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Olmert Clashes With Watchdog Over Lebanon War Report

07 March 2007

An investigation into Israeli efforts to protect civilians during last year's war in Lebanon has erupted into an open conflict, pitting the prime minister against the top government watchdog. As Robert Berger reports from VOA's Jerusalem bureau, it is the latest in a series of aftershocks from the war that is shaking Israel's political and military leadership.

With his popularity at an all time low in the wake of the Lebanon war, Prime Minister Ehud Olmert is taking even more heat-this time from State Comptroller Micha Lindenstrous. He had planned to issue a scathing interim report accusing Mr. Olmert of leaving Israeli civilians virtually defenseless in the face of Hezbollah rocket attacks.

Hezbollah, an Islamic guerrilla group based in Lebanon, fired more than 4,000 rockets at Israel during the 34-day war in July and August of last year. Critics say residents of northern Israel suffered from poor conditions in bomb shelters, no early warning systems in some towns, and no evacuation plans.

Attorney Michael Pardem of the Movement for Quality Government says the state comptroller is responding to the mood of the Israeli public.

"The public is very anxious to move forward on ascertaining and studying and investigating what happened in the home front, particularly in the north, during the war and I think, in that sense, we have to support the efforts of the comptroller," he said.

But Mr. Olmert blocked publication of the interim report, accusing the comptroller of conducting a witch hunt. The prime minister described the report as one-sided and said he was not given enough time to present his case.

Israel Democracy Institute President Arik Carmon says the state comptroller has crossed the line of neutrality.

"He must give the opportunity of those examined to respond to the finding[s] before concluding, before conclusion. This is the case in any kind of examination," he said.

The comptroller will issue his final report at an undisclosed date, and it will clearly be harshly critical of both the government and army. That raises questions about Mr. Olmert's political survival. The Israeli army chief resigned over admitted failures of the Lebanon war, and the prime minister is under growing pressure to follow suit.

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