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IDF Chief of General Staff Lt.-Gen. Dan Halutz defended his right to continue leading the army on Tuesday following an attack by MK Zvi Hendel (National Union-National Religious Party) for his conduct during this summer's war in Lebanon.
During a Knesset Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee meeting Hendel told Halutz: "I prefer to see you without your uniform."
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Hendel said that Halutz was only one of a number of leaders he blamed for mistakes made during the war, but he focused on him because of his appearance before the committee.
Halutz angrily replied to Hendel, "I'll continue to wear this uniform until I'm stripped of it."
He suggested that if that bothered Hendel, then the two of them should look for ways not to meet.
Halutz also assured committee members that he was capable of implementing the lessons learned from the war despite the existing disputes within the army's command structure.
"If I thought I was incapable of implementing these lessons, I would go home," Halutz said. He added that there were two ways to take responsibility: One was to abandon ship; the other was to stay on board and fix the problem.
Halutz told the committee that the IDF was likely to leave Lebanon by this Friday, which is the eve of Rosh Hashana, based on an agreement that was likely to be hammered out between Lebanon, the IDF and the United Nations. Otherwise, he said, the departure could be delayed for a week.
The withdrawal would complete the transfer of security responsibilities along Lebanon's southern border to the Lebanese army and a beefed up UN peacekeeping force that has been slowly deploying in the area.
At the heights of the fighting between Israel and Hizbullah this summer, Israel had some 30,000 troops in Lebanon. A spokesman for the Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee refused to say how many have remained.
There were upwards of 5,000 international soldiers on the ground now in Lebanon with the French monitoring Bint Jbail and the Turkish soldiers on Mt. Dov, said Halutz. The Germans were monitoring the coastal area, he said.
While Halutz said the Lebanese army had largely kept to the terms of the cease-fire, Foreign Ministery spokesman Mark Regev complained that Hizbullah continued to maintain an armed presence in southern Lebanon.
Regev also said the cease-fire's call for the unconditional release of the captive Israeli soldiers remained unfulfilled. "This is a grave violation," he said.
UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan has appointed a mediator to win the release of the soldiers.
Halutz said the Lebanese army had worked to disarm Hizbullah, but had stopped short of using violence to do so.
However, Hizbullah was no longer a visible military presence in Lebanon, he said.
With respect to Syria, Halutz said, that the country was still on high military alert although not quite as high as they were over the summer.
The return of the Golan Heights, which it lost to Israel in 1967, was high on Syria's agenda, Halutz asserted.
Meanwhile, in Gaza, Palestinians have continued to fire Kassam rockets into southern Israel, said Halutz. They are also working to smuggle more sophisticated rockets into the area, including anti-tank missiles via tunnels, he added. The IDF's ground operation was designed in part to prevent this, he said.
The army has to be prepared for a military operation in Gaza to prevent the stockpiling of sophisticated weapons, said Halutz. He added, however, that he was not advocating such an operation, just that the army should be prepared to do so, Halutz said.
Following his appearance, MK Ami Ayalon (Labor) presented the findings of his subcommittee's report, which was published last week, on the failures of the Home Front Command during the war.
The Tuesday meeting of the subcommittee that was set to deal with limiting reserve duty was canceled after Deputy Chief of Staff Maj.-Gen. Moshe Kaplinsky failed to answer the committee's summons. He had previously requested not to appear before the committee.
AP contributed to this report