(photo credit: Channel 1)
The Second Lebanon War will be remembered as the war that returned Israel to sobriety, acting President Dalia Itzik told mourners on Mt. Herzl on Monday evening.
"A year has passed and the loss has been so difficult. The summer of 2006 will be remembered as a sad one. The citizens of Israel were in a state of helplessness and went through painful experiences. The Second Lebanon War will be remembered as a phase of sobriety for the state of Israel during which we shared a burden too heavy to carry," said Itzik at the opening of the first state ceremony for the country's most recent war.
Tears, sorrow at Lebanon war memorial ceremony
Itzik acknowledged that "mistakes and failures" plagued the war. She also appealed to the leaders of Hizbullah to give a first sign of life from two soldiers it captured at the outset of the war.
Defense Minister Ehud Barak noted the unity felt between the war's military and civilian casualties. "The Second Lebanon War is the first war since the War of Independence during which the entire nation turned into an army and the home front turned into a battlefront. The katyusha rockets did not differentiate between soldier and citizen, Jew and Arab, infantry soldier and train worker, or tank operator and [civilian] driver," said Barak.
"We must strengthen the IDF's deterrence because there is no other way," said Barak. "The sword is in our hands and our eyes are openâ€¦ and [they] see a horizon of peace. This is a test and a mission for our times."
Barak, who gave his first major address since taking office June 19, implied criticism of the war, noting that families of fallen soldiers always ask questions after a conflict: "Was it necessary? Was there any other way? Did politicians do everything, everything, to prevent the casualties? Was the army ready?"
He said the "inquisitive" Israeli society "demands answers to these questions."
Barak paid tribute to the 160 Israelis killed in the fighting. Between 1,035 and 1,191 civilians and combatants were killed in Lebanon during the war.
Prime Minister Ehud Olmert was absent from the ceremony which marked a year since its beginning. The Prime Minister's Office said Olmert decided not to attend to spare those in attendance the rigorous security checks that the prime minister's presence would entail.
Many relatives of the fallen soldiers rejected that explanation.
"I didn't expect the prime minister to show up," said Eliphaz Byeloa, whose son Nadav was killed in a battle in south Lebanon. "I didn't expect him to accept our invitation and request, because I think ... he's a coward. He does not have the courage to look the bereaved families in the eye."
In addition to security concerns, Olmert social affairs adviser Vered Swed explained the premier's absence by citing a policy that the prime minister attends only the ceremony for fallen soldiers of all wars on Israel's annual Memorial Day.
"He can't go to a ceremony for one war and not another, insulting the other families. That's why a unified ceremony was set for that day," she told Army Radio.
Amir Peretz attended the service although sources in his office said the former defense minister wasn't invited. Then chief of general staff Lt. -Gen. (res.) Dan Halutz attended the Jerusalem ceremony, making Olmert all the more conspicuous by his absence.
Earlier Monday, family and friends of the reservists killed by a Katyusha rocket at Kibbutz Kfar Giladi gathered at the site of the rocket hit to honor their memory.
Mourners also gathered at the site where reservists Ehud Goldwasser and Eldad Regev were abducted by Hizbullah operatives in a cross-border raid, the event that sparked the 34-day conflict, and at the site in Haifa where rail workers were killed in another Katyusha rocket attack.