Barak Calls on Olmert to Resign

The powerful Israeli Defense Minister Ehud Barak issued a statement calling on Prime Minister Olmert to step aside:

Israel's defense minister said Wednesday he would use his considerable power to topple the fragile coalition government if Prime Minister Ehud Olmert does not step aside to face corruption allegations.

The tough ultimatum by Ehud Barak, a former prime minister and now leader of the Labor Party, increased the growing pressure on Olmert to resign in the wake of a U.S. businessman's court testimony that painted Olmert as a money-hungry politician.

Olmert has denied any wrongdoing and said he would resign only if he is indicted.

At a news conference, Barak said that in light of the criminal investigation, he did not think Olmert could focus on peace efforts and the country's pressing security needs.

"I don't think the prime minister can at the same time lead the government and handle his own affairs. Therefore, acting out of concern for the good of the country ... I believe the prime minister must disconnect himself from the day-to-day running of the government," he said.

Olmert faces a corruption investigation where it is alleged he took cash for his campaigns from among others, an American millionaire, in violation of election laws.

This is clearly the most serious challenge to Olmert's rule since he took office. Barak is a power in the cabinet and could engineer the government's fall if he put his mind to it. If he were to succeed in toppling Olmert, Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni would become a caretaker PM until elections were held.

Some in Olmert's Kadima party think it would be better to have elections sooner rather than later given the resurrection in political fortunes of former Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. Facing him now while the party would be united behind Livni could forestall his election.

Olmert will have a hard time wiggling out of this one.

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