JERUSALEM—The guns had barely fallen silent Monday when a bitter Israeli postmortem began on the monthlong conflict with Hezbollah, with politicians on the right protesting that the military had stopped too soon and left-wingers complaining that the fighting had gone on too long.
Prime Minister Ehud Olmert declared a victory of sorts in a speech before the Knesset, Israel's parliament. He acknowledged shortcomings in how the conflict had been managed and assigned his defense minister to investigate. "We won't hide or sweep anything under the rug," he pledged, but said "we don't have the luxury" to engage in endless bickering.
Bicker they did, however. Left-wing opposition parliamentarian Zahava Gal-On was ejected from the chamber during the prime minister's speech for demanding Olmert's resignation. "What kind of victory are you talking about?" she shouted. "You are a failure."
On the right, parliamentarian Effie Eytam said that once the soldiers were home, both political and military decision-makers should be investigated.
Likely topics include how successive Israeli governments allowed Hezbollah to become so mighty on the northern border, whether Israeli forces were hobbled by logistical snafus in Lebanon and whether reservists were ill-prepared for the fight.
"The shooting war is over; now the political war begins," said Israeli historian Michael Oren, an army major who was called up for duty as military spokesman.
In terms of military management, he said, Israelis no doubt would clamor for an examination of whether the reserves were properly prepared. While Israel waged a mostly air battle against Hezbollah for two weeks, thousands of reserve soldiers underwent three to four days of refresher training before being dispatched to fight in Lebanon. For some it was the first training in more than two years.
Debate also is likely to focus on logistical failures, which were the subject of Israeli newspaper reports throughout the fighting.
One account described how reservists from the storied Alexandroni battalion—led by a young Ariel Sharon in the 1948 War of Independence_ went without food and water for 36 hours. To survive, they chewed sugarcane and sucked the juice from watermelons they found in Lebanese fields.
"That is one of the scandals of this war—one of many," wrote Nahum Barnea, senior political analyst at the Yediot Ahronot newspaper, who traveled with the reserve unit in Lebanon.
Barnea also wrote that the military failed to transport the reservists to the front.
"When the soldiers arrived after their call-up orders there were no buses to pick them up," he wrote, so they drove their own cars north "to not miss the war."
When they reached their supply lockers, where their equipment was supposed to be prepositioned, the reservists found that their dust goggles had been sent to active-duty troops in Gaza, Barnea wrote.
Labor parliament member Dani Yatom, a former chief of Israel's Mossad intelligence service, said the problems would have to be investigated because, if true, they were unacceptable.
"I participated in every Israeli war since 1963 and never, not even in the Yom Kippur war, did we lack food, lack water," said Yatom, a retired general who served in Israel's special forces.
Yatom, whose Labor party is a partner in Olmert's government, also raised questions about the government's response to civilians, who were subjected to weeks of Hezbollah rocket fire.
"There were many mistakes done, concerning the handling of the war, and concerning the attitude toward the citizens of Israel who had to stay in shelters," he said.
The discussion was especially pointed in parliament, where many members are military veterans.
Gal-On, a member of the opposition party Meretz, which had supported the aerial war but opposed the ground offensive, was among three opposition parliamentarians who were ejected from the chamber for jeering at the prime minister during his speech.
Later, the 50-year-old former army sergeant complained that the fighting had gone on too long, didn't rescue the two reservists that Hezbollah captured in Israel on July 12 to trigger the conflict and, at latest count, cost the country 118 dead and 450 wounded soldiers.
"They promised to bring back the soldiers. They promised to break the Hezbollah, and they did neither," she said. "They should have left after the first week."
On the right, Eytam, who commanded a company during the Yom Kippur war in 1973 and led an elite commando unit in the 1976 Entebbe rescue mission in Uganda, said the military left before the mission was accomplished.
"Everybody in this country understands that this cease-fire will not hold for a long time," he said. Then, echoing Gal-On's complaints, he added, "Hezbollah hasn't been disarmed. The hostages didn't come back."
In the official response to Olmert's speech, opposition leader Benjamin Netanyahu said that successive governments had mismanaged the Hezbollah conflict by allowing the militant Islamic movement to amass thousands of rockets near the border. He said Olmert had mismanaged the home front by leaving Israelis inside ill-equipped shelters for a month.
For left-wing parliamentarian Ran Cohen, the issue was how the Olmert government had allowed itself to be dragged into a conflict on what he characterized as Hezbollah's timetable. Sharon, Olmert's predecessor who was disabled by a stroke in January, had avoided such provocations, Cohen said. He added that Sharon would have fought Hezbollah at a time of Israel's choosing.
Sharon's legacy looms large over the conflict. It was as defense minister in 1982 that he launched the 1982-85 invasion that gave birth to the Hezbollah movement and spawned a troubled 18-year Israeli occupation in the south.
As the parliamentary debate raged, the doctors treating Sharon, who's been in a coma since his stroke, announced that the 78-year-old former general's condition had worsened.
(Rosenberg reports for The Miami Herald.)
(c) 2006, McClatchy-Tribune Information Services.
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