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Israelis criticize army, gov't
Monsters And Critics/UPI
August 14, 2006

JERUSALEM, Israel (UPI) -- As a cease-fire between Israel and Hezbollah went into effect Monday morning -- and seemed to hold -- Israelis are turning to a critical examination of their government`s decisions and the army`s performance.

They do not like much of what they see and the criticism could threaten Prime Minister Ehud Olmert`s Cabinet.

The discontent was slightly muted during the fighting but public opinion polls reflected it last Friday.

Seventy-five percent of the respondents in a Haaretz poll were satisfied with Olmert`s conduct when the fighting began, but only 48 percent felt that way last week.

Defense Minister Amir Peretz faired worse. Defense ministers have almost always been extremely popular in Israel but Peretz` approval rating plummeted from 65 percent last month to 37 last week.

Olmert, Peretz have civilian backgrounds. Olmert, a veteran politician, passed an officers course when he was a Knesset member. Peretz, a professional trade unionist, was a captain in the Ordnance Corps some 40 years ago.

Most Israelis felt that a leadership with a defense-security background would have done better.

The army, too, was criticized largely because a month of fighting failed to stop Hezbollah`s rockets from raining all over northern Israel. Sunday alone some 250 rockets hit Israel

Police said Hezbollah had fired 3,970 rockets in the past month and 901 of them struck Israeli cities. They killed 52 people, wounded more than 2,000, forced some 1 million people into bomb shelters or secure rooms, while others found refuge in the south.

That generated criticism of Military Chief of General Staff, Lt. Gen. Dani Halutz, the first air force man to head the military. Halutz gave some two weeks for air strikes that were effective against long-range rockets s but not the short range Katyushas.

Ground operations to seek and destroy the short range rockets started on a small scale, and much of the costly fighting was near the international border.

Friday when the United Nations Security Council unanimously called for a cease fire, and the contours of the settlement were clear, Israel airlifted hundreds of soldiers in a race to reach the Litani River and sent tanks to link up with them. It was a costly rush in which 33 soldiers were killed.

According to the army spokesman 118 soldiers were killed and 450 soldiers were wounded in the past month, the army spokesman said.

Exaggerated expectations that the government fuelled might have caused some of the criticism.

'We shall hit every terrorist who helps attack Israeli citizens. We shall destroy every terror infrastructure, everywhere,' Prime Minister Ehud Olmert told the Knesset on July 17.

'We shall not stop.... until we attain our goals,' he told mayors on July 31.

The Director of Military Intelligence, Maj. Gen. Amos Yadlin Sunday estimated Hezbollah lost 500 men in the fighting. Yadlin told the Cabinet they have the names of 300 dead militants.

However Israel has not secured the return of two soldiers whom Hezbollah kidnapped on July 12, and Hezbollah`s command control and other systems continued functioning despite heavy bombardments.

'We`ve reached a tie,' former Deputy Defense Minister, Brig. Gen. in the reserves Ephraim Sneh reckoned. Sneh is now chairman of the Labor`s Party`s Knesset faction, Peretz` party.

Opposition leader, former Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu of the hawkish Likud Party, Monday criticized failures in 'identifying the threat,' an obvious reference to Hezbollah`s buildup in the past six years. Netanyahu criticized also failed preparations to cope with that threat, mistakes in managing the war, and failure to take care of Israelis forced to stay in shelters for a month. Usually those people were poor and weak. The others left for safer places.

Netanyahu noted that Security Council Resolution 1701, passed Friday, does not guarantee the kidnapped soldiers` return, Hezbollah`s disarmament, nor does it remove the rocket threat. 'What we have now is a truce,' he said.

Israel`s political custom provides that the opposition supports the government when fighting goes on. Netanyahu`s address respected that.

The leader of the dovish Meretz Party, Yossi Beilin, talked of a 'surrealistic month' adding: 'It`s impossible that a serious committee will not check everything.'

Olmert maintained Israel showed the world it 'Will no longer restrain itself if its citizens are attacked and will react forcefully to every terror attack...everywhere.'

Resolution 1701 contains 'commitments designed to fundamentally change the situation on our northern border,' he stressed.

'I see and hear those voices expressing displeasure, even disappointment... Patience, patience, friends.'

Overcoming 'a dark, fanatic, fundamentalist terror needs iron nerves,' he said.

Sunday Foreign Minister Zippi Livni noted the 15,000 strong multinational force due in the area will have, 'The right, the possibility and authority to use force when necessary....

'For years Israel demanded the Lebanese government send its army (to the border and) now we`re getting not only the Lebanese army (but also) a significant re-enforcement,' she said.

Israeli soldiers 'will remain situated in southern Lebanon until responsibility over the area is handed over to the Lebanese army and UNIFIL,' a military statement said.

It is too early to guess how much of Resolution 1701 will be implemented. If Hezbollah persists in its refusal to disarm in the south, the Lebanese army may be reluctant to move there and foreign governments may not want to commit their troops to an expanded UNIFIL.

The Israeli conscripts and career soldiers now in Lebanon are not likely to raise a row over the government`s and the army`s actions but reservists are a different breed. Their representative said Monday 60,000 reservists were mobilized.

After the 1973 war the discharged reservists pressed for an inquiry that resulted in the sacking of senior officers including the chief of general staff. The committee did not criticize the political echelon but the reservists` pressure led to early elections. Prime Minister Golda Meir and Defense Minister Moshe Dayan lost their jobs.

Some of the issues now might be the successive governments` failure to prevent Hezbollah`s buildup. Officials said governments were reluctant to attack that buildup since the intifada was raging and the government did not want to open another front. They expected a mutual deterrence to be effective so the rockets would eventually rust.

Reservists have been complaining of faulty, old equipment issued them, that food and water did not reach troops, and that they have not trained for almost five years.

Friction within the army came into the open when Chief of General Staff, Lt. Gen. Dani Halutz, appointed his deputy, Maj. Gen. Moshe Kaplinsky his 'personal representative' in the Northern Command. A military statement saying Halutz had full confidence in the head of the Northern Command, Maj. Gen. Udi Adam, sounded like a flimsy attempt to conceal the truth.

Copyright 2006 by United Press International

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