Kibbutz Movement Head Urges Barak to Stay in Gov't After Winograd

Winograd expected to slam PM over failure to consult on war; panel divided over extent of PM's responsibility.

Kibbutz Movement Secretary-General Ze'ev Shor, who also heads the kibbutz representative bloc within the Labor Party, is lobbying party chairman Ehud Barak to remain in the government following the release of the Winograd committee report investigating the Second Lebanon War.

"Nobody disputes the importance of the report and of the obligation to correct the inadequacies," Shor, whose kibbutz bloc is the largest single constituency within the Labor Party, wrote Barak in a letter released Friday.

"Despite the severity of what is expected in the report, I am turning to you and pleading with you not to quit the government at this time. Your continued presence in the government is of supreme national importance for the State of Israel, first and foremost in the advancement of the peace process and the Palestinian track, and, perhaps in the not-too-distant future, the Syrian track. Here I will also add the importance of the Labor Party's involvement in correcting the mishaps which the members of the Winograd committee will note [in the report]."

"The protest of a party that resigns from the Olmert government after the release of the final report of the Winograd committee may earn us plaudits from politicians (most of whom are motivated by interests which contradict ours) and commentators of every type," Shor wrote. "This will be a short-term consideration, for the day is not far off when the public will settle a score with us for our responsibility for the damage which will be caused to the state."

As the senior partner in Olmert's coalition, Labor holds the key to the government's remaining in power. Following this week's resignation of Yisrael Beiteinu, the prime minister is left with a thin majority of 67 members. Barak has stated he would wait until the final report is published at the end of the month before deciding whether to pull the faction and its 19 members out of the government.

"The Labor Party is not in anyone's pocket and certainly not Olmert's. We will consider our position after we read the final Winograd report, and no one should be surprised if Labor calls to replace Olmert from within Kadima," said Minister of National Infrastructures Benjamin Ben-Eliezer on Wednesday.

According to Ben-Eliezer, Yisrael Beiteinu's decision to leave the government actually helps Labor to be a partner in reaching a peace agreement, and the party must not miss the opportunity.

"It would be a mistake to leave the government now, after [Yisrael Beiteinu Chairman Avigdor] Lieberman has left and removed the obstacle to advancing the peace process," he said.

If the party decides to call for Olmert's resignation and he does not do so, then Labor will act according to Barak's promise to set an agreed-upon date for an early election, toward the end of 2008 or the beginning of 2009.

Other senior Labor officials said Barak could not ignore the Winograd report, and would look to find a replacement within Kadima for Olmert in the first stage. The second stage would be to call for an early election, within a year. But Barak's advisors are continuing to repeat that only after the report is published will he decide on the matter, based on national and security concerns.

Winograd expected to slam PM over failure to consult on warOne member of the panel investigating the Second Lebanon War thinks its final report should include harsh criticism of Prime Minister Ehud Olmert, but Prof. Yehezkel Dror seems to be in the minority: The other members of the Winograd Committee apparently believe that the report, due out on January 30, must be formulated in more general terms.

The majority also apparently believes that a significant share of the blame for a failed ground operation launched 60 hours before the war ended rests with the Israel Defense Forces. The main criticism of Olmert is expected to be his failure to hold thorough consultations before approving the operation.

The Ynet Internet site on Thursday quoted a committee member as saying that the report would have a "dramatic, decisive" impact, "up to and including a replacement of the government." A committee spokesman declined to comment. But Dror is known to have expressed similar views during the committee's hearings, and is apparently seeking to have the final report reflect them.

The Winograd Committee's partial report, published last April, focused on the first six days of the war, from July 12-17, 2006. That report was extremely critical of the troika of decision-makers: Olmert, then defense minister Amir Peretz and then IDF chief of staff Dan Halutz. But sources familiar with the committee?s work predict that the final report will devote more attention to the IDF's failures during the war.

The report is expected to criticize the IDF's reluctance to launch a ground operation between July 18 and August 12, and its adherence to Halutz's idea - which events proved false - that it was possible to defeat Hezbollah and stop the rocket fire on northern Israel almost solely via air power.

The document is also expected to deal extensively with the final 60 hours of the war, from Olmert's decision to approve the ground operation (in the afternoon of August 11) to the August 14 cease-fire.

Olmert and Peretz told the committee that they approved the operation because they wanted the IDF to be in a better position if Hezbollah refused to honor the cease-fire, which they considered very possible. The explanation that they gave in subsequent public discussions of the issue - that they were trying to secure a more favorable cease-fire resolution - was apparently not stressed in their testimony to the committee.

The committee?s criticism of Olmert's role in this operation is likely to focus on his failure to thoroughly discuss the issue with senior IDF officers and other relevant parties before giving it the green light.

IDF to be slammed

The IDF is likely to be slammed for having allowed the government to believe, erroneously, that 60 hours would suffice to achieve the goals of an operation for which army planners had allocated 96 hours. It is also expected to face criticism over its decision to halt the troops' advance on Saturday night, when 30 hours still remained before the cease-fire took effect.

Udi Adam, who served as GOC Northern Command during the war (and then resigned), told the committee that when the ground operation was launched, Northern Command was not informed that the cease-fire - which had already been finalized - would take effect in 60 hours; he thought he had the full 96 hours called for in the original plan.