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Last Updated: Tuesday, 29 January 2008, 17:38 GMT
Olmert awaits key Lebanon report
By Martin Patience
BBC News, Jerusalem

After Israel's war with the Lebanese Islamist movement Hezbollah in 2006, Israeli PM Ehud Olmert appointed a committee of inquiry investigating the handling of the war. The Winograd commission - headed by former Justice Eliahu Winograd - is due to issue its final report on the conflict on Wednesday.

Ehud Olmert, Israeli PM
Olmert has survived despite the low poll ratings and coalition unrest

For many Israelis, its government and army bungled the conflict in Lebanon and northern Israel, failing to achieve its two main objectives: returning the two captured Israeli soldiers and dealing a fatal blow to Hezbollah.

Many Israelis are hoping that it will force Mr Olmert, an unpopular prime minister, to resign.

The committee's interim report in April 2006 harshly criticised Mr Olmert, saying that he had "made his mind up hastily" to go to war and found him and other leaders guilty of "very serious failings".

The Israeli military's chief of staff Dan Halutz resigned ahead of the interim report, and the Defence Minister Amir Peretz was forced to resign in its wake.

But Mr Olmert held onto office in spite of stiff opposition and little popular support.

The prime minister and his office launched a successful campaign to save his political career following the interim report.

'Some praise'

Mr Olmert's opponents are particularly critical of his decision to launch a ground invasion in the final two days of the war, which cost the lives of 33 Israeli soldiers.

Excerpts from the final report have been leaked to the Israeli media. In one leak, committee members reportedly praised Mr Olmert for his deft handling of the war's conclusion.

Israeli forces cross into Lebanon, August 2005
Interest focuses on the last days of the war in which 33 Israelis died

Mr Olmert also used a keynote speech last week to defend his handling of the war and argued that Israel was safer now from the Hezbollah threat than it was a year and a half ago.

He also said that he should remain prime minister to ensure political stability in the country.

Many political analysts believe that Mr Olmert will survive the committee's report - for now anyway.

Coalition threat

Even the Israeli prime minister's harshest critics admit that he is an adept politician.

The biggest danger, however, is that Mr Olmert's governing coalition breaks apart.

The Labour leader and Defence Minister Ehud Barak said last summer that he would resign from the government when the Winograd report was published.

As the second biggest coalition partner, this could be fatal for the government's chances of survival.

But Mr Barak seems to be backtracking on his previous commitment.

Any early elections are regarded as a boon to Likud, the right-wing Israeli party, which leads in the polls.

Following the publication of the report, Israeli reserve soldiers and families of soldiers killed in Lebanon plan to demonstrate in Jerusalem calling for the prime minister's resignation.

But barring any last minute surprises, most Israelis believe that Mr Olmert will survive.

The Israeli prime minister, however, will probably find little comfort from the report's conclusions.



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