PM: New IDF Chief Will Be Appointed in Coming Days

Peretz: Halutz's resignation was 'premature'; Halutz assures General Staff of orderly transition to successor.

Prime Minister Ehud Olmert told reporters at the Knesset on Wednesday that a new Israel Defense Forces chief of staff would be appointed within days. He said that he has already begun consultations on the matter, which will continue for several days.

Olmert added that he has spoken to Defense Minister Amir Peretz several times since Tuesday night.

"Although the defense minister formally makes the appointment, it is his [Peretz'] intention to set up a clear process, in order to choose the best possible chief of staff," Olmert said.

The outgoing chief of staff, Lieutenant-General Dan Halutz, announced his resignation on Tuesday night, after months of criticism over the IDF functioning during the second Lebanon war.

Speaking during his first public appearance since announcing his resignation late Tuesday night, Israel Defense Forces Chief of Staff Dan Halutz said Wednesday he decided to resign "on the basis of a strong foundation of values from my father's home and from my military service."

According to Halutz, a sense of "mission is being willing to take responsibility and to lead."

The outgoing IDF chief added that a good commander is one that succeeds in gaining the trust of his soldiers. "For forty years, I fulfilled my positions full of the same devotion and a sense of purpose" that led him to remain chief of staff until the conclusion of the internal IDF inquiries into the second Lebanon war.

"Following the conclusion of the period of inquiries I informed the prime minister of my decision to conclude my service in a short while," he said.

Halutz was greeted with applause throughout his speech.

Speaking after Haltuz, Defense Minister Amir Peretz called Halutz's decision "premature," saying Halutz had given the State of Israel "40 years of sacrifice."

Peretz said Halutz "undertook the necessary process" to draw lessons from the war, which is the basis of the IDF's agenda for 2007.

The defense minister expressed his sorrow over Halutz's decision, saying "there is much work still to be done." Peretz stressed that he intends to remain as defense minister.

Peretz said he has already begun the process of selecting Halutz's successor, saying he is taking into account "only the best interest of the State of Israel."

Addressing the celebrations in the Arab world over Halutz's resignation, Peretz warned that internal criticism should not be seen as a weakness, as it is a sign of internal unity.

Associates of Olmert said Wednesday the prime minister is likely to ask the panel probing the second Lebanon war whether it will publish "troublesome" conclusions regarding generals who have already testified, and who are seen as leading candidates for the post of IDF chief of staff.

Olmert's aides said the prime minister wishes to know in advance whether any of the candidates will find himself in a "tricky" situation due to his role in the war.

Of the three leading candidates for Halutz' job - Ground Forces Commander Benny Gantz, former deputy chief of staff Gabi Ashkenazi and current deputy chief of staff Moshe Kaplinsky - Ashkenazi and Gantz appeared before the state-appointed Winograd Committee in November. Kaplinsky, who is now interim head of the army, will testify in the near future.

Smooth succession Hours after announcing his resignation, Halutz on Wednesday morning told members of the General Staff that he would guarantee a smooth transfer of power to his successor.

"I have no intention of taking my possessions and leaving in haste," he said. "I will carry out an orderly transition with my replacement."

He said that the members of the General Staff should remember that they are also under scrutiny and that they must radiate stability.

Halutz expressed his full confidence in the generals and reminded them that, "the IDF still has daily missions to accomplish, and there are soldiers and commanders who still bear the burden."

Peretz spoke with Halutz by phone and expressed regret over his decision, a Defense Ministry spokesman said Wednesday. The two convened after Halutz' meeting with the generals.

Senior General Staff officers welcomed Halutz's decision Tuesday night, saying it was necessary in view of what has come to light regarding the IDF's wartime functioning.

"The time has really come," a general who played an active role in the war told Haaretz on Tuesday night.

"[Former GOC Northern Command] Udi Adam indicated the proper moral path with his decision [to resign]. Now Halutz joins him as well - and the inquiries show only the tip of the iceberg regarding Halutz's functioning during the war," he said.

Olmert's bureau said the prime minister knew ahead of time of Halutz' intention to resign, and had asked him reconsider. Olmert accepted the resignation, however, once he became convinced of Halutz' determination to do so, and expressed deep regret at the decision.

Two weeks ago, Halutz said he would resign if the Winograd Committee found him responsible for the mishandling of the war in Lebanon. The committee is also separately looking into the conduct of Olmert and Peretz.

"If the committee hands down an unambiguous sentence, it would obligate me [to resign]," Halutz had said. The resignation, however, comes before the committee has released its conclusions.

Senior IDF officers testified before the Winograd Committee that they considered Halutz responsible for the failures of the war. The officers told the members of the panel that the IDF had made a rushed recommendation to go to war, without preparing the units needed and without devising an exit strategy.

In his letter of resignation to the prime minister and defense minister, Halutz said the responsibility of command led him to the decision that he must remain in the army until internal military investigations had been completed, and the lessons learned from the war incorporated into the IDF's 2007 strategic plan.

Given that this process was completed at the start of January, Halutz asked to resign his post, effective immediately.

In his letter to Olmert, Halutz wrote: "For me, the word responsibility has great meaning. My view of responsibility is what led me to remain in my post until this time and to place this letter on your desk today... Since the echoes of battle ceased, I decided to act responsibly according to the best traditions and values from home and from my service in the IDF."

Halutz said that after the conclusion of the inquiries "I feel proud that I completed what I set out to do. After these thorough processes, I am sure the IDF will be ready to meet the challenges ahead."

Halutz had since the end of the war resisted calls for his resignation, both from the public and within the army.

"I see that there are a number of people who are longing for me to resign. I have no intention of yielding and if you ask me the question again, I will give you the same answer," he told reporters several weeks ago.

"I am not on 'A Star is Born,' and I am not being voted on by SMS. I have not heard those who appointed me call for me to go, when they tell me to do so, then I will respond."

The July-August assault on Lebanese Hezbollah guerrillas drove them from Israel's northern border but failed to retrieve the two soldiers whose abduction had sparked the conflict, prompting many Israelis to call for a purge of the top brass in hope of restoring Israel's military superiority in the region.

Halutz, a former Israel Air Force chief, came under criticism for relying heavily on aerial barrages in the first part of the war, which caused extensive damage to Lebanon's infrastructure, while Hezbollah launched around 4,000 rockets into Israel.

Halutz was made chief of staff in June 2005, just before Israel launched its unilateral disengagement from the Gaza Strip.

More on Halutz' resignation: