August 21, 2006

Israeli reservists slam leaders

By Jeffrey Heller

JERUSALEM (Reuters) - Israeli reservists on Monday took the
front line in a campaign to hold government leaders and top
army officers to account for a war in Lebanon that failed to
crush Hizbollah guerrillas or halt a daily rain of rockets.

In a protest reminiscent of the early days of
demonstrations that ultimately brought down Israeli leaders
after political and military blunders in the 1973 Middle East
war, some 100 people, many of them reservists, vented their
anger in Jerusalem.

The demonstrators set up a protest tent in a park on the
edge of the government office compound in the city. Some called
on Prime Minister Ehud Olmert and Defense Minister Amir Peretz
to resign.

"The government didn't take seriously the lives of our
troops," said Zvi Marek, a reserve infantry soldier at the

In a separate protest, reservists from the Spearhead
Paratroop Brigade complained in an open letter in the Haaretz
newspaper that the 34-day war was marked by indecisiveness at
the top.

Hundreds of soldiers signed the document, published a week
after a ceasefire went into effect. The manifesto demanded a
broad state inquiry into the actions of government leaders and
top military brass.

Olmert, surveying damage in Kiryat Shmona, a border town
hit by more than 900 rockets, faced similar calls from local
officials for a state inquiry, which would have powers to
question the prime minister.

"I won't be part of this game of self-flagellation. I won't
be part of this game of slandering the army as some would like
to do," Olmert replied.

But he repeated a promise to launch an investigation into
the conduct of the war and said Israel's attorney-general would
soon present recommendations on the inquiry's format and


In their letter, the reservists pointedly 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 that the campaign was justified.

But they raised questions about how the government and
senior officers pursued a campaign 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

Israeli decision-makers, the letter said, got "cold feet"
during the fighting, an approach which the reservists alleged
led to the cancellation of all the brigade's missions.

"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

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.

An Israeli general, in broadcast remarks, said the military
had been "guilty of the sin of arrogance" in its approach to
the war. Brigadier-General Yossi Heiman's comments appeared to
justify growing public criticism of how the campaign was waged.

(Additional reporting by Ori Lewis)