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Israel's military chief resigns

AP | January 16, 2007 

The chief of staff of the Israeli army, Lieutenant General Dan Halutz, has resigned, the military reported today, yielding to demands that he pay the price for Israel's flawed war in Lebanon.
The decision of Israel's top military officer to step down raises the pressure on the country's prime minister, Ehud Olmert, and the defence minister, Amir Peretz, whose roles during Israel's largest military operation since 1982 have also been heavily criticised.

Lt Gen Halutz resigned at the end of an already turbulent day for Mr Olmert. Hours earlier, the justice ministry ordered police to launch a criminal investigation into his conduct in the sale of Israel's second-largest bank before he became prime minister last year.

Troops, bereaved families and even members of Israel's tightly knit military elite have been calling for Lt Gen Halutz's head ever since the month-long war against Lebanon's Hizbullah guerrillas, which ended inconclusively on August 14 last year.

Israel launched an all-out assault just hours after Hizbullah had captured two Israeli soldiers and killed three others in a cross-border raid on July 12.

The country went into the war united against Hizbullah, but the solidarity collapsed after the fighting ended without the guerrillas' defeat or the captured soldiers being released.

More than 1,000 people - the vast majority of them Lebanese - were killed, according to UN, Israeli and Lebanese officials. Israel claims it killed 600 guerrillas but that number has not been substantiated, and Lebanon says most of its casualties were civilians.

Northern Israel was near paralyzed by Hizbullah's firing of nearly 4,000 rockets during the conflict, and 159 Israelis were killed, including 39 civilians who died in rocket attacks.

Questions about the wisdom of 11th-hour battles and reports of food and water shortages fuelled demands for inquiries into the conduct of the war and the resignation of Israel's wartime leaders.

Lt Gen Halutz had acknowledged shortcomings, but until today had resisted the resisted pressure to resign.

Lt Gen Halutz decided to resign now that dozens of military inquiries into various aspects of the war had been concluded. "Now that this process has been completed, the chief of staff has asked to resign immediately," the military said in a brief statement.

None of the inquiries called for his head, but Israeli Army Radio reported that he had written in his resignation letter that he was taking responsibility for the outcome of the war.

Both Mr Olmert and Mr Peretz accepted the resignation, the military said. There was no immediate confirmation of when it would be effective from.

Lt Gen Halutz is not the first military chief to have his tenure abruptly end. Lt Gen David Elazar was fired in 1974 after the surprise attack on Israel by Egypt and Syria that sparked the 1973 Middle East war.

Among the potential successors to Lt Gen Halutz is his current second-in-command, Major General Moshe Kaplinsky, who was dispatched to the Lebanon front to assume command during the war. He told Israel TV last week that he would be a candidate for chief-of-staff when Lt Gen Halutz left.

Another candidate is Gabi Ashkenazi, a retired general and currently the director general of the defence ministry.

The war has cost two other generals their jobs - the commander in charge of the unit attacked in the July 12 raid, and the head of the army's northern command during the war.

Lt Gen Halutz also fired a third general who publicly criticized the war and government policy.

Lt Gen Halutz was Israel's military chief for less than two years. He assumed the post on June 1 2005 and was the first air force chief to be given overall command of the military.

He was a controversial figure in some quarters even before he took over as chief-of-staff. Complaints were filed against him abroad in connection with his decision in 2002, as air force commander, to drop a one-tonne bomb on a home in the Gaza Strip in an airstrike that killed a Palestinian militant leader and 14 others, including nine children.


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