Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert's political future seems increasingly in doubt after the publication of a report which was highly critical of the way he conducted last year's war against Hezbollah in Lebanon.
Pressure on the beleaguered premier to resign continued to increase on Wednesday. Israeli Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni joined the fray, saying she told the prime minister he should resign and that she would like to take over the reigns of his Kadima party.
Avigdor Yitzhaki, one of the most influential politicians in Israel's parliament, also urged Olmert to step down, saying he had lost the confidence of his centrist party and the country.
Defense Minister Amir Peretz is also considering stepping down over the criticism directed at him in the report, Israel Radio and Army Radio reported Wednesday. Eitan Cabel, a Labor Party minister without a portfolio, resigned from the government earlier this week in protest over Israel's handling of the Lebanon War.
Olmert acknowledged his mistakes Wednesday during his first cabinet meeting since the report was released on Monday. "Clearly the report points to very serious failings by the whole government, and naturally my failings as its head," Olmert said. "It is primarily incumbent on this government, which is responsible for the failings, to also be responsible for fixing them."
He was critical of his political opponents, however. "I suggest that all those who are in a hurry to take advantage of this report and make political gain -- slow down," he said.
The report, which was commissioned by Olmert himself and was written by a government inquiry group called the Winograd Commission, accused the prime minister of exercising poor judgment in leading Israel into an ill-conceived war against Hezbollah. It also blasted him for not having a comprehensive plan when he rushed into battle against the radical Islamist group after it seized two Israeli soldiers on July 12, 2006 and killed three others.
The commission made no recommendations for action, but is expected to advise Olmert and Peretz to resign when it makes its proposals in July.
German commentators on Wednesday were almost as scathing in their criticism as the Winograd Commission, and were unanimous in their assessment of Olmert's days as being numbered.
The center-left Süddeutsche Zeitung writes:
"The chances that the former mayor of Jerusalem will remain head of government in the long term are slim. Olmert is unpopular and is regarded as arrogant. Now he is also being accused of incompetence. ... It is now only a question of time as to when Olmert will have to clear out his desk. ... Meanwhile, potential successors are lining up to take over."
The conservative Die Welt writes:
"Olmert is at the end of the road, and with him his coalition. ... The majority of the population feels that the Lebanon war was a debacle -- even worse, it was proof of how vulnerable the country is."
"Every Israeli is still very much aware that the existence of the country is not something which can be taken for granted. As a result, they demand from the government the sobriety of a cool-headed strategist, the cleverness of an experienced military officer, and the caution of a political tactician. The investigative committee accused Olmert of having exactly the opposite traits, namely a feckless daredevil attitude and the naiveté of a fool. Or to put it more dramatically: the prime minister is regarded as unfit to wage war."
The center-right Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung writes:
"Despite (Olmert's failings), one has to give him credit for the fact that he himself ordered the investigation, possibly already suspecting that he would not come out well from it. Israel once again makes it clear that, despite certain 'adaptations' to the ways of the region, it has the democratic powers of criticism and self-criticism which one looks for in vain elsewhere in this part of the world. The Arab autocrats who rule in the neighborhood, such as Egypt's Mubarak or Syria's Assad, take criticism of themselves as a personal insult. An investigative committee which publicly accused them of complete failure in war and peace would be completely unimaginable to them."
The left-leaning Berliner Zeitung writes:
"The committee has concluded that the Israeli government was too hasty in deciding to wage war. They acted without reservations according to military logic, carrying along with them the whole cabinet, as well as almost every other politician and the majority of the population, in the militaristic fervor. It was only when the war was almost over that criticism of the way the war was conducted were heard. But the conviction that conflicts should be solved with military means was, and still is, widely held."
"And now almost everyone is united in the scathing criticism of how the government conducted the war. Nevertheless, Olmert does not want to resign, even though he has long been a symbol of weakness and failure. ... In the medium term, the political future of Olmert and his party will depend on whether the Israeli population succeeds in identifying credible alternatives to military strategies and developing a future-oriented peace plan for the region. But the Winograd report gives no information in that respect. It too is stuck in the way of thinking where an analysis can only be based on military logic."
The left-wing Die Tageszeitung writes:
"It's almost impossible to understand how Olmert managed to brush aside any thoughts about the many people who had to lose their lives in the war that he ordered. It is harder still to understand how Olmert is still governing the country after the publication of the scathing report. With the same arrogance with which he ordered the Lebanon campaign, he once again wants to take matters into his own hands. He wants to lead the nation out of the mud into which he has dragged it. ..."
"Olmert's fight (for political survival) is hopeless. He should throw in the towel sooner rather than later."
-- David Gordon Smith, 3:00 p.m. CET