JERUSALEM, (AP) – A report to be released Wednesday about his inconclusive 2006 war in Lebanon could determine whether Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert holds onto his job long enough to try to make peace with the Palestinians this year.
Olmert and his aides were bracing for a scathing report from the Winograd Commission, which he appointed under pressure after the war ended in a cease-fire with Hezbollah guerrillas without achieving the goals he set out. The final report was scheduled to be released Wednesday afternoon in Jerusalem.
The report deals with the war’s last 28 days. A harsh interim report released in April by the panel headed by a retired judge, Eliyahu Winograd, accused Olmert of “severe failures” and hasty decisions at the beginning of the 34-day war against the Hezbollah guerrillas.
Between 1,035 and 1,191 Lebanese civilians and combatants were killed in the war, as were 119 Israeli soldiers and 39 civilians, according to official figures from the two sides.
The report is expected to scrutinize Olmert’s controversial decision to send ground troops into a major battle just hours before a cease-fire agreement went into effect. Thirty soldiers died in the offensive, which Olmert contends helped Israel improve its position in the truce.
Olmert was able to beat back calls for his resignation after the interim report was released. This time, Labor Party leader Ehud Barak, now Israel’s defense minister, is under pressure to deliver on his promise to replace Olmert or advance elections after the full report is published.
If Barak pulls Labor’s 19-member faction out of the coalition, Olmert would no longer have a parliamentary majority and could be forced to call an election. His coalition now controls 67 of parliament’s 120 seats.
“All eyes are on Ehud Barak,” Israeli political commentator Hanan Crystal told Israel Radio. “He needs to make the first move.”
Barak recently said that he will “act in accordance with what is right and good for the state of Israel” after he reads the report.
Following pledges to President Bush, Olmert and the Palestinians hope to reach a final peace deal by the end of the year. But depending on fallout from the commission’s report, Olmert’s government may not survive long enough or be strong enough to reach that ambitious goal.
Olmert has repeatedly said he would not step down after the findings are released. His confidants also say he rejects proposals by some Labor Party officials to hold elections in early 2009, more than a year ahead of schedule.
The two other main wartime decision-makers, former military chief Lt. Gen. Dan Halutz and former Defense Minister Amir Peretz, have already quit.
Olmert’s fate appears closely linked to two former prime ministers who want to reclaim their old job, Barak and Likud leader Benjamin Netanyahu. Polls show the hawkish Netanyahu would easily win new elections, which helps to explain why Olmert’s more dovish coalition partners are reluctant to abandon him.
Olmert enjoys greater popular support than he did in April. His revival of peace talks with the Palestinians and a daring and secretive attack on what Israeli defense officials have said was a Syrian nuclear facility have improved his standing.
The committee itself does not have the authority to remove Olmert or anyone else from power. But its findings could have an impact on public opinion.