First Published: 2006-08-14

Israeli leaders face political fire

Olmert faces grilling in parliament amid rising criticism over what his government was able to achieve during month-old conflict.


Middle East Online

By Yana Dlugy – JERUSALEM

A military failure?

With a fragile truce on the ground in Lebanon, Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert was to face a grilling in parliament Monday amid rising criticism over what his government was able to achieve during a month-long war that left 158 Israelis dead.

Olmert was to address an extraordinary parliament session at 4:00 pm (1300 GMT) during which he was expected to face tough questions over how he and the military leadership have handled the war.

"Today's extraordinary Knesset session... could be the start of a new period in Israeli politics," the left-leaning Haaretz daily wrote.

"Over the last few days, the public and political consensus has started to crack, the political arena is staring to warm up and is expected to reach boiling point as public protests begin to spread," it wrote.

Among the questions being faced by the Israeli leadership:

- why the military was not able to prevent Hezbollah from pummelling the country with rockets until the day before the ceasefire came into effect;

- why the state failed to provide adequate support for residents of the north who bore the brunt of more than 4,000 Hezbollah rockets;

- what exactly Israel achieved in a month-long war that sparked world outrage as more than 1,100 Lebanese were killed, most of them civilians.

Israel launched its offensive in Lebanon on July 12 after Hezbollah killed eight soldiers and seized another two in cross-border raids. The army has vowed to recover the soldiers and to stop the Shiite militia from firing rockets at Israel.

But as the guns fell silent Monday, the two Israeli soldiers remained in captivity, and the day before the truce Hezbollah launched more than 250 salvoes across northern Israel, a single-day record of the conflict.

The head of military intelligence admitted Sunday that the Shiite militant group had not been defeated.

"Hezbollah is weakened but has not been defeated," Amos Yadlin told the cabinet as it debated the UN-brokered ceasefire.

Such statements are likely to further erode the widespread public support that accompanied the start of the offensive, but that began to ebb with the rising death and economic toll.

A total of 117 soldiers and 41 civilians have been killed, hundreds of thousands forced to flee their homes, and a cost of more than a billion dollars to the economy.

"In another few weeks, a million people will ask: What was this all about? Why did they lose their homes? Thousands of reservists will ask the same questions. To say nothing of the bereaved families," Haaretz wrote.

Israelis on the front line of Hezbollah fire had little faith that Monday's truce would last.

"Maybe there'll be a few days of calm, but the nightmare will begin anew, because Hezbollah will not respect any ceasefire and will continue to bomb us as long as it's not completely destroyed," said Yaakov Peretz, 45, as he huddled in a bomb shelter in Kiryat Shmona, a town a few kilometers (miles) from the Lebanese border where many have blasted the government for not doing enough to protect them during the offensive.

Following the ceasefire, Israeli officials said the Jewish state had gained the upper hand in its fight with Hezbollah.

"In line with the UN Security Council resolution 1701, south Lebanon has to be demilitarized and rid of all armed Hezbollah presence," foreign ministry spokesman Marc Regev said.

"This means that there will no longer be a state within a state along our northern border to keep provoking us," he said.

The military said that when the ceasefire took hold, its troops controlled strategic positions that would enable it to conquer the whole of Lebanon if necessary.

And Defense Minister Amir Peretz vowed that the Jewish state would not allow the Shiite milita to return to south Lebanon.

But the media was more pessimistic.

"This morning, when the ceasefire goes into effect, we can begin the countdown to the next war in Lebanon," wrote Maariv, the nation's second-largest daily.

"The fact that the next war is perceived as possible testifies more than anything else that the war which is ending today, officially at least, did not achieve its objectives," it said.


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