Olmert Accepts Blame For Operation's 'Failings'

By Molly Moore
Washington Post Foreign Service
Tuesday, August 15, 2006

JERUSALEM, Aug. 14 -- Prime Minister Ehud Olmert on Monday acknowledged mistakes in the war against Hezbollah as the Israeli government confronted widespread criticism and political recriminations over the conflict.

"There have been failings and shortcomings," Olmert, with deep circles under his eyes and a haggard look on his face, told a special session of the Israeli parliament. "We need to examine ourselves in all aspects and all areas. We will not sweep anything under the table, we will not hide anything. We must ensure that next time things will be done better."

Defense Minister Amir Peretz announced he would "conduct a deep and wide investigation on all that occurred before the war erupted and through its duration."

The statements came as Binyamin Netanyahu, an opposition leader and former prime minister, described a "national soul-searching" over risks "threatening our very existence."

Olmert and other political and military leaders have been criticized in the news media and by political analysts as Israelis attempt to grapple with the perception that their military, the most advanced in the Middle East, has been losing a war to guerrilla fighters.

On Monday, Yaron Ezrahi, a Hebrew University professor and one of the country's leading political analysts, echoed Netanyahu's assessment, saying, "There's a collective soul-searching in the army, in the government and in other parts of society."

The anguish, disappointment and confusion are widespread among soldiers who believe their leadership sent them to war unprepared, among residents of northern Israel who say their government abandoned its most vulnerable citizens, and among a public that believes its prime minister has left them open to future attack by agreeing to a cease-fire many think is not permanent.

First Sgt. Dima Gurevich, a 22-year-old reserve soldier in a tank unit, returned from southern Lebanon this weekend feeling anything but victorious after coming under attack by Hezbollah fighters.

"I do not think I was properly prepared and trained for this operation," he said from his bed in the hospital where he was being treated for cuts. "We did not have a good assessment of their capabilities. Tanks and armored personnel vehicles are being hammered by their antitank missiles. It's unconceivable that soldiers are being sent to battle in Lebanon not knowing what to expect."

His sentiment was shared by other soldiers and by Israeli civilians who have commented on the issue in scores of interviews since the war began. Israeli news accounts have published similar appraisals.

"Reservists: Why should we volunteer to be cannon fodder?" read a headline in the daily newspaper Haaretz.

When Maj. Gen. Avi Mizrahi, the head of the Israeli military's logistics branch, was asked Monday about the complaints of many soldiers that they did not have enough food to eat during the combat operations, he told Israel's Army Radio: "If our fighters deep in Lebanese territory are left without food or water, I believe they can break into local Lebanese stores to solve that problem."

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