Defense Minister Ehud Barak came under fire Sunday from the opposition as well as members of his own party, after announcing that he intends to remain in the government despite his campaign promise to resign in the wake of the Winograd Committee's final report on the Second Lebanon War.
"I am aware of the challenges Israel faces - Gaza, Hezbollah, Syria, Iran, and rehabilitating the army," Barak told reporters ahead of the weekly cabinet meeting. "The Winograd report was harsh, and it has implications and complicated conclusions regarding both individuals and ethical issues. I intend to address these conclusions when the time is right, and set a date for elections."
Barak said he had not forgotten his pledge during Labor Party primaries last year, but that the "situation today is different."
"I gave it a lot of thought and consideration and then decided," said the Labor chairman. "I know [the decision] pleases some and disappoints others. I know that I could pay a political price, but I am ready to do so. The faction is united on this issue."
Labor Secretary-General Eitan Cabel expressed disappointment with Barak's comments, telling Army Radio, "The Winograd findings are harsh, and we must continue to take an ethical stance, despite the good reasons we have to stay in the government."
"This was an opportunity for the Labor Party and its leader to rectify the situation in the eyes of the public, which expects leadership, morality, and ethics," continued Cabel. "I fear we may pay a very heavy price for this decision."
Cabel was not the only party official to express dissatisfaction with the move, with Labor's young guard vowing to fight the decision. "We can't fool all the people all the time," said the young guard's chairman, Eran Hermoni. "The Labor Party is committing suicide. This is not the new political message that the young generation was expecting."
Gal-On: Barak has no credibility, shame, or moral values
Meretz faction whip Zahava Gal-On also slammed Barak, saying he and Prime Minister Ehud Olmert "should be condemned on the stand of public disgrace."
"A reckless and irresponsible prime minister has a defense minister that has no credibility, shame or moral values, who instead of demonstrating leadership and demanding the removal of the failure Olmert, delivers a slap in the face to the soldiers, bereaved families, and citizens who have lost their faith in democracy," she continued.
"Olmert and Barak have driven the political system to a new low," she said.
The Likud added its voice to the condemnation of Barak's decision, saying "as expected Barak is hiding from his commitment behind the excuse of what is best for the country is more important than what is best for him, and has lent a hand to a leadership that the Winograd report, and the public, has judged to be a failure."
"Barak has proven that he gives priority to his own political survival at the expense of the best interests of the country, which require him to replace the leadership," said the Likud in a statement.Israeli sources believe target of attack was adjacent restaurant frequented by diplomats.
Kadima officials, however, welcomed the move. "[This is] an expression of both national responsibility and a deep understanding of the State of Israel's needs, which are a central part of implementing the Winograd Committee's [findings] with an emphasis on the training and preparedness of the IDF to handle threats," said Immigrant Absorption Minister Ze'ev Boim.
Olmert calls Winograd report 'harsh and complex'
Olmert said at the outset of the cabinet meeting that the "Winograd report is harsh and complex, that points to extremely problematic [issues] regarding the performance of the society, political echelon, and IDF, along with the heroism and glorious combat on the part of individuals and groups."
"The report is not the source of happiness and has never been so, but at the same time it does provide an opportunity to correct [the failures] it revealed, to improve them, to rebuild where necessary and take Israel forward so that it will be prepared on every front," continued the prime minister.
"When we received the prior [interim] report, I ordered an organized process of taking the conclusions into consideration, and the IDF began rectifying the errors from day one as well," he said. "We have full faith that the security establishment will deal with the problems and prepare the IDF for any scenario."
Olmert added that along with the wartime failures there were also achievements, and along with the mistakes there were also successes. "We must not exaggerate the achievements or diminish the failures, and give everything the proper amount of consideration," said the prime minister.
Reservists say 'betrayed' by Barak decision
Despite polls showing improvement in Olmert's standing, the protest movement continues to call for him to resign, and for Barak to make good on his promise to quit the coalition.
The leaders of the reservists' protest movement issued a statement assailing Barak's decision, saying "politics have defeated the state."
"We are witnessing the pact of the failures, the pact of the cynics who are greedy for personal survival," said the statement.
The protest movement was guardedly optimistic that Barak would keep his promise to resign, following a meeting Thursday between the defense minister and representatives of the reservist group.
"I am not only disappointed, I feel betrayed," said Major (res.) Yakir Segev, who hosted Thursday's meeting. "In his meeting with us it was not clear what his decision would be, but it was clear that he understood that the report is harsh, that he does not buy Prime Minister Ehud Olmert's spin, and that he understands what the right thing to do would be from a moral standpoint."
"Now I feel as if the politicians have betrayed us twice - once in the war, and once after," he said.
Yossi Sarid, the former Meretz Party leader, and Yaakov Hasdai, who was a member of the Agranat Commission that investigated the Yom Kippur War, will be among the speakers at a planned demonstration Monday across from the Knesset, scheduled to coincide with a plenum discussion of the Winograd Commission's final report.
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