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Thursday, July 31, 2008

Israeli prime minister resigns

Olmert's move could precipitate Israeli confrontation with Iran

Posted: July 30, 2008
By Aaron Klein
© 2008 WorldNetDaily

JERUSALEM – Prime Minister Ehud Olmert today announced he will resign from office after his Kadima party holds internal elections in September to choose a new leader.

Olmert said he is stepping down due to a criminal investigation described by police officials as "serious" in which he is accused of corruption and financial improprieties.

The move could have far reaching consequences, including establishing a more hawkish Israeli leadership that favors tough action against Iran.

"I have decided I won't run in the Kadima movement primaries, nor do I intend to intervene in the elections," Olmert said in a televised address from his official Jerusalem residence. "When a new (Kadima party) chairman is chosen, I will resign as prime minister to permit them to put together a new government swiftly and effectively," he said.

Olmert's resignation immediately sent political shock waves throughout the country, as it could result in his Kadima party retaining power or the election of a prime minister from a different party.

When Kadima elects a new leader in September, that person will work to form a coalition government consisting of more than half the Knesset's 120 seats. If a Knesset plurality is established, Kadima can retain its control over the prime minister's seat.

But if the Kadima party cannot establish a ruling coalition, new elections will be held in which the leader of the party with the most seats becomes prime minister. Currently, opposition leader and former prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu is the favorite to win.

Olmert had little choice but to resign. He stood no chance of winning his party's September leadership primaries, which he agreed to hold as a condition for retaining his major coalition partner, the leftist Labor party. Labor had threatened to bolt in June unless Olmert agreed to early Kadima primaries.

Now top Kadima figures will battle for the party's leadership and possibly the prime minister's seat. The fight looks ready to be launched between Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni and Transportation Minister Shaul Mofaz, a former defense minister. Mofaz seems to be Olmert's favored candidate.

Mofaz has made strong statements in support of military action against Iran. If he wins the Kadima primaries, he could form an alliance with Netanyahu's Likud party, which also favors strong action against Iran.

If a new Kadima head cannot form a government, Netayahu looks likely to become Israel's next leader, although Labor chairman Ehud Barak, another former prime minister, also eyes the top position.