Analyze This: Why reservists need more 'ammo' to bring down PM

These are no longer headline-generating events they once were.

IDf reservists 298 88 (photo credit: IDF)
IDf reservists 298 88
(photo credit: IDF)
When reservists who served in the Second Lebanon War first began demonstrating outside the Knesset during the last week of August, they were joined by Moti Ashkenazi, the legendary reserve officer who single-handedly began the protest after the Yom Kippur War that led to the resignations of defense minister Moshe Dayan and prime minister Golda Meir. "I can feel the earth moving under our feet," Ashkenazi said in an address to the several hundred reservists who gathered in the Wohl Rose Garden. "The public is much more aware of its power today than it was then." Maybe, but the ground apparently wasn't moving quite as strongly as Ashkenazi thought. True, Dan Halutz resigned as IDF chief of General Staff six months later and Amir Peretz lost the defense ministry (and Labor Party leadership) within a year's time. But the main target of the protests - Prime Minister Ehud Olmert - is holding on to office more than 18 months later, as the reservist-activists again gear up toward the release of the final Winograd Report this Wednesday. That the reservists (and parents of fallen soldiers) still command respect and exert influence is evidenced by the fact that last week their leadership was allowed to bull its way into a Labor faction meeting. And Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni agreed to confer with them on Sunday, over the objections of Olmert and some of her Kadima associates. But the willingness of Defense Minister Ehud Barak and other Labor MKs to challenge the reservists in their heated encounter - "In a democratic country, there is no room for reservists to tell leaders what is right and what is wrong," Barak told them in front of the TV cameras - demonstrates the limits of that respect and influence. The same goes for Livni's noncommittal response Sunday, as well as for the criticism from political and media circles supportive of Olmert being directed against some of the reservists on grounds that they are pursuing a purely partisan agenda with the support of the government's political opposition. In other words, 2008 is not 1974. The ground that Moti Ashkenazi stood upon 34 years ago has indeed shifted significantly, but in ways beyond what he understood. First off, when Ashkenazi began his sit-in four months after the Yom Kippur War, it was something new in Israeli society - not demonstrations per se, but a protest by reserve soldiers directed against the military and political establishment. Since then, though, similar demonstrations involving senior reservist commanders during the Lebanon War and first intifada (coming from the Left), and during the Oslo withdrawals and Gaza disengagement (coming from the Right), have blunted the impact such civic actions once had on the public. Since reservists today protest against all sorts of things - including their own service conditions, even during times of relative quiet - these are no longer the headline-generating events they once were. Another reason why reservist-protests have diminished impact today has to do with broader social and political changes in Israeli society. The percentage of Israelis who perform reserve duty has dropped significantly since the Yom Kippur War, and they no longer command the same respect they once did from certain segments of society. Indeed, an Olmert coalition now dependent for its political survival on haredi parties such as Shas, and perhaps United Torah Judaism, need not worry about the impact of reservist protests on political constituencies that don't even perform basic military service. Another basic difference from the post-Yom Kippur War protests is that those were truly seen as nonpartisan. One major reason was the timing - Ashkenazi began his sit-down soon after elections were held on December 31, 1973, so his call for the resignations of Dayan and Meir were not seen as necessarily leading to a new vote - and in fact, they didn't, as Meir was simply replaced by the ruling Labor faction with Yitzhak Rabin. Although the contemporary reservist protests are also not directly calling for early elections, many of their supporters are - as well as directly linking the failures of the Second Lebanon War to the current peace and security policies of the Olmert government, lending the demonstrations a more ideological coloring. Of course, if the final verdict and wording in the Winograd Report turns out harsher toward Olmert's personal decision-making role during the Second Lebanon War than is anticipated - especially as regards the final ground push in the conflict's last days when a high proportion of the Israeli casualties took place - then the reservists will be able to take their case to the public with renewed energy and conviction. During the war, one of their complaints was that they were sent into battle without the proper equipment to reach their combat targets. Now, to achieve their new goal of bringing down the prime minister, the reservists need the Winograd Committee to supply them with the ammunition to carry out a mission they can no longer perform on their own. [email protected]