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Israeli PM Blames Israeli Army for Failures of Lebanon War

The testimony of Israel's embattled Prime Minister Ehud Olmert to an official inquiry investigating last year's Lebanon War has been released for publication. As Robert Berger reports from VOA's Jerusalem bureau, his comments have brought further calls for his resignation.

Mr. Olmert blamed the army for the failures of the Lebanon War when he testified before the Winograd Commission. He said "the army disappointed itself and did not meet expectations. The Prime Minister said the military brass told him the army was strong "and ready to carry out any mission." He said he "could not have known this was not the case."

Last week, the inquiry commission sharply criticized Mr. Olmert's handling of the war, describing it as a "severe failure in judgment, responsibility and caution." It accused him of rushing into war without a battle plan or exit strategy.

But in his testimony, the Prime Minister said there was no other choice but to strike at Hezbollah guerrillas in Lebanon immediately after they kidnapped two Israeli soldiers in a cross-border raid. He said he knew Hezbollah would respond with rocket attacks, but he had two options: to strike decisively or do nothing.

Mr. Olmert has faced an avalanche of calls for his resignation since the commission issued its interim report 10 days ago. And now, the publication of his testimony has brought more calls for him to step down.

Gideon Saar is chairman of the opposition Likud party. Saar told Israel Radio that Mr. Olmert's testimony is another attempt to blame others for the failures of the war, this time the army. Saar said the Prime Minister has not learned the lessons of the war, and therefore, he should resign.

But Mr. Olmert's Kadima party is defending him.

Parliamentarian Menachem Ben Sasson of Kadima told the same radio program that Mr. Olmert's testimony shows the government was functioning properly. He said that when Hezbollah captured the two soldiers, Mr. Olmert properly appointed the army to deliver a decisive response.

The embattled Prime Minister has been holding on to power. But there are many obstacles ahead. The Labor Party will elect a new leader at the end of this month, and some candidates say that if elected, they will pull Labor out of the government.

And if he survives that long, Mr. Olmert will no doubt face further pressure to resign when the inquiry commission presents its final report in July or August.