Dissent grows in Israel over Lebanon
Ian Black in Jerusalem
Wednesday July 26, 2006
The government of the Israeli prime minister, Ehud Olmert, is facing a barrage of criticism over its handling of the war in Lebanon, with questions being raised about the decision to attack Hizbullah, mounting military losses, continuing missile strikes on northern Israel, and disquiet about Lebanese civilian casualties.
Israel has yet to confirm reports of 12 soldiers killed in heavy fighting around the south Lebanese town of Bint Jbeil, but analysts in Jerusalem said fatalities on that scale are likely to bring pressure from the army and the public for a significant change of tack.
Two weeks into the fighting, growing unease about a wide range of war-related issues has burst into the open with a series of anxious comments by politicians, former officers and leading experts and pundits.
Few Israelis are protesting against the war, as they did in their hundreds of thousands after the 1982 invasion of Lebanon. Apart from small demonstrations by Israeli Arabs and Jewish leftwingers, there is broad support for hitting back at the Shia guerrillas after their border raid and abduction of two Israeli soldiers. But what is becoming clear is the .
, a hawkish former Likud defence minister, he told the Ha'aretz newspaper. "Nasrallah will be seen as someone who fired thousands of katyushas at Israeli communities for weeks and came out unscathed."
Experts say Israel's much-vaunted intelligence services have , especially in not knowing it had an Iranian-made missile capable of hitting an Israeli naval vessel off Beirut.
Wall-to-wall TV and radio talk shows have wheeled out reserve or former officers highlighting the shortcomings of those running the show, bringing defensive responses from the IDF general staff and even charges of disloyalty in wartime.
But , the highly respected doyen of Israeli military commentators, and author of the definitive history of the 1982 war, put it bluntly:
Another veteran correspondent, , wrote in the mass-circulation Yediot Aharonot: "This is neither the time nor the place in the middle of serious fighting, but "
The main worry is that Haifa, Carmiel and other northern areas were hit again on today. Israeli ground operations have inflicted losses on the guerrillas in Maroun al-Ras and Bint Jbeil, but none have been mounted in the Tyre area further west from where missiles are being launched at Haifa. Hizbullah has been damaged but is far from crippled. Supplies from Iran and Syria are getting through despite a blockade.
Commentators are also in the context of an overall strategy. These include the immediate response to the July 12 attack, the bombing of Beirut international airport despite warnings this would trigger retaliation against Haifa, and the destruction of Hizbullah HQ in southern Beirut. They say .
The original objective of "breaking Hizbullah" has been quietly to "weakening Hizbullah".
, despite the unwavering support of the US. Its own propaganda efforts have been poor and uncoordinated.
"Even before we know who will win this campaign we can state with certainty that Israel has suffered a in Lebanon and the Arab world," wrote the Ma'ariv columnist Jacky Hugi.
On top of all that there are bitter complaints about poor conditions in air raid shelters in the north, the failure to compensate those whose property has been damaged by enemy action and the confusion caused by a plethora of officials giving out conflicting messages. Some want a single "war spokesman" to be responsible for all government information, a concept which worked well in the 1991 Gulf war, when Iraqi Scud missiles hit Israel.
Nahum Barnea, the country's leading political commentator, warned earlier this week that from this crisis. "Israel is like the guy who promised to jump off the big top at the circus but freezes the moment he gets up there. 'Why isn't he jumping,' the spectators ask. 'No question of jumping,' the guy replies. 'The only question is how I can get down'."