Page 2 of 2   <      

In Israel, Questions About the Conflict

Many Israelis say they no longer trust that kind of bravado.

"Their thinking of the war is anachronistic," said Yaron Ezrahi, one of Israel's most prominent political analysts. "They set certain kinds of goals which are unachievable like crushing and stopping missiles."

Ezrahi said he thinks the hail of Hezbollah rockets into Israel has demonstrated to the rest of the world the dangers Israel faces in the region -- particularly the risks of letting Iran, one of Hezbollah's benefactors, proceed with its nuclear programs.

Rather than push deeper into southern Lebanon, where Israel ended an unpopular occupation of a self-declared security zone six years ago, Ezrahi said, "we can have a lot to gain by stopping now and moving to convert what we have done to political assets."

Public sentiment, which had overwhelmingly supported the war two weeks ago, is also beginning to waver. Even leftist groups supportive of peace moves with the Palestinians backed the anti-Hezbollah offensive in its first days, but several dovish groups have now called their first peace rally in Tel Aviv on Saturday to demand a stop to the war.

"I fought the same battles against the same enemy in the same places 16 years ago," said Ido Ahronson, 36, a Jerusalem computer technician who served in Israel's previous conflict in Lebanon. "We didn't accomplish anything then, and I don't see how we can accomplish that much now. How would you feel if George Bush decided to send you back into Vietnam? We are fighting an enemy that uses civilians as protection, knows the terrain well and is brainwashed to believe they are fighting for Islam."

The Israeli public and news media are also growing disenchanted with what some analysts see as efforts by Olmert and Peretz -- both facing their first major crisis on the job -- to use overly optimistic rhetoric.

In a speech Tuesday, Olmert said of Hezbollah's capability to fire rockets at Israel: "Twenty-one days later, that threat is not what it was."

The next day, Hezbollah pummeled Israel with 230 rockets -- the most of any day of the conflict.

In a public opinion survey published Friday by Ma'ariv, 55 percent of respondents said they thought Israel was winning the war, and only 3.5 percent said Hezbollah was winning. But nearly 38 percent said "no one" was winning.

"Look at what is going on in Haifa," said Shaul Malka, 28, a Jerusalem taxi driver. "Haifa is a huge busy city, and now it is a ghost town. People are scared to leave the bomb shelters and walk on the streets. So how can they say we are winning?"

Finer reported from Philon. Special correspondent Ian Deitch contributed to this report.

<       2

© 2006 The Washington Post Company