Senior Labor Party Sources: Barak Expected to Stay in Office

PM asks defense minister to remain in coalition for 'good of nation, army's continued rehabilitation.'

Defense Minister and Labor party chair Ehud Barak is expected to decide how to respond to the final Winograd Report at the beginning of next week. The report was publicized on Wednesday.

Senior Labor Party members and sources outside politics agreed Thursday that Barak would outline a plan that includes harsh criticism for how the Second Lebanon War was managed, but would allow him to remain in office despite pledges to bring about Prime Minister Ehud Olmert's downfall.

Barak is expected to make vague statements about bringing forward elections, but to rely on "national considerations and the importance of stable government and the army's rehabilitation against the Iranian threat" to stay in office.

Olmert Thursday sent a personal message to Barak. Senior Labor Party emissaries delivered Olmert's pleas that Barak not withdraw from the coalition "for the good of the nation and the army's continued rehabilitation."

Olmert sought to tell Barak that the Winograd report, which addresses the army's failures in the Second Lebanon War, mandates that he stay at the defense ministry in the coming years. Olmert associates confirmed Thursday that the message was sent to Labor Party figures.

Thursday night, Barak met with two leaders of the reservists' protest, Tomer Buhadana and Yakir Segev, and told them the Winograd report was "harsh."

However, he did not reveal his plans.

Inside Labor, Barak faces conflicting pressures: cabinet ministers are pushing him to stay in the Olmert government while Knesset members Ophir Pines-Paz, Eitan Cabel and Danny Yatom are calling on him to fulfill his promise to have Olmert replaced or to bring about early elections, a pledge he made in a speech at Kibbutz Sdot Yam in early May.

Pines-Paz is acting to hogtie Barak and has officially asked Cabel, Labor's secretary general, to convene the party's central committee to ratify the "Sdot Yam declaration."

Barak has been accelerating his consultations with Labor ministers Benjamin Ben-Eliezer, Isaac Herzog and Shalom Simhon, as well as with other MKs and former MKs. However, he has refrained from holding any broad forums or revealing his final decision.