"Broken wings": Israeli reservists criticize the management of the Lebanon offensive

"Next time we leave our wives and children and go to reserve duty, if something happens to us, it is not at all certain that the state of Israel will look out for our welfare,"

BEIRUT (18 August 2006) AFP - A FEW DAYS after a ceasefire agreement brought fighting with Hizbullah to an end, Israeli reservists are starting to speak out against their hierarchy's management of the war in Lebanon.

Chief of staff Lt.-Gen. Dan Halutz, heavily criticized for his management of the war, got a taste of the criticism when he came under a maelstrom of questions from a reserve unit.

"Our orders weren't clear. We're ordered to take over a village. Things don't go well, soldiers get killed so then we're told to pull back and try our luck in another village," said one officer from the elite Golani unit.

Several reservists, quoted in the media or speaking to reporters on their way back from Lebanon, also said they received contradictory orders.

"At no point could we be sure of where to halt our advance. And suddenly, the war stopped," complained one reservist serving in the air force.

One intelligence officer said the aerial photographs of south Lebanon used by the army command sometimes dated back to 2002 and were inaccurate in locating Hizbullah strongholds and arms caches.

"We didn't know where we were going when we entered villages," a reservist tank unit leader told Agence France Presse.

Reservists from tank units also alleged that they were not given sufficient training before the offensive was launched on July 12.

The massive land, air and sea assault ordered after a Hizbullah border attack in which eight Israeli soldiers were killed and two captured ended up involving 30,000 troops and was Israel's largest in a quarter century.

Halutz, Prime Minister Ehud Olmert and Defense Minister Amir Peretz are already bracing themselves to appear before a commission of inquiry run by the government with the assistance of experts and lawyers.

And the questions they will face are likely to be embarrassing.

The anger among reservists is beginning to organize itself as a movement which some commentators compare to the wave of discontent that followed Israel's near fiasco in the 1973 Yom Kippur war and could speed up the government's downfall.

"If the movement of disgruntled reservists snowballs, the government will be seriously threatened," political analyst Hanan Kristal told AFP.

The reserve unit of the two Israeli soldiers abducted by Hizbullah on July 12 published a petition venting their frustration at the higher military and political echelons.

"Next time we leave our wives and children and go to reserve duty, if something happens to us, it is not at all certain that the state of Israel will look out for our welfare," the petition said.

The petition described Israel's acceptance of U.N. Security Council Resolution 1701 which defined the ceasefire agreement as lacking in provisions that would guarantee the safe return home of their abducted comrades as a "moral low point."

Another petition put together by an elite reserve unit is an indicting list of mistakes by the country's top military planners.

An armored corps unit was decimated in a "pointless battle," paratroopers were left bleeding to death and Golani elite troops were "abandoned in broad daylight to Hizbullah snipers," said the petition entitled "Broken Wings."

According to military sources, the initial plan was to launch an expanded ground offensive after two weeks of air raids. It eventually got under way hours after the announcement that U.N.-brokered truce deal was reached.

Israeli newspapers are filled with battle accounts by reservists describing how they were sent to the front lines with 40-year-old combat vests, looted Lebanese grocery stores, or took canteens from dead Hezbollah fighters to quell their thirst.


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