The decision of US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and Prime Minister Ehud Olmert to impose a 48-hour cease-fire on the Israel Air Force ended a month-long period of national consensus in which no Jewish politician was openly critical of the government's steps during the operations in the North and South.
Politicians from Left, Right and Center slammed the cease-fire decision and warned it would strengthen Hizbullah at the expense of the beleaguered residents of the North. Even cabinet ministers criticized the move and accused Olmert of overstepping his bounds by making the decision without consulting the security cabinet.
"Condoleezza Rice succeeded in doing what no one else did before: stopping a completely justified operation that unified the people of Israel," Agriculture Minister Shalom Simhon said. "I don't think that the American secretary of state has a mandate to decide what house is more important - a house in Kafr Kana or Kiryat Shmona."
Simhon, who lives in the northern community of Even Menahem, said there was a Hizbullah outpost opposite his moshav and that Olmert should not end the operation until Hizbullah was dismantled.
Although the cease-fire was set for only 48 hours, Simhon said he was concerned that a demand for another 48 hours would follow and that Hizbullah leader Hassan Nasrallah would continue to hold his fire until the IDF was forced to end its operations.
"We have lived under this threat for 25 years and this time of national consensus was the right time to end the threat," Simhon said. "I hope international pressure will not stop the IDF from finishing its work. We look like a third world country with no power."
National Union-National Religious Party leader Benny Elon warned that if the operations end prematurely, "it would be a surrender with no accomplishments."
"The US doesn't need a loser as an ally," Elon said. "It needs an ally that can keep its promise and defeat terror. If Olmert doesn't keep up the fight, the entire accomplishment of unifying the people will be lost in a strategic failure, and Olmert will be remembered as an unprecedented loser who harmed Israel's strength in the world."
Elon's NU-NRP colleague Effi Eitam told Defense Minister Amir Peretz in a meeting on Monday that a large ground operation could allow the IDF to occupy southern Lebanon up to the Litani River within 72 hours and achieve a necessary victory.
Likud MK Yuval Steinitz said Israel was being held to a double-standard by the US. "Israel should not accept different rules from those of America in Afghanistan and Russia in Chechnya, which didn't limit their air operations against terrorists even after civilian deaths," Steinitz said.
But Meretz leader Yossi Beilin said the cease-fire was inevitable after 57 civilians were killed in Kafr Kana. He said the IAF had already succeeded in hitting the main targets in Lebanon and that not firing for 48 hours would do no harm.
"Even if all of Israel's arguments are correct, it was the IDF that unwittingly caused this damage and we cannot ignore it," Beilin said. "We had to do something. A 48-hour cease-fire is the right gesture to show that we are not blind to the suffering of others and we recognize the realities of the international community. The cease-fire could be the ladder needed for both sides to come down and reach an agreement."
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