Israeli P.M.: 'I Am Not Resigning'

All weekend photographers here scrambled to snap pictures of Prime Minister Ehud Olmert before the Winograd Commission released the results of its investigation into last summer's Lebanon war. But not just any pictures: shots of him burying his face in his hands, or looking skyward as if hoping for salvation from the heavens, or the moneyshot: tugging at a collar too tight about his neck.

Indeed the Winograd Commission's preliminary report was to put a political noose around Olmert and his government for its poor handling of this summer's war in Lebanon against the Shiite militia Hezbollah. But no one expected the commission, which investigated the first five days of the war and the events leading up to it, to blame Olmert personally, and harshly for what it called "severe failures."

The war went badly. About 160 Israelis and more than 1000 Lebanese died in the conflict. Israel failed to destroy Hezbollah, failed to retrieve the two soldiers Hezbollah abducted, and failed to remove the rocket threat from northern Israeli towns.

The Commission found Olmert, his bungling Defense Minister Amir Peretz, and the former Chief of Staff Lt. Gen Dan Halutz, responsible for the war's failure. In fact the executive summary of the report uses the term "failures" 15 times - all in a neat 21 pages.

Akiva Eldar a political commentator for Israel's paper of record Haaretz, put it this way. "The commissions' message was so very straight forward. It said [the government ministers] are a bunch of idiots. They go into a war without asking how the hell are we going to get out of it!"

The above has already become conventional wisdom in Israel, where Olmert's approval rating has plummeted to 3% in recent polls. Yes that's 3%.

But Olmert interrupted the evening news on the three Israeli networks with a taped apology-cum-acknowledgment. There was no press gaggle, no dogging questions this time. A haggard-looking Olmert squarely faced the camera and said his government would immediately apply the lessons learned from the war and work to adopt the Commission's critiques. But he would not resign.

He then graciously thanked the Commission's five members for their "serious and thorough work."

Sniffing the danger beforehand, Olmert's flaks spent the weekend preparing a PR blitz to counter the report's damming findings – it consists mostly of Olmert's detractors voicing their support for the prime minister in the opening days of the war. But the media here wasn't buying it. Israel's papers eulogized Olmert even before the result were read. The leading paper Yediot Aharonot's headline read: "[Olmert's] War of Survival." It's competition Maariv called it "His Life's Battle." And Haaretz said Olmert would be out of a job by summer.

Israel has fought seven major wars. Eldar says this Commission's results are almost as damning as the report that brought down the government of Golda Meir after the 1973 Yom Kippur War, which Israel won.

Olmert is a survivor. In fact Olmert and his coalition has weathered an astounding array of scandals.

His Justice Minister was found guilty of sexual assault earlier this year, an act committed minutes before the Olmert cabinet voted to go to war in Lebanon.

His Finance Minister is being indicted for stealing money from the March of the Living, a program that sends Jewish children to visit Holocaust memorials in Europe.

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