More than 200 demonstrators joined reservists from the Alexandroni Brigade in Jerusalem's Rose Garden on Monday evening to protest what they said was indecisive leadership and poor management that had left troops in Lebanon discouraged and vulnerable.
"We survived 13 days in Lebanon, not because of the army, but rather despite the army," said Assaf Dovidov, 28, who along with fellow reservist Roni Tzvangenboim, 27, organized the protest march from the Kastel west of Jerusalem to the Rose Garden outside the prime minister's office.
The reservists set up a protest tent and said they planned to stay until Prime Minister Ehud Olmert, Defense Minister Amir Peretz and IDF Chief of General Staff Lt.-Gen. Halutz resigned.
"We have no political motives, no agenda; believe me, I don't like having journalists call me all the time," said Tzvangenboim. "We just want those responsible to be held accountable and we want to make the public aware of the mistakes so we will be ready for the next war."
Tzvangenboim said their criticism went far beyond the inadequate food and supplies.
"We could deal with going hungry, or relying on drinking water we found along the way, or using the old equipment... the problem was the leadership. We just wanted a clear mission and the opportunity to fight," he said.
"In the morning we walked from village A to village B, and then we would later return to village A because we forgot something or some other excuse. We lost all our momentum," said Tzvangenboim. "We captured buildings in the village and just stayed there, and then we lost the advantage of being on the offense."
"There is no time," he continued. "The Syrians are on the fences and the Iranians are waiting for us. Of course I will show up for the next emergency call-up, because I have no other country. But we want to be ready and we want to win."
Also Monday, a letter published in Ma'ariv and signed by hundreds of reservists protested "the mismanagement" of the vital reserve forces during the 34 days of fighting. The letter demanded a state commission of inquiry.
"For us, the indecisiveness showed a deep disrespect for our willingness to close ranks and fight, and made us feel as though we had been spit on," the reservists wrote in a letter addressed to Peretz and Halutz.
The open letter from reservists in the Hetz Paratroop Brigade expressed frustration with the "indecision" that, the soldiers said, characterized their delayed call-up and the seemingly ambiguous objectives once they were deployed.
"The heavy feeling that in the echelons above us there is nothing but a lack of preparation, insincerity, lack of foresight and an inability to make rational decisions, leads to the question - were we called up for nothing?" the soldiers wrote.
The letter also said that the absence of a clear mission for their brigade in the final days of the war needlessly endangered their lives.
"We put aside our jobs and livelihoods; we were prepared to carry out our mission under the most difficult of conditions, in heat, thirst or hunger," they wrote.
"At the back of his mind, each and every one of us knew that for the just cause of protecting the citizens of Israel, we would even put our lives on the line," the letter continued. "But there was one thing we were not and will not be willing to accept: We were unwilling to accept indecisiveness."
"The indecisiveness manifested itself in inaction, in not implementing operational plans and in canceling all the missions we were given during the fighting," the petition continued. "This led to prolonged stays in hostile territory, without an operational purpose and because of nonprofessional considerations, without seeking to engage in combat with the enemy."
"Our initial mission got pushed off by 24 hours, and then by another 24, and then they said it probably wouldn't happen until early the next week, so they let us go home for Shabbat," Sgt. Daniel, 27, who fought with the Hetz Brigade in the central sector, told The Jerusalem Post. "Then they called us back to base early Friday morning, where we found out the mission had been changed completely. Okay, fine."
"That Saturday night, we geared up and the company commander gave a beautiful speech and we got on the buses finally thinking that we were going in," said Daniel. "Guys called their mothers and girlfriends and the older guys called their children. We painted our faces and waited for the helicopters, and then we heard the mission had been canceled by the 'higher-ups' at the last second. It's a tremendous letdown for a combat soldier."
Daniel said that after the unit was deployed, it moved slowly, which the soldiers and field commanders attributed to hesitancy on the part of senior officers directing their movement from army headquarters. Daniel said the troops were unaware of diplomatic developments while they were in Lebanon and that most were relieved by the cease-fire.
"However, when we got back and learned that the soldiers were not released and that Hizbullah was not really going to be disarmed, we were very disappointed," said Daniel. "We would have preferred to stay in."
The most damning criticism may have come from Chief Infantry Officer Brig.-Gen. Yossi Hyman, who became the first senior officer to openly criticize the military when his frank comments at a changing-of-the-guard ceremony Sunday at the Kiryat Malachi base were made public.
"We were guilty of the sin of arrogance," Hyman said at the ceremony, where he was replaced by Brig.-Gen. Yossi Bachar. "Everyone talks about his mission, but not about what he did not do and where he went wrong."
Hyman praised the "heroic fighting by the soldiers and commanders, especially at the company and battalion level, [but] we all feel a certain sense of failure and missed opportunity."