JERUSALEM – Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert’s tenuous hold on power was shaken Monday when a special government committee accused him of rashly leading an unprepared nation into an ill-advised war last summer with Hezbollah militants in Lebanon.
In an indictment even harsher than expected, the preliminary investigative report accused Olmert of demonstrating a “severe failure in exercising judgment, responsibility and caution” during the 34-day war, which ended in a stalemate that many said was a victory for Hezbollah.
The committee stopped short of calling for Olmert to step aside, but its conclusions provide ample ammunition for a growing number of critics who want to topple the prime minister’s year-old centrist government.
“This has been a devastating report for Olmert,” said Hirsh Goodman, a scholar at Tel Aviv University’s Jaffee Center for Strategic Studies.
“They’re basically crucifying him.”
With snap news polls showing only 15 percent of Israelis backing Olmert, the prime minister made an unscheduled televised appeal for support.
“It would not be right to resign, and I don’t intend to,” Olmert said in a one-minute statement delivered from his office. “Mistakes were made. There were failures on the part of central decision-makers, and I am chief among them.
“We must learn the lessons and fix the deficiencies – and there are many of them.”
Among them: The Israeli army had become overconfident and wasn’t prepared to fight a well-armed, tactically sophisticated enemy.
The prime minister ignored reservations within his government and rushed into the war without asking enough questions or ensuring that Israel had a good military plan, the committee found.