Wed, Aug 23, 2006 - Page 6 News List

Israelis angry about handling of Lebanon war


Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert tried to defuse growing public anger over his handling of the war against Hezbollah, promising to rebuild rocket-scarred border areas but rejecting peace talks with Syria, a key supporter of the Lebanese guerrillas.

With the efforts to recruit troops for an international peacekeeping force facing resistance in Europe, the week-old truce appeared increasingly fragile on Monday.

The Israeli army, which is waiting for the UN force to arrive before fully withdrawing from southern Lebanon, said its soldiers shot two Hezbollah guerrillas who approached in a "threatening manner" late on Monday.

A Hezbollah official called the report "untrue and entirely baseless."

Although on Monday Italy offered to command the enhanced international force, many European countries are apparently hesitant to commit troops because of questions about whether they will be called on to disarm Hezbollah fighters, who have largely melted back into the civilian population.

Indonesia, Malaysia and Bangladesh have offered front-line troops but Israel does not want them in the UN force because the nations have not recognized Israel.

Since the UN-brokered cease-fire took effect, ending 34 days of war, the Israeli public's frustration with the performance of the government and the military has grown steadily.

On Monday, hundreds of reservists signed a petition calling for an official inquiry, some marching outside Olmert's office to demand his resignation.

Olmert's government, a coalition headed by his centrist Kadima Party and the moderate Labor Party, is in no immediate danger of collapse. The government can be brought down only by parliament, which is in recess until October, and it is not clear whether the public storm will last until then.

"I think Olmert will simply allow the anger to pass and get on with his business," said Gadi Wolfsfeld, a professor of political science at Hebrew University.

None of the parties in the ruling coalition are eager to hold new elections, and there is no leader in Kadima with the clout to replace Olmert, Wolfsfeld said.

The war -- launched in response to a Hezbollah raid in which two soldiers were captured and three killed -- initially enjoyed broad public support in Israel. As the fighting dragged on and the death toll grew higher, the support withered.

Critics have said that Israel's political and military leaders were indecisive, set unrealistic goals and settled for an insufficient truce.

The harshest criticism has come from reserve soldiers, who form an integral part of the military. Reservists returning from Lebanon complained about poor command and a lack of food, water and equipment.

"No goal was achieved. ... Nothing was done in this war," Roni Elmakyes, whose son Omri was killed in the fighting, told Israel Radio.

Even the army's leadership began to show signs of dissent, with Brigadier General Yossi Hyman, the outgoing head of infantry, saying this week that "we all feel a certain sense of failure."

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