Halutz Likely to Quit as IDF Chief if Panels Find Him Responsible for Soldiers' Abduction

Israel Defense Forces Chief of Staff Dan Halutz is likely to resign if one of the two in-house committees investigating the second Lebanon war concludes that he is responsible for failures surrounding the conflict, Channel 2 reported last night.

One committee, headed by Major General (res.) Doron Almog, is examining the conduct of Division 91 and the abduction of two IDF reservists by Hezbollah on July 12, which led to the war's outbreak.

The second panel, headed by former IDF chief of staff Dan Shomron, is probing the overall conduct of the war, and particularly the role of the General Staff.

The Almog committee presented a scathing interim report Sunday that led to the resignation of Division 91 commander, Brigadier General Gal Hirsch.

Following the publication of those initial findings, Halutz asked the Almog committee to expand its probe and explore whether the upper levels of command were responsible in any way for the abduction of the reservists. The committee will also examine the role of Military Intelligence in failing to prevent the Hezbollah raid, as well as that of the General Staff. The updated findings will be available in two to three weeks.

Halutz continues to insist publicly that he is not thinking about the possibility of stepping down. "I'm concentrating on doing," he said during a visit to the Tze'elim training ground with Defense Minister Amir Peretz yesterday. "There are those who are calling [for his resignation], and there are those who are doing. We are on the side of those who are doing."

In response to a question regarding his view of reservist generals who have called on him to step down, Halutz said: "I have answered your questions. Let all the has-beens answer your questions."

Defense Minister Amir Peretz announced yesterday that he fully backs Halutz, rejecting all calls for his resignation.

"I intend to fully back the chief of staff, generals, commanders and soldiers," Peretz said at Tze'elim. "I say unequivocally that the time has come to put an end to this irresponsible witch-hunt of the chief of staff, generals and entire IDF," he added.

In an angry tone Peretz continued. "What do you think this is? A children's game? Don't you understand what we are busy with? The media has become the judge, critic and executioner. There are committees, investigation teams, and the IDF has never examined itself the way it is doing today. Let them do their work."

Pleading with the media to allow the IDF to prepare itself for upcoming missions, Peretz stressed that "we are concentrating on preparedness, training, stockpiles and fitness [of units]. I'm asking you to let us work. Criticism has its place, and we do not intend to whitewash [the investigations]. The criticism will be transparent, but now let us work. We need to do this for the sake of the State of Israel."

Addressing the issue of disagreements between himself and Halutz over appointments of senior officers whose conduct in the war is being investigated, Peretz said that "the army has an acceptable procedure: the chief of staff will receive the investigative reports, will reach his own conclusions, and we will talk and decide.

"We cannot allow ourselves the luxury of issues of this sort that will affect our shared work," Peretz continued. "Have we lost our heads? The time has come for this national festival of excoriating and slandering the IDF, commanders and soldiers to come to an end."

However, Prime Minister Ehud Olmert, who is visiting the United States, did not appear to be giving Halutz the same clear backing. After Monday's meeting with U.S. President George Bush, Olmert was asked by reporters to relate to the calls for Halutz's resignation, but was only willing to say: "I have no comment to such anonymous calls."

The media was quick to interpret Olmert's statement as an unwillingness to give Halutz his full backing.

Olmert's aides acknowledged the situation, saying that "we experienced a serious problem. We are in shock. This is not how we understood the prime minister's statements."

Olmert was quick to call Halutz and, according to his aides, "make it clear to him that from his point of view, there is no truth to these [interpretations], and that he was shocked to see them [leading Yedioth Ahronoth's edition yesterday]."