Senior Israeli Army Commander Resigns Following Critical Report

By David Dolan | July 7, 2008 | 8:17 PM EDT

Jerusalem ( - The crisis inside the Israeli military following the inconclusive war in Lebanon deepened on Wednesday with the sudden resignation of a senior army commander.

This came after a Knesset parliamentary committee released a scathing report Tuesday night over certain aspects of the way the government handled the conflict.

Major General Udi Adam led Israel's Northern Command, which operated along the front lines during the 34 day war. He informed Chief of Staff Dan Halutz that he wished to be relieved of his post "at the earliest convenience." Halutz agreed to the verbal request, promising to appoint a replacement for the popular commander as soon as possible.

Adam, whose father was the most senior Israeli military commander ever killed in battle -- shot dead during the first Lebanon war in 1982 - complained to some of his military colleagues during the recent conflict about how it was being waged. He was said to be especially concerned over the apparently heavy emphasis that Halutz was placing on air force bombing missions rather than ground operations.

The embattled Halutz, who rose to head the overall military after serving as air force chief for five years, has not publicly responded to the charge.

On the other hand, some army officers reportedly maintained that Adam was the wrong man for the important position of Northern Commander.

General Adam was miffed when Halutz sent his chief deputy, Major-General Moshe Kaplisnky, to oversee the large ground operation in southern Lebanon that was authorized by the government in the final days of the war.

The apparent vote of no-confidence in the Northern Commander set off a chain reaction of finger pointing inside the military, mirroring the backbiting going on inside the government over who was responsible for the "mistakes" that Prime Minister Ehud Olmert has admitted were made during the conflict.

Wednesday's resignation was hailed by several government politicians. Labor party member Benyamin Ben-Eliezer, a former army general and defense minister who serves as Infrastructure Minister in the Olmert cabinet, told reporters he "respects and salutes" the departing commander's decision. He added that it was now time for Chief of Staff Halutz to follow suit and "take responsibility for the army's failures" during the Israel-Hizballah war.

Defense Minister and Labor party leader Amir Peretz -- himself the object of widespread criticism over how he managed the conflict -- told Israel Radio that the country " definitely owes General Adam a great debt." He said the Olmert government "needs to examine the meaning of his move," adding that "such an announcement by a general cannot be ignored."

A special Knesset subcommittee charged with investigating how the home front performed during the war released its initial report Tuesday evening. The committee members blasted the government for "failing to adequately protect the citizens of northern Israel" during the conflict.

The subcommittee is headed by Labor Knesset member Ami Ayalon, who served for several decades in the small Israeli navy before being named head of Israel's internal security service (Shin Bet) in 1995. He has strongly criticized Halutz, Olmert and Peretz for "mishandling" the war, and is expected to challenge Peretz as Labor party leader next year.

After learning of General Adam's request to leave the Northern Command, Ayalon called on Peretz to "own up" to his failures and resign his position as defense minister.

The initial home front report accused the government of "failing to comprehend that Israel was facing a new security situation," an apparent reference to Hizballah's massive Syrian and Iranian-supplied rocket arsenal.

It noted that not even one formal government meeting had been held to discuss the possible evacuation of the over one million northern residents who came under daily rocket bombardment during the nearly five week war. The report warned that massive enemy missile strikes upon Israeli civilian communities is likely to feature prominently in future wars.

In an interview published Sunday in Israel's largest daily newspaper, Yediot Ahronot, Defense Minister Peretz attempted to shift the blame for the war's conduct to his government predecessors. That apparently would include some politicians who serve with him in the current cabinet, especially previous defense ministers Shaul Mofaz and Ben Eliezer.

"I cannot understand why those who should have prepared, trained, established, and defined the rules concerning the threats to the country are forgiven, while charges against me are exaggeratedly grave," he told the paper, adding that the accusations "hurt me, but I am already used to that."

Some Israeli political analysts say the sitting defense minister's anger over being made the "chief scapegoat" for the war's perceived failures may help explain his sudden abstention in a crucial government vote held late Tuesday evening after a marathon 12 hour cabinet debate.

Peretz failed to enter the cabinet room for the vote when he learned that P.M. Olmert had trimmed back a promised increase in the country's minimum wage in the 2007 state budget.

Despite this, the government's budget plan -- which has recently been adjusted to help pay for the costly war -- was overwhelmingly approved by 19 ministers, with only 4 opposing it. The budget will now be sent to the Knesset, where a bitter battle over significant cuts in social spending is expected to be waged.

Several junior Labor politicians were quoted in today's Israeli newspapers as decrying their party leader's action. One unnamed Knesset member termed the Peretz abstention "a nonsensical attempt to divert attention" from the stinging criticism he is receiving in the wake of the Lebanon war.

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