In June 1983, Jeremy Milgrom went to lunch in Afula, Israel, with a captain from his reserve unit in the Israeli Army. After lunch, the captain told Milgrom that he would be court-martialed for refusing to serve with the unit in Lebanon.
It was a moment of crisis for Milgrom, 31, a native of Richmond who emigrated to Israel in 1968. Once before, in February 1983, his infantry unit had been called up to serve in Lebanon. Then, he spent two days in Hasbaya, Lebanon, on what amounted to a hunger strike before his commanding officer, out of either disgust or sympathy with his objections to the war, sent him back to Israel.
His brief stay in Hasbaya reinforced his objections to the war in Lebanon. "I didn't see atrocities; I just saw we were ruling an occupied territory," he said.
This time, too, Milgrom escaped punishment. A higher-ranking officer confirmed that Milgrom, his objections by then well known, had been promised by the battalion commander that he could perform his reserve duties at the Army base and need not set foot in Lebanon.
So for the next two weeks, Pvt. Jeremy Milgrom packed boxes in Afula, while in Lebanon three members of his unit were killed.
"I felt absolutely terrible," he said later, "but I didn't feel that I should be there."
Ten, even five years ago, Milgrom's behavior would have been unheard of in the Israel Defense Force (IDF). Even today, in an Army that fought a divisive war in 1982 in Lebanon and has continued an increasingly unpopular occupation there since, it is rare. But during the last three years, there have been enough cases like Milgrom's to call into question the automatic response of the reserve units on which the IDF depends for most of its manpower, creating what officials here describe as a new and "worrisome" phenomenon.
"It is a novelty, and we don't know how it will affect us," said Menachem Meron, the director general of the Defense Ministry.
No one knows how the last three years in Lebanon, which have been unlike anything in the IDF's past, will affect the young soldiers who served there, and who are the reservists of the future. But there is widespread agreement that the experience has been negative, and that this legacy will linger in the ranks of the Army long after the withdrawal is completed.
Milgrom is an activist in something that is entirely new in Israeli history and was spawned by the war in Lebanon -- an antiwar movement based in the ranks of Army reserve officers and soldiers. An organization founded in the first few months after the June 1982 Israeli invasion of Lebanon and calling itself There's a Limit offers support to soldiers who refuse to serve in Lebanon and to their families.
The Army says that 140 reservists have been sentenced to prison terms for refusing to serve in Lebanon, but according to Milgrom, There's a Limit knows of at least 160. Their sentences have ranged from 21 to 35 days. There probably have been more than 100 other soldiers who have been imprisoned for similar offenses but who are unknown to the antiwar organization, Milgrom estimated.
These men have been the most visible dissenters, but according to military analysts here they are, as one put it, "the tip of the iceberg." Of far more concern to Army officials was the larger number of reservists who devised various excuses to avoid reporting for duty when their units were called up for service in Lebanon.
At the peak of this largely invisible resistance to Israel's continued presence in Lebanon, the mobilization rates of some reserve units dropped as low as 50 percent, according to well-informed sources.
The government's decision in January to withdraw from Lebanon has reduced this problem considerably, and Israeli officials say they are confident it will not recur. Still, citing this phenomenon, the authors of the "Middle East Military Balance," an annual publication of the Jaffee Center for Strategic Studies at Tel Aviv University, said that in Lebanon the IDF "sustained damage in an area where it enjoyed the clearest advantage over neighboring armies: the readiness to fight even when the nature and objectives of the conflict are not universally accepted.
"This may mean that, in the future, reservists in particular will not perform to full capacity unless they sense that war has been forced upon them and that it must be fought in order to remove a clear and unambiguous danger to themselves and to the state."
The reservists who refused to serve are only one aspect of the consequences of a war that was fought without a domestic consensus to support it, said Shai Feldman, an analyst at the Jaffee Center and author of a recent study of the war entitled, "Deception, Consensus and War: Israel in Lebanon."
