JERUSALEM — Hundreds of Israelis, including soldiers back from fighting in Lebanon, gathered last night outside the Knesset to demand a state inquiry into the government’s management of the war and to call for the resignations of Prime Minister Ehud Olmert and Defense Minister Amir Peretz.
Earlier, reserve soldiers signed a petition that slammed Olmert’s handling of the war as “indecisive” and accused the Israeli leadership of changing course several times during the country’s military campaign against Hezbollah in Lebanon, placing soldiers lives at risk.
“Olmert pack your bags,” read one placard being carried by a rallier across from the Knesset last night.
“Open a state inquiry now,” read another poster.
Olmert has so far been reluctant to establish a state commission to probe the Lebanon war, instead promoting a governmental panel of inquiry, the make-up of which would be appointed by the prime minister.
A government panel would report directly to Olmert’s cabinet and would not be required to make its findings public. Olmert would have control over the panel’s parameters, including which ministries and officials to investigate and whether the panel is authorized to recommend the resignation of officials.
But Olmert is coming under increasing pressure to establish a state commission of inquiry, which is mandated by Israeli law and is run by the Supreme Court. A state commission is headed by a sitting or retired Supreme Court justice; has the power to subpoena witnesses and documents and to call for officials to resign; and its findings are made public.
Last week, Peretz started his own commission with the stated goal of probing the government’s conduct during the war, but it disbanded yesterday without explanation. Peretz’s commission had come under fierce attack from analysts and lawmakers on all sides of the political spectrum here after he appointed one of his senior advisors to lead the panel.
The Israeli reserve soldiers yesterday presented a petition to the government demanding the establishment of a state commission of inquiry. The petition, which received extensive Israeli media attention, blasted the way the Lebanon war was managed.
“There was one thing we were not and would not be willing to accept: We were unwilling to accept indecisiveness. The war’s aim, which was not defined clearly, was even changed in the course of the fighting,” stated the petition.
The petition continued: “The heavy feeling that in the echelons above us there is nothing but under-preparation, insincerity, lack of foresight and inability to make rational decisions, leads to the question — were we called up for nothing?
“The crisis of confidence between us as fighters and the higher echelons will not be resolved without a thorough and worthy investigative commission under the auspices of the state. When the commission completes its task, conclusions must be drawn both on the level of strategic planning and national security, and on the personal level of the parties involved. ”
The petition accused the Olmert government of placing soldiers’ lives in jeopardy on the battle field by cancelling missions or asking troops to hold positions for days without instructions.
“The indecisiveness manifested itself in inaction, in not carrying out operational plans, and in canceling all the missions we were given during the fighting. This led to prolonged stays in hostile territory, without an operational purpose and out of unprofessional considerations, without seeking to engage in combat with the enemy,” the petition stated.
Indeed, senior military leaders told WorldNetDaily last week that on several occasions during the fighting in Lebanon while heavy diplomacy looked to be gaining momentum, such as during U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice’s visits here, the Israeli Defense Forces was asked by the political echelon to halt most operations and troop advances for up to 36 hours while negotiations ran their course.
Military leaders charge that some troop battalions, instructed to hold positions outside villages but not to advance, actually became sitting ducks for Hezbollah anti-tank fire, which killed at least 35 Israeli soldiers. After the diplomacy failed, soldiers were ordered to carry on.
IDF officials also blasted Olmert for allegedly refusing to approve military plans they say were necessary for dealing a decisive blow to Hezbollah.
The officials tell WND that from the start of the Jewish state’s campaign in Lebanon last month, the IDF petitioned for the deployment of up to 40,000 ground troops to advance immediately to the Litani River – taking up the swath of territory from which most Hezbollah rockets are fired – and from there work their way back to the Israeli border while surrounding and then cleaning out Hezbollah strongholds under heavy aerial cover.
But Olmert at first only approved aerial assaults. After Hezbollah retaliated by firing large numbers of rockets into Israel, the Olmert government approved a smaller ground offensive of up to 8,000 soldiers which according to military officials were not directed to advance to the Latani. The IDF was charged with cleaning out Hezbollah’s bases within about three miles of the Israeli border.
IDF leaders told WND they suffered in “very specific” ways on the battlefield because of a lack of sufficient ground troops. They cited instances in which they claimed there were not enough soldiers to surround key villages, such as Bint JBail in southern Lebanon, allowing Hezbollah fighters to infiltrate cities after the IDF began combat inside the areas.
After nearly four weeks of fighting, Olmert’s cabinet last week approved the larger assault the IDF had petitioned for, authorizing about 40,000 troops to enter Lebanon and advance to the Latani River. The IDF estimated it would need about three days to reach central Lebanon and another four to six weeks to successfully wipe out the Hezbollah infrastructure in the areas leading back to the Israeli border.
But Monday morning – three days after the Israeli army was given a green light to advance – a cease-fire was imposed and the Jewish state suspended operations.
A day before the cease-fire, Hezbollah shot over 240 rockets into Israel, the largest number the group had fired in one day. One Israeli civilian was killed in the attacks; 26 others were injured.
“The message sent is that Hezbollah absolutely maintains the capability of firing hundreds of rockets per day into Israel. Wasn’t one of the military campaign’s main goals to eliminate the rocket threat?” commented a military official.