Comptroller: PM Diverting Attention From Own Poor Record During Lebanon War

Olmert blasts Lindenstrauss' decision to release interim findings of Lebanon war probe as 'criminal.'

State Comptroller Micha Lindenstrauss on Sunday sharply rejected the accusations made by Prime Minister Ehud Olmert against him, calling them an attempt to "divert the public's attention away from his responsibility" to discuss the conduct of the political echelon during the Lebanon war last year.

Olmert had earlier accused Lindenstruass of systematically leaking information to the media regarding the planned publication of the state comptroller's interim report on the failures in the preparation of the home front during the war.

"Unfortunately," Lindenstrauss said Sunday evening, "the prime minister continually tries to divert the public's attention away from his responsibility to supply precise answers to the many questions that have been directed at him in the last months, about the handling of the war and its heavy cost."

Lindenstrauss said that the prime minister is making false claims that have no basis or validity, and is trying to "throw sand in the public's eyes."

"This is not the first time that Olmert has displayed contempt for the institution of state control, and diverted the discussion to personal issues rather than answering to criticism against him," the state comptroller wrote in a an official response to a scathing letter submitted by the prime minister to Knesset Speaker Dalia Itzik and the Knesset State Control Committee earlier Sunday.

In the letter, Olmert accused Lindenstrauss of systematically leaking information to the media, Israel Radio reported. He called the comptroller's behavior "a new peak of cynicism and activities contrary to acceptable conduct."

Olmert wrote that the comptroller's latest report on the IDF home front preparation during the war in Lebanon was released before it had even been presented to those being criticized. He called the move "criminal" and said the police "must receive clarification on the matter."

In his letter, Olmert called information leaked by the State Comptroller's Office "lies devoid of any basis." The prime minister wrote that he has been "restraining himself for months" over what he called repeated leaks.

The Prime Minister's Bureau harshly criticized the state comptroller's intention to release the findings of his investigation and said that Lindenstrauss had overstepped his authority in the preparation of the report. Sources in the Prime Minister's Bureau said that the timing of the report's release - before the release of the interim report compiled by the Winograd committee on the same issue - was motivated by Lindenstrauss's "greed for publicity."

In his letter, Olmert asked chairman of the Knesset State Control Committee, MK Zevulun Orlev, to postpone the Knesset State Control Committee meeting in which the interim report on the findings were to be presented until after every one of the parties being criticized has had a chance to respond to Lindenstrauss's report.

However, Orlev announced that he is determined to hold the meeting as planned, and added that "it saddens me that office holders put their personal interests before the need to draw conclusions from the failures in the handling of the home front."

Meanwhile, the IDF is preparing to petition the High Court of Justice on Tuesday against the publication of the interim report. A preliminary draft of the petition has already been prepared. Simultaneously, the Military Advocate General has sent a letter to the State Control Committee demanding it postpone its scheduled hearing on the matter.

Knesset legal adviser attorney Nurit Adelstein also asked Orlev to to postpone the committee's meeting, scheduled for Tuesday. In a letter addressed to Orlev and all the committee members she wrote that "it is the right of the party liable to be hurt by the report's findings, to respond and counter the criticism before the findings are gathered together in a final report." Adelstein attached to the letter a copy of the preliminary draft of the IDF's petition to the High Court.

Director General of the State Comptroller's Office Shlomo Gur rejected most of the complaints against the report made by Olmert's associates Sunday morning.

"Olmert was given every opportunity to respond to the findings of the probe into the failures of the Lebanon war, and chose to ignore the calls," Gur said in an interview with Army Radio.

"This matter was handled by the best personnel, who did a very thorough job. The allegation that we don't give chances is absurd. At the end of December we requested that the prime minister appear before us, and he decided that he wants to answer our questions in writing, and we accommodated him on that too."

Olmert to respond to questions on war conduct by month's endIsrael Radio on Sunday quoted a lawmaker from Olmert's Kadima party as saying that the prime minister and Lindenstrauss had agreed that Olmert would answer questions on the government's handling of the 2006 Lebanon war by the end of March.

The claim by MK Otniel Schneller comes after several days of accusations by both sides regarding Olmert's testimony to Micha Lindenstrauss' probe into the war.

The director-general of the state comptroller's office, Shlomo Gur, rejected criticism Sunday from sources in Olmert's bureau, who claimed Lindenstrauss was motivated by self-interest in releasing his interim report on the Lebanon war without Olmert's response.

The impending Tuesday release of Lindenstrauss' interim report has put Olmert's bureau on a collision course with the comptroller.

Following media reports of the row, the IDF Spokesman's Office issued a statement and said "the IDF respects and has been cooperating with the state comptroller's office for many years, and acts regularly to correct its failings found in the comptroller's reports. However, the IDF is expecting the draft report before its publication as has been customary and acceptable for many years for any supervised body, so that the remaining time is used to study the report and deal with it."

In an unusual move, Lindenstrauss decided to present the interim findings of his report to the Knesset State Control Committee without waiting for Olmert's version.

According to the Prime Minister's Bureau, on December 25, the state comptroller asked the prime minister for a meeting in the comptroller's office so he could be questioned on the home front's functioning during the war by a team headed by General (res.) Yaakov Or.

The prime minister refused to appear before the team. "No comptroller has ever summoned a prime minister before."

The sources also said that, "Apparently there was some confusion here and for some reason the comptroller thought he was above the prime minister."

The bureau said it would respond in writing to the comptroller's questions and would fill in any additional information verbally, if required. It said the comptroller sent 20 very broad questions, which arrived three weeks and two days after they had been requested.

The Prime Minister's Bureau also said that some of the questions were not under the comptroller's purview but rather the responsibility of the Winograd Committee. The bureau asked for two months to respond and Lindenstrauss gave Olmert until March 1. However, the prime minister's bureau said it would keep to the original timetable of the end of March.

"There has never been a report that has not been affected by the responses of those under its scrutiny," the bureau said.

The sources also said that Orlev had rejected criticism of Lindenstrauss and said he had asked the state comptroller to report to the committee, both because of the expected harsh findings as well as due to the national interest in correcting the problems highlighted by the comptroller.

Orlev said the prime minister and other ministers had also been invited to Tuesday's meeting. He added that the prime minister was refusing to answer the comptroller's questions and that he would insist on the obligation of any person under the comptroller's scrutiny to respond to inquiries.

Olmert is the only senior figure to have refused to appear before the committee.

"The state comptroller apparently sees himself as an intelligence-gathering body, which has determined that there will be a war by May. Otherwise there is no explanation for his haste to release the report on Tuesday," an Olmert associate said. Olmert's bureau also said an intelligence assessment presented at last week's cabinet meeting rated the chance of war remote.

The report is an eight-page summary of the full report, which will apparently be released in August. In the coming days, Lindenstrauss is to provide a draft copy of his report to Olmert as well as other subjects of his critique.

Vice Premier Shimon Peres said, "If [the state comptroller's office] has made itself an arm of judgment, there is a problem." Likud faction head MK Gideon Saar said the prime minister was "behaving as if the justice and comptroller system are society's greatest enemy."