Olmert rejects calls for inquiry into failures of Lebanon war

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The Independent Online

Ehud Olmert has rejected public demands for a judicial inquiry into what went wrong in the Lebanon war. Instead, the Israeli Prime Minister appointed two commissions with lesser powers to investigate the performance of the political and military leaderships. The government will decide their terms of reference.

Critics accused him of dodging the issue, but Mr Olmert argued in a speech to local council heads in the northern city of Haifa last night that Israel did not have the luxury of spending long periods of time investigating the past. Officials say he wants the inquiries to be "fast and efficient," so that the army can get on with preparing for a possible future war.

The political commission will be led by Nahum Admoni, a former head of the Mossad external security service. The other members are Yedidyah Ya'ari, a former commander of the navy, and two retired professors, Ruth Gabison and Yehezkel Dror, experts respectively in law and administration and known for their independence.

Israelis are waiting to see whether the committee will have the power to subpoena witnesses, see all documents and dismiss ministers. The military committee is expected to be led by Amnon Lipkin-Shahak, a former chief of staff who later served as a cabinet minister.

Mr Olmert accepted responsibility for the war. "The responsibility for the decision to go to war, to respond with military might, not to be silent about harm to our soldiers, our civilians and our sovereignty, as well as responsibility for the outcome of this war is mine," he insisted.

Earlier yesterday, the State Comptroller, the official government watchdog, added to Mr Olmert's woes by accusing him of creating "jobs for the boys" when he served as the Trade and Industry minister in Ariel Sharon's Likud government.

Micha Lindenstrauss, a retired judge, reported that Mr Olmert turned the Small Business Authority, a private, non-profit organisation funded by his ministry, into "the backyard for political appointments". It hired members of the Likud central committee without giving others a chance to compete at a time when Mr Olmert needed their support to keep his parliamentary seat.

"The authority completely ignored norms of public law, which require it to follow proper procedures," the Comptroller wrote. "It undertook projects in which it employed workers who were improperly and unfairly recruited, whose chief quality was their proximity to the minister's party."

Mr Lindenstrauss has submitted his report to the Attorney General, Menachem Mazuz. Opposition MPs urged him yesterday to prosecute the Prime Minister over the affair. But Mr Olmert's office denied that the Ministry was involved in the questionable appointments.

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