Experts mixed on threat to gov't posed by reservists' protest

"The protest engine does not seem to be high powered enough to bring down the government because of the diversity of the groups involved."

As a burgeoning protest by reservists disgruntled by the government's handling of the war in Lebanon entered its fifth day Thursday, political analysts offered differing views on whether the demonstrations will fizzle out in the coming weeks or continue to gather steam and lead to the eventual fall of the government. "At the end of the day, the government will not be able to last," said Shlomo Avineri, a professor of political science at Hebrew University. He said the growing anger at the government, coupled with its inability to carry out its central electoral promise - unilateral withdrawal from the West Bank - were the main reasons why the government would not be able to function over the long-term. Avineri said that with ministers likely to be called to defend themselves before a commission of inquiry, it would be preferable for Prime Minister Ehud Olmert to resign and call new elections. But other analysts doubted whether the mushrooming protest would lead to the fall of the government, in part due to the lack of an appealing political alternative, even though it could lead to other political shake-ups. "The protest engine does not seem to be high powered enough to bring down the government because of the diversity of the groups involved," said Hebrew University Prof. Yaron Ezrahi, another political scientist. He noted that some of the protesters would be satisfied with the formation of a state commission of inquiry, which Olmert has opposed, while others wanted to topple the government for a mixture of both political and non-political reasons. Ezrahi cautioned that developments in Lebanon in the near future - as a strengthened UNIFIL takes up position along the border - may change the perception of the war among Israelis for better or for worse, depending on whether Hizbullah is weakened and neutralized, or strengthened and emboldened. At the same time, Ezrahi said Defense Minister Amir Peretz's chances of maintaining power have significantly diminished, with a new leadership struggle bound to erupt in the Labor Party. He played down the expected entry of former chief of General Staff Moshe Ya'alon into political life and stated that Likud leader Binyamin Netanyahu offered "no alternative leadership." Other analysts suggested that despite the successes of the protest movement, while the government may be down, it was far from out. "I would not underestimate the survival abilities of Ehud Olmert," said Uri Dromi, director of outreach at the Israel Democracy Institute, a Jerusalem think tank. He noted that once the government begins pumping money into the rehabilitation of the North, which Olmert has said is the government's "central" goal, the energies and anger of the people will be sapped. "Whoever gets money from the government is not going to want to fight with the government," he said. At the same time, Dromi noted that the reservists' protest had already had its first success - forcing Olmert to consider launching a state commission of inquiry despite his initial opposition to such a move. "People instinctively want to see heads rolling, but what happens here will take time," he said, noting that the protests following the Yom Kippur War were much bigger than this week's demonstrations. Protest organizer Shmuel Shmueli said Thursday that protesters would not be satisfied with a commission of inquiry "without teeth," adding that what was needed was "personal responsibility." The most sweeping probe would be a state commission of inquiry, with powers to dismiss government and military officials. "If history is to be our guide, it took about a year for the whole process to play out after the 1973 Yom Kippur War," said Mark Heller of the Jaffe Center for Strategic Studies. He predicted that, in the end, the government will most likely fall within a year on budgetary issues even though the war's murky outcome was the trigger. About a dozen bereaved parents were due to take part in a protest rally to Jerusalem on Friday. They will join protesters in the city's Rose Garden, who have been demanding that Olmert, Peretz and Chief of General Staff Lt.-Gen. Dan Halutz step down, while additional protest tents were scheduled to go up next week in Tel Aviv and Haifa. The protesters were expecting to be reinforced Thursday night by a group of 60 paratroopers, including five company commanders, who had just been completed reserve duty in Lebanon. Meanwhile, the Movement for Quality Government in Israel, which has been waging a separate public campaign for the establishment of a state commission of inquiry, on Thursday asked the government and the state-run Israel Broadcasting Authority to investigate reports that its reporters have been instructed by top IBA officials to minimize press coverage of the anti-government protests.