He does not look like he fits either of the two public roles he has played in his country's history. Eli Geva is a big man, but with none of the hard edges usually associated with soldiers and combat. He has a boyish face, an easy grin, a quiet manner.
In June 1982, Geva, then 31 and a colonel, was the youngest brigade commander in the Israeli Army. He had fought with distinction on the Golan Heights in the 1973 Middle East war and decided to make the military his career, as had his father, a retired major general.
On June 6, 1982, Geva's tank brigade was in the vanguard of the Israeli invasion of Lebanon. It swept up the Lebanese coast, reaching the outskirts of Beirut in the first week of the war.
Five weeks later, on July 24, Geva asked to be relieved of his command.
Before he took that fateful step, a succession of higher ranking officials -- Lt. Gen. Rafael Eitan, the chief of staff; Defense Minister Ariel Sharon, and finally Prime Minister Menachem Begin -- had tried to talk him out of it, but Geva would not be shaken in his military, political and moral objections to the Israeli plan to storm into Beirut.
The Army then in effect fired him, and according to Geva it has rebuffed his requests to serve in the reserves, as do almost all Israeli men his age.
Geva's decision -- which transformed him from war hero to war protester -- was one of the first and most important acts of dissent during Israel's long involvement in Lebanon. What he did was unprecedented in Israel, a harbinger of the open opposition to the war that later affected much of the country and the military itself.
It was also the end of a promising career in the Army, and Geva knew it.
"When I made the decision, I knew the price," he said in a recent interview. "I had an interesting and successful time in the Army. I regret I lost a way of life that I believed in, yet if I had to make the same decision again I would."
He is now the general manager of an industrial plant near Tel Aviv. He and his wife, Liora, and their three children live in a comfortable house in this suburb north of Tel Aviv. The street is named after a former Army chief of staff, Lt. Gen. David Elazar, who was forced to resign because of the early setbacks Israel suffered in the 1973 war.
Geva's objections to the war in Lebanon did not begin at the outskirts of Beirut, from where he watched the Israeli bombardment of the city. In April, two months before the invasion, he bluntly warned Sharon during a meeting of Army commanders to plan the campaign that Israel should not challenge the Syrian forces in Lebanon directly.
Geva said his warning was based on his own strategic view of Lebanon and fear that Sharon was planning something much larger than elimination of the Palestine Liberation Organization guerrillas in southern Lebanon who threatened Israel's border. Sharon's hope of creating a pro-Israel regime in Beirut, Geva said, would necessitate a clash with Syria, and that risked another "total war" in the Middle East.
Despite these misgivings, on June 6 Geva led his men into Lebanon. Geva never objected to a military strike against the PLO guerrillas in southern Lebanon. But Beirut, where his brigade again was to be in the vanguard of the invading forces, was another matter.
He objected on military grounds: The plan of attack, Geva said, called for a straight frontal assault, guaranteeing so many Israeli casualties that "I thought I had to object as strongly as possible."
He objected on political grounds: "Nothing would come out of it without dealing with the Syrian problem in Lebanon; we would gain nothing," he said.
His strongest objections were moral: "The PLO in Beirut was in the middle of so many civilians, we would have killed so many civilians," Geva said. And, he added, Israel would be giving "license" to Arab attacks against Israeli civilians.
Geva took his arguments, written in a small notebook that he still keeps in a cabinet in his living room, to his superiors. Eitan did not understand -- "He never read about Lebanon, he doesn't know about Lebanon," Geva said. Sharon listened carefully, but their talk soon turned into "a big argument." Begin told him Sharon and Eitan knew what they were doing, and that he, a young colonel, should do what he was told.
He spoke to his father.
"He looked at it not as a problem of his son, but more as a problem of the war and the Army," Geva said. "He told me you are my son, but you are a bit grown up now. He agreed with me about Lebanon. He said, 'On what you are doing, for the good and bad, it's yours.' "
In the end, the Israelis did not go through with the planned mass assault on west Beirut. Geva said he does not know if his dissent had any effect on that decision. His hope at the time, that his resignation would delay the assault and that in the interim the United States would intervene to prevent it, was disappointed.
"I thought you Americans would understand that nothing good would come from Lebanon and you would stop us, but you didn't," Geva said. "Later you followed our philosophy, and you made the same mistakes."
Geva said he has kept his friends from that time, even those who disagree with him, and he said he understands that the Army has a genuine "moral problem" in accepting back, even as a reservist, an officer who resigned in the midst of a war.
But he said he now also receives letters and calls from Army officers who tell him, "I understand now what you were saying."
"Today, the Army knows the mistakes that were made, in the fighting, in the concept, in the tactics," Geva said. "This was the first of Israel's wars where the goals were not clear and the strategy was not understood. You can't get good tactics out of that."