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The selected backdrop for the announcement was the graduation ceremony of naval officers in Haifa. But what Chief of Staff Dan Halutz had to say, some 20 hours following the announcement of his resignation, was not intended only for the ears of the young officers.

"Whoever aspires to lead must offer a personal example, and behave professionally and responsibly," he said. "Whoever wants to be a commander and a leader must earn the trust of his troops. Mission is first and foremost taking responsibility, to command and to lead. The IDF needs commanders who are leaders," he concluded on his first day as an outgoing chief of staff.

The chronology of the resignation began on Sunday, although it was announced to the public only late Tuesday night.

On Sunday, Halutz informed Prime Minister Ehud Olmert of his decision to quit. The IDF chief arrived at the weekly cabinet meeting to give its members its regular briefing. Prior to the meeting, he asked to see the premier, and it was then that Halutz told Olmert of his intention, presenting him with a letter of resignation, which he asked to have kept confidential for two days.

Olmert tried to convince Halutz not to quit, but in the end accepted the resignation.

Aides to the prime minister were curious about the unusual meeting between the two men, but Olmert did not reveal the content of the conversation. "Routine matters," he told them.

On Tuesday, several hours before the resignation became public, Olmert told his aides to prepare for an important news item, but still did not give them any details. He waited for Halutz to announce it first.

Neither the prime minister nor the chief of staff hurried to inform Defense Minister Amir Peretz of the news. Peretz learned of Halutz's decision from the chief of staff himself on Tuesday night, shortly before the public announcement.

Senior military sources said that this fact reflects the quality of relations between Peretz and Halutz.

On Wednesday morning, the general staff gathered for a short meeting. Most of the generals had gone to bed the previous night with a chief of staff in place, and woke to the headlines that Halutz had quit. Only a handful, including Deputy Chief of Staff Moshe Kaplinsky, had heard, in person, from Halutz about his decision before the news reached the media.

During the meeting of the generals, Halutz said that he had decided to step down now that the in-house investigations into the war in Lebanon had been completed, following which conclusions had been reached and work plans for 2007 had been readied for the IDF.

He added that "the most important thing is that everyone has their eyes cast in the direction of this group here and therefore it is very important to broadcast steadfastness in our work and conduct. We have many missions and challenges, and the soldiers and commanders are carrying on with their missions to protect and preserve the security of the country."

Halutz promised to the generals that he intended to pass on the office of chief of staff to his replacement in an orderly way.

"I have no intention of taking my things and leaving in a rush," he told the general staff. "I have completed an important and significant chapter, and this will allow the IDF to carry out its missions in the best way possible. I have faith in the general staff. This is a quality group and I have no doubt that the sense of mission and responsibility will continue to accompany us all. I am confident that the IDF, with its commanders and soldiers, is a strong army that will continue to carrying out its missions at any moment it is asked to do so."

Senior officers commended Halutz for his decision yesterday. However, some felt that it was made a little late.

"Halutz could have hit the jackpot had he officially announced that he was leaving on January 1, when the in-house investigations were completed, and the army's senior command officers met to discuss the findings of the probes. It is not clear why he opted to wait further," the officers said.