August 21, 2006

Israeli reservists slam leaders over Lebanon war

By Jeffrey Heller

JERUSALEM (Reuters) - Israeli reservists, in a scathing
open letter published on Monday, accused government leaders and
top army officers of inept handling of the war in Lebanon and
called for a broad investigation of their actions.

The letter, which appeared in the newspaper Haaretz, was
signed by hundreds of veterans of the Lebanon campaign, the
left-leaning daily said.

An Israeli general said the military had been "guilty of
the sin of arrogance" in its approach to the 34-day battle
against Hizbollah guerrillas, remarks that appeared to justify
growing public criticism of the conduct of the campaign.

"I failed to prepare the infantry better for war,"
Brigadier-General Yossi Heiman, the outgoing chief infantry and
paratroops officer, told troops on Sunday in comments broadcast
a day later and not directly related to the reservist

In the letter, troops of the Spearhead Paratroop Brigade
did not challenge the decision to go to war after Hizbollah
seized two Israeli soldiers in a cross-border raid on July 12,
reflecting a national consensus the campaign was justified.

But they raised questions about how the government and
senior officers conducted a war in which the Israeli military
failed to deliver a knockout blow to the Lebanese group or
prevent it from firing nearly 4,000 missiles into Israel.

"At the back of his mind, each and every one of us knew,
that for the just cause of protecting the citizens of Israel,
we would even put our lives on the line," said the letter,
published a week after a ceasefire went into effect.

"But there was one thing we were not and would not be
willing to accept: We were unwilling to accept indecisiveness."


The soldiers, who were called up for duty on July 30, said
"the cold feet" of decision-makers was evident everywhere.

"The indecisiveness manifested itself in inaction, in not
carrying out operational plans, and in canceling all the
missions we were given during the fighting," the petition said.

"This led to prolonged stays in hostile territory without
an operational purpose and out of unprofessional
considerations, without seeking to engage in combat with the

Accusing the army of failing to prepare properly for war
against Hizbollah, the reservists demanded "a thorough and
worthy investigative commission under the auspices of the

Such a commission would have broader powers, including a
mandate to investigate Prime Minister Ehud Olmert and other
cabinet members, than an inquiry panel, set up by Defense
Minister Amir Peretz, that began work on Sunday.

Olmert indicated on Sunday that he might order a wider
inquiry going beyond the Peretz-appointed panel, which is
examining only the military and the defense ministry.

One security official, who asked not to be identified
because he was not authorized to speak to the media, told
Reuters that military intelligence on Hizbollah's strength and
positions in southern Lebanon had been inadequate.

The official said troops were often sent into villages with
little idea of the type of opposition they would face.

Reservists have formed the backbone of Israel's fighting
forces in past wars.

After the 1973 Middle East war, in which Egypt and Syria
scored initial successes that caused heavy Israeli casualties,
demobilized reservists were at the forefront of public
criticism that ultimately forced Prime Minister Golda Meir to

Nearly 1,200 people in Lebanon and 157 Israelis were killed
in the latest conflict in which villages across southern
Lebanon and areas of Beirut were heavily damaged by Israeli air
strikes, and northern Israel was shut down by Hizbollah