Kadima MKs Close Ranks Behind PM

The coalition, which felt vindicated by the Winograd Report, gave Prime Minister Ehud Olmert strong backing yesterday, and called on Defense Minister Ehud Barak not to resign. However, the opposition saw the report as damning despite its moderate tone, and called on Olmert to pack up his things and go.

Olmert and his close associates called yesterday on Barak, who is also the chairman of the Labor Party, not to resign from the cabinet. Vice Premier Haim Ramon said he believed Barak's sense of responsibility would outweigh a promise he made during the Labor primary, that, Ramon said, "I don't think he meant."

Kadima now views Barak as the linchpin in the cabinet, and praise is coming from all sides for his performance as defense minister, particularly from Olmert, to increase pressure on him to stay at his post and prevent the coalition from falling apart.

As opposed to before the release of the final Winograd Report, when Olmert was in danger of being overthrown by his own party, the main message from Kadima was that the report had relieved Olmert of the accusation that he sent soldiers into battle for the sake of a media spin during the last 60 hours of the war.

Ramon, Finance Minister Roni Bar-On, MKs Yohanan Plesner, Ronit Tirosh and Yoel Hasson, all came out with statements of support. Coalition chair Eli Aflalo (Kadima) said yesterday, "The attempt at character assassination of the prime minister by the bizarre opposition choir," which he said was headed by opposition head and Likud Chair MK Benjamin Netanyahu, "has this evening reached its crushing end."

A source in Likud said criticism of Netanyahu was itself "a despicable spin by Olmert at Netanyahu, who had enlisted to defend the country in the international arena," adding that Olmert "should bow his head before the fighters, the bereaved families and the public and apologize."

Likud faction head MK Gideon Sa'ar said the Winograd Committee clearly stated that the war was a failure for which the prime minister was chiefly responsible. MK Yuval Steinitz (Likud) said the report had stated that Olmert had "sinned morally."

MK Silvan Shalom (Likud) called the Winograd Report "a harsh indictment that is an earthquake for the government," which he said should lead Defense Minister Barak to one conclusion - to resign from the government. National Union-National Religious Party Chairman Zevulon Orlev also called on Barak to resign.

Knesset Interior Committee chairman MK Ophir Pines (Labor) said the report's moderate tone was the result of "enormous pressure."

Meretz MK Haim Oron said there was no reason for "celebration by the right, which was largely a partner to the failure."

MK Arieh Eldad (National Union-NRP) said Olmert would go down in history as "the greatest failed leader in Israel."

Several Arab MKs responded to the Winograd Report yesterday, criticizing it not for what it said, but for what it did not say.

"The drama is in the lack of drama," said MK Ahmed Tibi (United Arab List-Ta'al). "It's important to say today that it is a shame the war took place. It levied a heavy price and hurt both Israel and Lebanon."

MK Mohammed Barakeh, chairman of Hadash, said, "We reject the common discourse in Israel about an aspiration for a nice clean war with many victims on the other side."

MK Said Naffaa (Balad) said the report did not address the aggression "that is typical of Israeli policy over the years."

MK Jamal Zahalka, chairman of the Balad Knesset faction, said the report ignored the war crimes committed by Israel, and in fact legitimized them. MK Amir Peretz (Labor) scheduled a press conference for this morning to respond publicly for the first time to the Winograd Committee's findings.