'Trying to stall and delay our work'

While attention was focused Sunday on the dispute between State Comptroller Micha Lindenstrauss and Prime Minister Ehud Olmert over the release of interim findings on the state's handling of the home front during the second Lebanese war, an unexpected challenge came from Maj.-Gen. Yitzhak Gershon, head of the Home Front Command. Gershon demanded that Lindenstrauss refrain from presenting the main points of his interim findings to the Knesset State Control Committee as scheduled on Tuesday, because he had not been given the opportunity to respond to them. "The report could cause serious harm to Gershon and others, without their being given any opportunity to reply to its findings, wrote Gershon's attorneys, Maj. Orna David, the army's chief defense attorney, and Eldad Yaniv, Gershon's personal lawyer. In the letter, which was addressed to Knesset legal adviser Nurit Elstein and State Comptroller's Office legal adviser Nurit Yisraeli, the lawyers said they had prepared a petition and would submit it to the High Court of Justice unless Tuesday's scheduled meeting was canceled. However, Knesset State Control Committee chairman Zevulun Orlev (National Union-NRP) refused to do so. In a statement to the media, Orlev "expressed regret that those who hold senior positions have decided to prefer their personal interests and the protection of their jobs and status over the need to learn the necessary lessons from the failures and mistakes in the handling of the home front during the war. I am determined to hold the meeting as scheduled." Earlier Sunday, the state comptroller blamed Olmert for the fact that he would be publishing the main points of his interim findings only a few weeks before the Winograd Committee published its report on the other aspects of the war. Olmert's aides have accused Lindenstrauss of choosing this moment to publish the gist of his findings because he is out to hurt the prime minister for personal reasons. "Dozens of witnesses who are among the most senior officials in the country, including ministers and public officials, appeared before us," Shlomo Gur, director-general of the State Comptroller's Office, said in explaining the timing of Lindenstrauss' appearance before the Knesset panel. "The only one who did not want to appear [before the State Comptroller's Office investigators] was the prime Minister. He asked to reply in writing to questions that we would put to him, and was given that opportunity. But [his] conduct throughout the [following] period was to try and stall and delay the state comptroller's work." The spokeswoman for the State Comptroller's Office, Orit Harel, acknowledged that it was unusual for the state comptroller to disclose in public any part of an investigation before the final report was released. It is customary for the state comptroller to prepare an interim report and send it to those witnesses who stand to be reprimanded by him. This part of the procedure is done before any part of the report is published so that no one will be criticized in public without first having the opportunity to tell his side of the story. This, indeed, is the basis of Gershon's complaint. Harel said that in presenting the main points to the Knesset State Control Committee before the final report was released, Lindenstrauss was responding to a request from Orlev. Orlev confirmed this and said he had acted in accordance with Article 6 (a) of the State Comptroller's Law, which states, "The state comptroller will work together with the Knesset State Control Committee and will present reports of his investigations to it any time he wants or any time the committee asks him to." The State Comptroller's Office also announced that on Tuesday it would distribute the 600-page interim report to all those who stood to be singled out for criticism, including Olmert, to give them the chance to respond to the findings so far. The final report will be published after the responses are submitted and the state comptroller has taken them into consideration. Orlev on Sunday also accused Olmert of stalling. "The State Comptroller's Report has been held up for more than four months because of the lack of cooperation of the Prime Minister's Office," he said. Gur said Lindenstrauss had been ready to send out the interim report on January 15 but had waited for Olmert's reply to his questions until this week.