Government blamed for 'military disaster'

By MAX KITAJ
August 22, 2006 22:01
3 minute read.

 
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Reservists and their supporters protesting outside Prime Minister Ehud Olmert's Jerusalem office for the second day on Tuesday said their primary objective was to see Olmert, Defense Minister Amir Peretz and Chief of General Staff Lt.-Gen. Dan Halutz resign because of "their incompetence in the Second Lebanon War." Complaints about military mismanagement and the government's failure to free the two kidnapped Armored Corps reservists, defeat Hizbullah, or "protect the citizens in the North" provided the impetus for dozens of angry demonstrators to spend the day in the Rose Garden under the hot sun. Banners reading "Olmert and Halutz go home, we need a new start for Israel" and "Olmert, Peretz, Halutz resign right now, because tomorrow it will be dangerous for the nation" glared at passers-by. Reuven Sharon, 32, a reservist, demanded that the whole government resign, accusing it of preventing a clear-cut victory in the war. "I left my wife and my 10-year-old son and risked my life to get the kidnapped soldiers back, to push back Hizbullah and to stop the rockets. None of that happened," Sharon said. "The thing that really touched me," reservist Yossi Magao said, "was the disappointment of the civilians. There were people who built this country who said there were no leaders worth talking to when they wanted to volunteer. As a reserve soldier, it hurt me. I didn't know how to react to it." David Tatarsky, a 60-year-old chemist, waved an Israeli flag. He said he had fought in the Six Day War as an 18-year-old, later in the Yom Kippur war and then in the first Lebanon War. He said he had never been to a protest before but had come to Jerusalem from his home in Haifa to demonstrate against a national leadership that was responsible for "the first military disaster" he had experienced. "If we succeed," Tatarsky said, "and throw them out, it will pave the way for politicians in the future to know that they must produce results, and if not, they will go - and they should go." Demonstrators also cited problems with supplies, training and coherence of orders as serious issues they hoped to bring to the public's attention. One reserve officer said "capricious and confusing orders" made it very hard for soldiers to "get anything done." "Go here. No, go there," he said, giving examples of orders he had received. "Try to kill Hizbullah. No, catch them alive. We didn't know what they wanted from us. For a soldier that's very difficult." The officer said there shortages of supplies, and cited three years of budget cuts as one of the causes. He said goggles, sleeping bags and even sometimes rifles were among the things the soldiers lacked. Yossi Magao told a similar story. "There was lots of old equipment," he said. "Equipment that already needs to disappear from the army's view." Magao said that he saw lots of old combat vests handed out and that one friend didn't even have a uniform for three days. There was a consensus that training had been inadequate in almost every respect. Magao said he had not been trained long enough, and that what he was taught did not prepare him to enter villages and to conduct house-to-house searches, a major component of the fighting in Lebanon. Several people said a major government failure was allowing Hizbullah to occupy southern Lebanon over the last six years. "You learn in the army that when the enemy sits by you, you must force him to go far way and not sit there like a brother," one officer said. Many complained about the fact that Hizbullah had not been crippled during the war, saying that for this reason the cease-fire wouldn't last. Dan Lando, 58, whose son fought in Lebanon, blasted Peretz for taking the post of defense minister despite lacking military experience. "I came here instinctively because this war was very badly conducted by people without qualifications," Lando said, demanding a complete overhaul of the political system. "In this war... politicians played with people's lives and sought personal gain while the Israeli public was prepared to contribute a lot and make sacrifices." "Israel should and could destroy Hizbullah," said reservist Lior Dinmez, who helped organize the protest. "When I crossed the border and I looked back upon the villages we left behind, I saw most of them were standing. We should have checked for women and children and then left nothing standing. You don't have to be an officer in intelligence to know there's going to be another war." AP contributed to this report.

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