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Olmert's Approval Rating Plummets Amid Criticism of Lebanon War

Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert's approval rating has plummeted in the wake of the war in Lebanon. But Israeli officials have brushed off speculation that Olmert's center-left coalition will suffer the same fate as several previous governments, and collapse.

A new poll shows that 68 percent of Israelis disapprove of Prime Minister Ehud Olmert's performance, amid fierce criticism of his handling of the war in Lebanon. Many people are angry that Israel lost 119 soldiers during the 34-day conflict but failed to deal a knockout to the Islamic guerrilla group Hezbollah.

"The vast majority of Israelis know that this was an abject failure, that the war was totally mishandled, which lead to a defeat of Israel by a few thousand Hezbollah fighters," said former Defense Minister Moshe Arens of the opposition Likud party.

The public mood was evident at a gathering of Mr. Olmert's Kadima party, when angry reserve soldiers who fought in the war shouted him down during a speech.

"Olmert go home!" shouted one of the reservists. "We want you to take responsibility! Where are the hostages?" He was referring to two Israeli soldiers, who were seized by Hezbollah during a July cross-border raid that sparked the war. The two soldiers remain captive in Lebanon.

Mr. Olmert admits that mistakes were made during the war, and he has appointed a commission of inquiry to examine the shortcomings of the government and army.

But officials in his Kadima party played down the poll, which found that if elections were held today, the Prime Minister would be defeated by hawkish opposition leader Benjamin Netanyahu. Kadima officials say Mr. Olmert will remain in power until the end of his term in 2010.

Jerusalem Post diplomatic correspondent Gil Hoffman says Mr. Olmert still has a strong and stable coalition.

"I think it's been exaggerated, the reports about how Ehud Olmert might have to pay a heavy political price for errors that might have been made in the war," he said. "And I think it will be very hard for any opposition party to try to topple the government over the war."

While Prime Minister Olmert may survive politically, one thing is clear six months after his landslide victory in national elections: the honeymoon is over.