Israeli military chief Lt. Gen. Dan Halutz turned in his resignation, the military reported early Wednesday, yielding to demands that he pay the price for Israel’s flawed summer war in Lebanon.
Halutz’s decision to step aside ratcheted up the pressure on Prime Minister Ehud Olmert and Defense Minister Amir Peretz, whose roles during Israel’s largest military operation since 1982 also have been assailed.
Halutz stepped down at the end of an already turbulent day for Olmert: Hours earlier, the Justice Ministry ordered police to launch a criminal investigation into his conduct in the sale of Israel’s second-largest bank before he became prime minister last year.
Troops, bereaved families and even members of Israel’s tightly knit military elite have been calling for Halutz’s head ever since the monthlong war against Lebanese Hezbollah guerrillas ended on Aug. 14.
Israel launched the full-scale assault just hours after Hezbollah captured two Israeli soldiers and killed three others in a July 12 cross-border raid.
The country went into the war as a united front against Hezbollah, but that solidarity collapsed after the fighting ended without the guerrillas being crushed or the captured soldiers recovered.
More than 1,000 people were killed on both sides, most in Lebanon, according to the U.N., Israeli and Lebanese officials. Israel claims it killed 600 guerrillas, but that number has not been substantiated, and Lebanon says most of its casualties were civilians.
Northern Israel, meanwhile, was nearly paralyzed by the nearly 4,000 rockets fired from Lebanon during the fighting, and 159 Israelis were killed, including 39 civilians who died in rocket attacks.
Criticism of the military’s preparedness and tactics swelled after the battles ended without a clear-cut Israeli victory.
Questions about the wisdom of 11th-hour battles and reports of food and water shortages fueled demands for inquiries into the war’s conduct and the resignation of Israel’s wartime leaders.
Halutz had acknowledged the shortcomings, but had earlier resisted pressure to resign.
War inquiries concluded
The military said Wednesday that Halutz decided to step aside now that dozens of military inquiries into various aspects of the war had been concluded. “Now that this process has been completed, the chief of staff has asked to resign immediately,” the military said in a brief statement.
None of the inquiries concluded he should quit or be dismissed.
But Army Radio reported that Halutz said in the letter that he was taking responsibility for the outcome of the war.
“For me the concept of responsibility is everything,” Halutz wrote, according to Army Radio.
Both Olmert and Peretz accepted the chief of staff’s resignation, the military said. There was no immediate word on when the resignation would go into effect.
The Haaretz newspaper Web site cited Olmert’s bureau as saying the prime minister tried to dissuade Halutz, but accepted his resignation after realizing the military commander was determined to step aside.
Peretz spoke with Halutz by phone after receiving the letter of resignation and expressed regret over his decision, a Defense Ministry spokesman said. The two are to meet Wednesday morning after Halutz meets with generals, spokesman Goor Tsalalyachin said.
There were no immediate comments from either of the two.
Halutz is not the first military chief to have his tenure abruptly end. Lt. Gen. David Elazar was fired in 1974 after the surprise attack on Israel by Egypt and Syria that launched the 1973 Middle East war.
Halutz resigned before a government-appointed panel, which has the power to call on him to step aside, issued its findings on the war.
Maj. Gen. Moshe Kaplinsky, who was dispatched to the Lebanon front to assume command during the war, told Israel TV last week that he would be a candidate for chief of staff after Halutz leaves. Kaplinsky is currently serving as deputy chief of staff.
Another candidate is Maj. Gen. Gabi Ashkenazi, who has served in several command positions.