TEL AVIV, Israel, Aug. 21 (UPI) -- Reservists who fought in Lebanon set up camp in a park outside the Knesset and the prime minister's office in Jerusalem demanding an inquiry into the way the government and the military handled the war.
Their numbers were small but if past experience is any measure these numbers are likely to increase as more reserve soldiers are discharged and more soldiers learn of this protest. Many soldiers have signed petitions and all participants in Monday's meeting of the Knesset Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee -- except for those representing Prime Minister Ehud Olmert's Kadima Party -- called for the formation of a judicial commission of inquiry, a committee whose members are appointed by the president of the Supreme Court.
One such committee established after the 1973 war led to the sacking of the then chief of general staff and several generals. It was criticized for stopping short of blaming the political echelon but public mood then forced Prime Minister Golda Meir and Defense Minister Moshe Dayan out of office. A similar committee, following the 1982 Lebanon War, forced the then Defense Minister Ariel Sharon and several senior officers out of office. Little wonder, then, that Olmert's government is not keen on establishing such a committee to probe the war with Hezbollah but it may be unable to resist pressures to form it.
The criticism over the latest fighting is partly directed at Olmert and Defense Minister Amir Peretz for the way they conducted the war. Transport Minister Shaul Mofaz, who was defense minister in the previous government, might also find himself in hot water. He did not stop Hezbollah from building its massive array of missiles and bunkers in southern Lebanon.
Reservists have been voicing very severe criticism of the military command for insufficient training, emergency stores that lacked vital equipment, food and water that did not reach the fighters, and for battle orders that were confusing and changed too often. Moreover, the fighting stopped before the army achieved its main goals and thus Hezbollah rockets kept raining on Israeli towns and two soldiers kidnapped on July 12 were still in Hezbollah's hands.
Military Chief of General Staff, Lt. Gen. Dani Halutz, acknowledged shortcomings. "There are many faults...from the chief of general staff to every soldier," he told the Cabinet on Sunday.
There was no "knock-out," Halutz said. "We didn't say there would be a knock-out, but in points...overtime...we'll see we won."
Israelis do not consider that good enough. "Israel's security doctrine was always based on a knock-out victory, not winning by points," said retired Maj. Gen. Prof. Isaac Ben-Israel who heads Tel Aviv University's security studies program.
The fighting started when Hezbollah shelled Israeli communities near the border and kidnapped two soldiers from the Israeli side of the border that the United Nations marked. Eight soldiers were killed that day and Israel decided on massive retaliation.
Now, in hind site, "Either (Israel) should not have embarked on this war at all -- and for this the prime minister and defense minister must answer -- or Israel had to win in a way that would deter its surroundings from another round. A war over repairing a deterrent capability that ends with a feeling there will soon be another round is a clear failure," Haaretz added.
Israel Radio Monday broadcast an interview with Roni Elmakayes, whose son Omri was killed in Lebanon. Elmakayes said she initially supported the fighting because "One does not break into your home and kidnap children."
However none of the war's aims were achieved.
"I can stand in front of my son's grave and say, "Never mind Omrisho. You loved the State of Israel, you fought for it ...and (even) if you were killed the goal was achieved. I'll cope with my personal pain over (my) loss, but not over a double loss that my son is gone and no goal was achieved," she said.
Reservists seemed to think highly of their company and battalion commanders, of some brigade commanders, but not the higher echelons.
The commander of a tank battalion in the reserves, Amit Haddad, said that if the infantrymen in his unit were better equipped one of his officers might have been alive today. The officer was killed.
Haddad said he and his men have not been discharged, yet, and so, "I really envy those who are going out to protest...they are right in many things," he said.
In a petition to the defense minister and the chief of general staff officers and soldiers of a brigade talked of a "crisis in confidence" in the senior military command.
The ministers understand they cannot avoid an investigation. Olmert told the Cabinet he was consulting the attorney general about "an inquiry." Defense Minister Amir Peretz appointed a highly respectable committee headed by former Chief of General Staff Amon Lipkin-Shahak, but Lipkin-Shahak had advised Peretz during the war and were unlikely to interrogate him.
Such forums are not as powerful as a judicial commission of inquiry but the government argues that the situation is too tense for a prolonged, though, investigation.
"We're got to prepare for the next round," Peretz told the Cabinet. Halutz argued the inquiry must not cause the army to be "castrated and stagnated," a participant in the meeting recalled.
Committees that would force officers to blame one another, or to defend themselves, would be time consuming and, "Time is not something we have to spare. We need quick lessons. In two and a half to three months we must complete the preliminary steps ...to correct whatever has to be corrected. Some things will require more time," Halutz said according to a participant in the Cabinet meeting.
Olmert made the same argument in a visit to Kiryat Shmona, the city that sustained most rocket attacks during the war. "I am not going to take part in this game of punching the IDF (Israel Defense Force's) jaw... We don't have another IDF. What shall we do now, line them up and slap them?... Put them in front of a daily commission of inquiry so that they won't be able to prepare for the next engagement?"
If the soldiers will persist, Olmert might have no choice but to accept a judicial inquiry.