Tuesday, August 22, 2006

August 22, 2006

August 22, 2006

People are furious in Israel. Furious and frustrated. Furious because the common consensus is that those in charge miss-handled the war. Frustrated because Israel as a country with one of the strongest armies in the world couldn’t defeat a few thousand guerrilla fighters after a month-long war which resulted in nearly 150 Israelis killed and a thousand injured. Not to mention those who still have trouble sleeping at night, or jump when they hear a loud noise. Not to mention those who will carry the scars, physical and psychological, for the rest of their lives. And especially those who came out of the war disfigured, maimed, or missing limbs.

A small group of reserve soldiers has begun demonstrating outside of the office of Israel’s Prime Minister Ehud Olmert, calling for the resignation of Olmert, Defense Minister Amir Peretz, and Chief-of-Staff Dan Halutz. They claim that the war was poorly conceived and poorly executed. Reports abound of soldiers reaching their positions in Lebanon without water or food or proper equipment. Israeli generals, interviewed endlessly on TV and Radio, are now blaming the Intifada for Israel’s lack of preparedness.

One former general said that during the Yom Kippur war similar shortages were found. Soldiers arrived at the front to find their tanks didn’t have enough ammunition, fuel, gas masks, gloves for the tank crews, food and water for the troops. Within a day the shortages were overcome. Within two days the reserve troops had all found their units, and the counter-offensive against the Syrians, and the Egyptians, was in full swing.

That war was different in one crucial way, the generals say: the soldiers were well trained for combat. They’d been training for war. It took only a few days for the soldiers to hit their stride. Only a few more days to reach the outskirts of Damascus; and in the south a few days to encircle the Egyptian second army and reach a point only 101 kilometers from Cairo.

In this war a month went by and the army barely managed to move a few kilometers. The generals say it was because the army had stopped training for war. During the soldier’s reserve duty they spent their time manning roadblocks, or hunting Palestinian terrorists in urban Gaza, or the towns and cities of the West Bank. The critics now say that the soldiers had become policemen. When faced with an enemy dug into bunkers and tunnels in open areas, forced to conduct an old-fashioned battle with tanks and armored cars and manuevering on foot, the army found itself under trained, lacking the proper equipment, and the proper tools to do the job.

The public wants to know why? Who was to blame? How did this tragedy occur? These are the stories on radio and TV. Stories of soldiers who'd barely survived, asking why they'd been put in such dangerous situations without the proper intelligence, training, or weaponry. If most of the casualties were from anti-tank missiles, why continue to use tanks? If the goal of the war was simply a cease-fire, why did PM Olmert start it in the first place? These are the questions asked, and left unanswered.

PM Olmert has resisted the call for a civilian commission of inquiry, opting instead for one appointed by the Minister of Defense Amir Peretz. But only a few days after this commission was formed it was disbanded.

The way the triumvirate in power managed the war is now under scrutiny. In media interviews, and in private conversations, soldiers in the field complain they weren’t given clear orders, weren’t given clear objectives, and were finally sent on a mad 60-hour dash to the Litani, knowing that that military objective couldn’t be accomplished in the time allotted, and that the causalities would be huge. In fact approximately 16 men died in those last hours of battle, most in tanks, trying to ascend a hill that stood in the way between the Israeli troops and the Litani River. The hilltop was 100 meters high with a 400-meter ascent surrounded by other hills. The troops trying to take the hill were clear targets.

Why, the soldiers and analysts now ask, was the loss of life so important? Political commentators say the reason was that Israel wanted to stake out clear positions for the diplomatic negotiations sure to follow the cease-fire. While some question if this hilltop was worth the loss of life, others say that in any war strategic goals are always sought prior to a cease-fire.

But most complain of what was perceived as the ‘arrogance’ natural to the air force: that they could destroy Hezbollah in a matter of days; and lack of a back-up plan should that fail. More complain of the lack of co-ordination between various branches of the army; coordination that it is said would have been in place had the army been undergoing its normal training procedures during the routine one-month a year reserve duty most Israeli men do until the age of 45-50, depending on their unit and rank.

Reserve training days were cut drastically since 2000, and then those in tanks rarely trained in tanks, but rather spent their two or three weeks at checkpoints at the entrance to West Bank or Gaza towns, or carryed out search and arrest missions in those towns. Soldiers were no longer training for a war on or outside the borders, and this, pundits claim, was the fatal flaw. One that is now, reportedly, going to be corrected.

One army general, transferring from one command to another, said that the army suffered from ‘arrogance.’ And the war was a failure because of it.

Iran is now making bellicose threats that if they are attacked by anyone Israel will be hit by missiles. Israeli analysts don’t put too much credence to these claims. They say that the missiles Iran could throw at Israel are the same that Hezbollah used, that Syria has, and that Iraq used in the Gulf War. According to these analysts the effects wouldn’t be any worse than that of the Hezbollah attacks. Of course, they point out,that’s assuming the Iran doesn’t use chemical or biological weapons. As of now the pundits say Iran doesn't have a nuclear capability.

Lawrence Eagleberger, former American under Sec. Of State in the USA, said in a TV interview that the long-term threat of Iran’s nuclear program was only equaled to that of N. Korea. Both, said Eagleberger, would use their nuclear weapons to blackmail the West.

Meanwhile, the people of Israel were warned by the septuagenarian Knesset Member Rafi Eitan that Iran might well strike at the center of Israel, not the north. He advised those in Tel Aviv to clean out their bomb shelters. It wasn’t clear if he had any information, or was simply outspoken in his opinions. As a former Mossad operative and member of the government commentators assumed he had some decent sources.

The general opinion in the Israeli press, and among the people in the streets, was that Olmert’s government’s days were numbered. The complaint was that Olmert may have been more interested in his position as Prime Minister than in winning the war. This complaint may be unfair. Time will tell.

The tenuous cease-fire is still holding in the north of Israel. A soldier was seriously wounded yesterday in southern Lebanon. Thousands of Israeli regular troops are still in Lebanon, stuck, waiting for the slow-moving UNIFIL international force to arrive. Hezbollah is still armed. Some believe that rather than give up their weapons they’ll begin another war.

Three Israeli soldiers are still being held captive, two by Hezbollah, one by the Hamas terrorists in Gaza. A hundred soldiers have died since these three soldiers were captured, and the Israeli public apparently wants to know what was accomplished.

The general consensus is that Israeli soldiers showed up for battle, and fought bravely, sacrificed their lives, not only for their country, but for their families, only a few miles away. Pundits all agree that this was a just war. The Israeli reserve soldiers say they will show up to fight in the next war as well. Those interviewed say they are furious at Hezbollah for the month-long missile attacks on innocent civilians. For terrorizing the country. The rage will not simmer or dwindle, but merely be packaged and redirected so that the next time Hezbollah will be destroyed. That’s the common feeling.

The Israeli finance ministry estimates that counting the cost of the war and damage to property this month-long battle cost nearly 11 billion shekels, over $2 1/2 billion. The politicians now talk of raising taxes to find the money to re-supply the army, and rebuild the property damaged in the attacks.

Analysts say the government, no matter who runs it, will need money to order the weapons systems that were never ordered due to budgetary constraints. To send the soldiers out to train for the war to come, not act as policemen in Gaza and the West Bank. However, one commentator said, if the next war is fought as poorly as the last one, Israel won’t have to worry about paying off her debts because there might not be anyone left to sign the checks.