Israeli Head Of Military Quits After War Critique

By Scott Wilson
Washington Post Foreign Service
Wednesday, January 17, 2007

JERUSALEM, Jan. 17 -- Lt. Gen. Dan Halutz, head of the Israel Defense Forces, resigned abruptly Tuesday after one of his predecessors presented findings of an internal review that sharply criticized the military's leadership during the war with Hezbollah last summer.

Since the end of the 33-day war, Halutz has come under heavy pressure from senior reserve officers to step down. The war failed to achieve the stated goals of freeing two Israeli soldiers captured by the Lebanese Shiite militia in July and stopping Hezbollah rocket attacks on Israeli cities.

But Halutz insisted as recently as two weeks ago that he would remain in his post unless called on to resign by the Winograd Commission, an inquiry panel established by Prime Minister Ehud Olmert to examine the performance of the military and political leadership during the war.

The commission's interim report was due in coming weeks. Olmert, who has also been severely criticized for his management of the war, reportedly expressed regret over Halutz's decision to resign after trying to persuade him to change his mind.

"It is the nature of people not to be overjoyed serving in a system that is not appreciated and not protected by those it represents," Halutz wrote in his letter of resignation, according to a translation published online by the newspaper Haaretz.

"We must promise never to reach a situation in which people of quality would hesitate to tie their fate and future with" the Israel Defense Forces, he wrote. "Neither good education nor a strong economy would help us then, and there is a danger that the threats the state of Israel faces will become more substantial."

Halutz was appointed the first air force officer to lead Israel's military in July 2005 by then-Prime Minister Ariel Sharon.

Among his first duties was to oversee the withdrawal of Israeli settlements and military installations from the Gaza Strip, an operation praised for its speed and precision. But it won him few supporters among hawkish lawmakers and reserve officers, some of whom opposed the withdrawal on strategic and ideological grounds.

Sharon's decision to appoint Halutz reflected the shifting priorities within the military from infantry to air power. Most Israelis serve in the military because of mandatory service requirements, making the chief of staff position one of the most highly esteemed and scrutinized in the country.

Born in 1948 in the Israeli town of Hagor to a Jewish family of Iranian descent, Halutz joined the air force in 1966. He flew F-4 Phantoms during the war of attrition in the Sinai between the 1967 and 1973 Arab-Israeli wars and was credited with shooting down three combat aircraft in the 1973 Arab-Israeli conflict, known in Israel as the Yom Kippur War.

The sharp public criticism of his leadership during the most recent Lebanon war, much of it from senior reserve officers, has focused on Halutz's heavy reliance on air power against an entrenched guerrilla force often fighting from residential areas.

Hezbollah fired about 4,000 short- and medium-range rockets into Israel, including more than 100 on the last day of fighting. The Israeli military said 117 soldiers died in combat during the fighting. In addition, 41 Israeli civilians were killed, most of them by rocket fire.

Halutz also came under public pressure when it was revealed that in the first hours of the war he took the time to phone his stockbroker with instructions to sell portions of his portfolio, fearing a decline in value because of the conflict.

Earlier Tuesday, Dan Shomron, a retired lieutenant general who led Israel's military from 1987 to 1991, told the Israeli parliament's defense and foreign affairs committee that the summer war in Lebanon was "run without any goal."

"The prime minister instructed the army to halt the rocket fire on Israel, but the army failed to translate it into a military objective," Shomron told the committee, although he did not call on Halutz to step down.

Halutz is the third general to resign as a result of the war against Hezbollah, whose performance against Israel's modern military has strengthened its position within Lebanon's fractious political system and drawn praise across the Arab world.

Maj. Gen. Udi Adam, head of the Northern Command, resigned in September. Halutz accepted the resignation two months later of Brig. Gen. Gal Hirsch, an esteemed younger officer who led the Galilee Division, the unit responsible for the Israel-Lebanon border. Hirsch called on Halutz to resign at the same time.

In his resignation letter, Halutz expressed "great pride" in his career and said he had "fulfilled my obligations."

Maj. Gen. Moshe Kaplinsky, the deputy chief of staff, will at least temporarily replace Halutz.

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