Prime Minister Ehud Olmert and Defense Minister Amir Peretz came under renewed pressure to resign Wednesday after the Israeli army's chief of staff stepped down in the wake of the flawed Lebanon war.
Israeli army chief Dan Halutz resigned after a series of inquires found that the military mishandled last summer's war, reports . The inquiries found that the army was unprepared for the war, enabling Hezbollah to escape intact.
Three generals have now lost their jobs because of the war.
The sudden departure of Israel's top military official, Lt. Gen. Dan Halutz, delivered another setback to the prime minister, whose popularity has plummeted following last summer's war and a string of political scandals.
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Halutz had previously rejected calls to resign, despite the growing loss of confidence of his political superiors and subordinates in the army.
"The army is need of a serious shakeup. There were many failures, The war itself was a failure," said former defense minister Moshe Arens.
With Halutz on his way out, critics quickly clamored for the heads of the country's other wartime leaders, Olmert and Peretz.
"The war clearly was mismanaged, and when a war is clearly mismanaged, there is no doubt the chief of staff is responsible," said opposition lawmaker Ran Cohen, a former high-ranking military officer. "The responsibility is shared by him, the prime minister and the defense minister, and sooner or later, they, too, will have to leave."
Neither Olmert nor Peretz publicly addressed the demands for their resignation. Olmert made a routine appearance at parliament, sparring with lawmakers over unrelated domestic issues and promising to appoint a new military chief within days. Peretz said he would begin interviewing candidates for the vacant military post immediately.
But pressure on Olmert and Peretz is likely to increase ahead of the release of a wide-ranging government inquiry into the war. The investigative panel, focusing on the performance of military and political leaders, is expected to announce its conclusions in the coming weeks.
"Halutz's step was unavoidable, but he was not the only one responsible for the failures of the war — the government was too," lawmaker Ophir Pines-Paz, a member of Peretz's Labor Party, told Army Radio.
He stopped short of calling on Olmert and Peretz to resign, saying he wanted to wait for the government panel to reach its conclusions.
An opinion poll published last week showed Olmert's approval rating at just 14 percent, and his Kadima Party losing if new elections were held.
"It is not clear whether the prime minister will be able to survive the resignation of chief of staff Halutz and his own political problems," said Ephraim Inbar, a political scientist at Bar-Ilan University near Tel Aviv. "We may see pressure in his own party to replace him. This resignation is definitely the beginning of political turmoil in Israel."
Peretz's public standing, meanwhile, is equally dismal. The former union leader won the defense portfolio under a coalition deal with Olmert's Kadima Party, despite his scant military experience.
The war's many flaws only cemented sweeping doubts about his fitness to serve as defense minister, and he now faces multiple challenges to his leadership within his own Labor Party, which is scheduled to hold primaries for chairman in May.
Both Peretz and Olmert "are in a very shaky position," said political scientist Avraham Diskin of the Hebrew University in Jerusalem.
Israel went into the war with a united front against Lebanese Hezbollah guerrillas just hours after they killed three Israeli soldiers and captured two in a July 12 cross-border raid, but that solidarity collapsed after the fighting ended.
Critics questioned whether Olmert moved too hastily with a full-scale campaign that ended without achieving its declared aims — recovering the captured soldiers and crushing Hezbollah.
More than 1,200 people were killed on both sides, most in Lebanon, according to U.N., Israeli and Lebanese officials. Israel claims it killed 600 guerrillas, but that number has not been substantiated, and Lebanon says most of its casualties were civilians.
A total of 159 Israelis were killed, including 39 civilians who died in rocket attacks. Soldiers returning from battle complained of poor planning and shortages of ammunition, food and water.