Soldiers unhappy with war handling

"We fought for nothing... government abandoned troops it sent on a mission."

soldiers sleep 298 ap (photo credit: AP)
soldiers sleep 298 ap
(photo credit: AP)
Soldiers returning from the war in Lebanon say the army was poorly prepared, slow to rescue injured comrades and suffered from a lack of supplies so dire that soldiers had to drink water from the canteens of dead enemies. "We fought for nothing. We cleared houses that will be reoccupied (by Lebanese Hizbullah guerrillas) in no time," said Ilia Marshak, a 22-year-old infantryman who spent a week inside Lebanon. Marshak said members of his unit were hindered by a lack of information, poor training and untested equipment. The war was widely seen as a just response to a July 12 cross-border attack during which Hizbullah gunmen killed three soldiers and captured two. But Israel's wartime solidarity quickly crumbled after Israel agreed to pull its army out of south Lebanon without crushing Hizbullah or rescuing the captured soldiers. A total of 118 soldiers were killed in the fighting, and the army was frequently caught off guard by a well-trained force backed by Iran and Syria that used sophisticated weapons and tactics. Soldiers, for instance, complained that Hizbullah fighters disguised themselves in IDF uniforms. Military experts and commentators have criticized the army for relying too heavily on air power and delaying ground action too long. They say the army underestimated Hizbullah's abilities, and that Prime Minister Ehud Olmert set an unrealistic goal by pledging to destroy the guerrilla group. Some of the harshest criticism has come from reservists, who form the backbone of the army. Newspapers quoted disgruntled reservists as saying they had no provisions, were sent into battle with outdated or faulty equipment and insufficient supplies, and received little or no training. "I personally haven't thrown a grenade in 15 years, and I thought I'd get a chance to do so before going north," a reservist in an elite infantry brigade told the Maariv daily. Yediot Ahronot, quoted one soldier as saying thirsty troops threw chlorine tablets into filthy water in sheep and cow troughs. Another said his unit took canteens off the bodies of dead guerrillas. "When you're thirsty and have to keep fighting, you don't think a lot, and there is no time to feel disgusted," the unidentified soldier said. The newspaper said helicopters were hindered from delivering food supplies or carrying out rescue operations because commanders feared the aircraft would be shot down. In some cases, soldiers bled to death because they were not rescued in time, the newspaper said. Comrades of the two soldiers captured by Hizbullah sent a petition to the prime minister on Thursday accusing the government of abandoning their comrades. "We went to reserve duty with the certainty that all of Israel's citizens, and the Israeli government, believe in the same value that every combatant learns from his first day in basic training - you don't leave friends behind," the soldiers wrote. "This is a moral low point. The government has abandoned two IDF combatants that it sent on a mission." The petition was still being circulated Friday and it was unclear how many soldiers had signed. While such sentiments weren't shared by all soldiers, even some senior commanders acknowledged the army came up short in Lebanon. When combat soldier Gil Ovadia returned home, his commander made no mention of victory in an address to their battalion. Instead, the commander informed them the war was over, said they did a good job, and told them to be prepared to come back soon and fight again. "We'll be back in Lebanon in a few months, maybe years," Ovadia said.