PM's Camp Pressures Labor to Stay in Coalition post-Winograd

Panel set to release findings on gov't handling of Second Lebanon War; Shas rabbi urges PM to stay strong.

Pressure from Prime Minister Ehud Olmert's loyalists is mounting on Labor head Ehud Barak to ensure that he does not quit the coalition after the Winograd Committee's final report is published Wednesday.

The 500-page Winograd report, which examins the performance of the army and government in the years leading up to the July 12 - August 14 2006 war with Hezbollah guerrillas, and their performance during the conflict itself, was due to be released to the public Wednesday evening.

Meanwhile, Shas' spiritual leader, Rabbi Ovadia Yosef, phoned Olmert on Tuesday and expressed his support for the prime minister.

Urging him to remain steadfast, the call by the Shas leader is further proof that after the question of Jerusalem was removed from the list of core issues currently being negotiated with the Palestinians, the ultra-Orthodox Sephardi party is unlikely to rock the coalition.

Less than a day before the publication of the final Winograd report, the pressure on Barak is mounting from the Olmert camp, as the media is being bombarded with assurances that all the flaws that emerged during the war and were mentioned in the committee's interim report in April have been dealt with.

Among those releasing these messages are Finance Minister Roni Bar-On and Olmert's close friend, Housing Minister Ze'ev Boim.

During a gathering of Kadima supporters in Tiberias, Bar-On said that "there will be no elections. The prime minister is determined and no type of pressure will shake him. The defense minister [Barak] will not decide when there will be elections."

The media campaign is in part geared toward placing the blame on Barak for creating the political conditions that may result in Likud chairman Benjamin Netanyahu rising to power.

At a conference in Sdot Yam in May 2007, Barak vowed to resign from the coalition if the Winograd Committee's final report found Olmert responsible for the failures of the war.

"Think about the kind of pressure this person [Olmert] is under. If Bibi [Netanyahu] was in his shoes, there would have been a terrible panic. An entire political system would have been in upheaval," Bar-On said, praising Olmert's calm under pressure.

Sources close to Barak said that after receiving the report, the defense minister will study it and only then decide on his response.

The sources said Barak will take several days to evaluate the report and will announce his decision in public - possibly at a press conference.

The campaign to spread concern over a possible rise of Netanyahu and Likud was also carried out by the Kadima youth organization Tuesday, in an Internet-based effort on Facebook targeting young Labor supporters.

"If we do not restore calm, Bibi will rise," was the message. For his part, Boim told Kadima supporters in Haifa that Olmert is an example of a leader who takes responsibility for his actions by fastidiously correcting the flaws that were listed in the Winograd Committee's interim report.

"He has taken responsibility for lowering unemployment, and he is taking responsibility for passing the budget on time, and for the drop in the terrorist attacks," Boim said. Unlike the eve of the release of the interim report seven months ago, Olmert is enjoying relative calm within his party.

Nonetheless, senior Kadima members said Tuesday that if the report raises ethical concerns about Olmert's decision making, particularly on the decisions made during the final 60 hours of the war and the ground offensive he ordered, it will be difficult not to call on him to resign.

This is the major concern of Olmert's supporters who worry that even if a statement of this sort is not included in the report, if it is made at a press conference the situation will turn against the prime minister.