, steadfast decisiveness, and sincerity."
Earlier on Sunday, Olmert dismissed calls by Defense Minister Ehud Barak for him to resign, saying that no one outside his ruling Kadima Party will decide what happens within the party.
"Kadima is not a satellite party, it is the ruling party. Kadima rules Israel, determines its agenda, and will continue to decide the agenda and the timetable. No one from outside it will determine these deadlines," the prime minister said during a Kadima party meeting in Jerusalem.
The remarks followed Barak's calls last week on Olmert to step down from his post in light of a corruption investigation currently underway against the prime minister.
The prime minister also sent a veiled message to Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni, saying "I suggest that we don't operate under pressure, that we show responsibility and run the country in a calm and thoughtful manner. We must take care of Israel's issues, first and foremost
"We must continue to work as a strong and unified party, in order to ensure that we will continue to manage the affairs of the state years down the road," Olmert added.
Trade and Industry Minister Eli Yishai on Sunday decried the political crisis that has engulfed the government as negatively influencing the management of Israel's security affairs.
"There are differences of opinion between Olmert, Barak and Livni, which are causing delays to the decision making process. If they don't succeed in unifying their opinions, this only says there needs to be a cabinet meeting," said Yishai (Shas), a key coalition member.
Yishai was referring to the political-security cabinet session on Israel's conflict with Gaza militant groups that was set to be held on Sunday, but was then postponed by a week. In the session's place, a three-way meeting was to be held between Prime Minister Ehud Olmert, Defense Minister Ehud Barak and Tzipi Livni.
Ever since Barak's call last Wednesday for the prime minister to resign from his post in light of the corruption investigation currently underway against him, key members of the coalition have called for the holding of general elections, and primaries in Olmert's own Kadima party.
On Saturday, Olmert said he will not try to block primaries from taking place in Kadima. However, Olmert is asking that internal moves toward primaries not begin until he returns from his visit to the United States next weekend.
However, Olmert may ask for the pause to be extended until his defense lawyers have an opportunity to cross-examine Morris Talansky, a chief witness for the prosecution in the corruption probe of the PM if this could be scheduled in about 10 days.
"I am not going to fight this [primaries]. They want primaries? Let there be primaries," Olmert said during the weekend in talks with aides and officials in Kadima. "This movement is dear to me. I do not intend to draw it into my legal issues, and I will never do anything to harm it."
The investigation against the prime minister centers on suspicions that he illicitly received hundreds of thousands of dollars from Talansky.
Olmert and his defense team believe that the cross-examination of Talansky will defuse some of the allegations against him that sprang from the deposition the American businessman gave last week. Cross-examination will present the prime minister in a more positive light, say his lawyers.
Sources close to Olmert say that if the cross-examination shows Talansky to be a less than reliable witness, this will bolster the prime minister in the eyes of the public and in Kadima, and he will be in better position to deal with the demand for primaries.
"If Talansky emerges as a liar," said a source close to Olmert, "this will make [Ehud] Barak look ridiculous, as someone who rushed to create a crisis. Why was he not able to wait for an indictment? Tzipi Livni, too, rushed to stick a knife into the prime minister after Barak, and will also look bad. This can negatively affect her image among Kadima constituents."
Nonetheless, sources close to the PM said Saturday that he is unlikely to participate in the primaries if these are held, even though Olmert had not specifically said so.
However, it is clear that Olmert would like to conduct this fight in the public, not in the political arenas, and he is therefore trying to forestall any internal party procedure such as primaries before the cross-examination of Talansky, which he expects will contain the damage to his image.
Olmert met on Thursday with Minister of Transportation Shaul Mofaz, who asked the PM to agree to early primaries in the party.
In an interview with Army Radio on Sunday, Mofaz came out strongly against Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni, who over the weekend said primaries should be held as soon as possible, even if Olmert opposes this development.
Mofaz accused Livni trying to drive apart Kadima, telling the radio: "It is not fitting for senior members of Kadima to come out against the movement and try to splinter us. Livni is not going to teach us what integrity is."
Livni on Saturday had suggested there are more important things than Olmert's personal affairs: "There is a limit to everything. There is a party and there is a state," she said.
In the Army Radio interview on Sunday, Mofaz also said he was not concerned about the outcome of general elections in Israel, as he supports establishing a national unity goverment following the Kadima primaries.
MK Tzachi Hanegbi, a senior figure in Kadima close to Olmert, met with the prime minister on Saturday. The two agreed the party's central committee would meet following Olmert's visit to Washington to discuss the primaries.
Vice Premier Haim Ramon, a close ally of Olmert, said Saturday at a conference in Washington that elections in Israel are likely to be held by November.
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