Ariel Sharon, then Israel's defense minister and the chief architect of the war, concealed his ambitious war aims of installing a pro-Israeli Lebanese Christian regime in Beirut not only from the Israeli Cabinet and the public, but from the Army commanders who led troops into Lebanon, Feldman said.
"The military," he said, "has been a great victim of the fog that was created around the purposes of the war." Among the consequences of the doubts and deception that surrounded the war cited by Feldman and others:
* The slowest advance on the ground in the history of the Israeli Army. Despite overwhelming superiority and the superb performance of the Israeli Air Force against Syrian missile batteries and planes, the IDF often moved cautiously during the first week of fighting and failed to achieve some of its objectives. This was due in part to Lebanon's difficult mountain terrain, but Feldman concluded that it was also "the consequence of many field commanders' sense that the stakes involved did not merit insensitivity to costs."
* The highest rate in any of Israel's wars of casualties from the "friendly fire" of other Israeli units and warplanes. This is an extremely sensitive topic within the military, and no figures have been published, but the higher than normal ratio of self-inflicted casualties is widely known among military analysts. One possible explanation is that Israeli field commanders more often resorted to heavy use of their ground firepower and air strikes in an attempt to reduce the risks to their soldiers.
* An increase in the number of young officers who are turning their backs on careers in the military and returning to civilian life after completing their tours of duty. For years, Israeli officials have worried about the IDF's ability to hold onto its best young officers, and this problem appears to have been exacerbated by the Lebanon experience. Becoming a career officer, said Zeev Schiff, military editor of the newspaper Haaretz, means "sharing responsibility for the mistakes. Sometimes it means lying . . . . There is no doubt that this is part of the Lebanon experience."
* A weakening of morale as reflected in an increase in the number of accidental deaths and injuries in the Army. The military command does not make public figures on the IDF's accident rate, but it recently instituted what was described as an urgent campaign to enforce safety regulations. Writing about this, Tali Selinger of the newspaper Davar said:
"What is happening to the IDF? Fatigue, fatigue and a wearing down process . . . .The impact of the Lebanese adventure on the IDF's capability will not be quickly erased."
In addition, military correspondents for Israeli newspapers in recent weeks have been warning about what they describe as the degrading effect of the Lebanon experience, especially on the current generation of regular Army soldiers who have no other military experience.
"In Lebanon," wrote Eitan Haber in the afternoon newspaper Yediot Ahronot last month, "the IDF has lost more than a few of its Zionist and ethical norms, as well as its unique standing as an Army which, not incidentally, had won world fame." Describing young Israeli soldiers who he said displayed "total lack of consideration for human life, human feelings and property," Haber said, "I've already seen very worried top commanders in Lebanon. If they don't manage to stop this process, we will be reaping the bitter harvest of the Lebanon war for a long time to come."
Another correspondent, Reuven Pedatzur of Haaretz, recalled a recent report on Israeli television in which an Israeli officer told his troops before they went on patrol, "I want to make it perfectly clear. You shoot at anything that moves."
"In that brief sentence, the young officer summed up almost everything," Pedatzur wrote. "Within three years, the IDF has become an Army that shoots at everything that moves."
In 1967, the IDF achieved one of the most stunning military victories of the 20th century. During six days that June, fighting a three-front war, the Israeli Army captured the Golan Heights from Syria, the West Bank from Jordan and the Gaza Strip and Sinai Peninsula from Egypt.
Fifteen years later, with roughly the same number of troops as it used in 1967 and vastly improved firepower, the IDF went into Lebanon against the poorly trained and equipped guerrillas of the Palestine Liberation Organization and a Syrian Army that did not want to fight. It is leaving now, its prestige and morale damaged, after having learned some bitter lessons about the limits of military power and the price of waging war without solid domestic support.
Israelis who are concerned about the future of their Army see in those lessons at least one potential gain for the IDF from the legacy of Lebanon.
"Military victories as dramatic as 1967 do not usually produce careful, innovative thinking," Feldman said. "This kind of experience does."