Shas chooses to toe the coalition line

'We don't have to be swept along with the mob mentality spurred by the media'

Shas has opted to support Prime Minister Ehud Olmert and the coalition despite the political fallout resulting from the Winograd Committee's damning interim report. But the haredi Sephardi party also called Tuesday to establish an apolitical committee of experts that would make concrete suggestions for change based on the Winograd conclusions - including a recommendation that Olmert resign. "Any committee made up of politicians is liable to delay investigations," said Shas Chairman Eli Yishai after an hour-long meeting with Olmert Tuesday afternoon. The demand for an investigative committee was seen by political sources close to Shas as a means for the party to distance itself from Olmert without actually openly criticizing the prime minister. Although Shas has a vested interest in maintaining the stability of the coalition, it also does not want to be identified with Olmert's tarnished image, said the sources. Another tactic used by Yishai to distance Shas from Olmert was the publicizing of Shas spiritual mentor Rabbi Ovadia Yosef's reaction to the Winograd report. "It's too bad they did not listen to us," Yosef was quoted as saying. Yosef was referring to Yishai's demand, during a cabinet meeting, that the IDF use more aggressive artillery and carpet bombing during the Second Lebanon War to protect ground forces. Defense Minister Amir Peretz purportedly opposed the use of aggressive bombing for fear it would endanger the lives of Lebanese non-combatants. However, military experts told The Jerusalem Post that artillery and bombings were largely ineffective against Hizbullah since they had dug underground bunkers and that ground forces were absolutely essential to the campaign against Katyusha rockets. Meanwhile, Yishai strictly enforced party discipline among all 13 Shas MKs, personally rebuking MK Haim Amsalem (Shas) after Amsalem said in an interview Tuesday morning that Olmert should resign. "If the prime minister asked me, I would recommend that he make a difficult and courageous decision that is for the good of the state," said Amsalem. "I don't think we have to be swept along with the mob mentality spurred by the news media, but if it becomes clear that the people reject this government we will have to act accordingly. We are sensitive to the undercurrents of the wider populace." Shortly after Amsalem's interview was published on Ynet, Amsalem received a telephone call from Yishai ordering him to keep his opinions to himself. MK Shlomo Ben-Izri told Radio Kol Chai this afternoon that it was pointless to talk about toppling the present government. "What options do we have?" asked Ben-Izri. "[Ehud] Barak? [Binyamin] Netanyahu? "There are no exceptional leaders out there to save the day."