Israel begins its search for a scapegoat
By Ian MacKinnon and Stephen Farrell
Calls for inquiry growing as Prime Minister claims success
ISRAEL’S embattled Prime Minister came out fighting yesterday hours after the start of the ceasefire, proclaiming that he took sole responsibility for the action against Hezbollah.
Ehud Olmert faced down a rowdy special session of the Knesset to answer critics who attacked his handling of the four-week war against the Lebanese militia.
Mr Olmert rounded on his attackers, hailing the UN Security Council’s resolution a success that would change the face of the Middle East and end a “state within a state” in Lebanon.
But even as the guns fell silent the barrage of criticism faced by the Prime Minister failed to subside, with growing demands for an inquiry into the military and diplomatic conduct of the crisis.
In a combative speech Mr Olmert said Israeli forces had dealt Hezbollah a heavy blow that would drive its leadership underground, though it would be unable to rest easy.
“These people will not be left alone, we will continue pursuing them anywhere, all the time and we do not intend to apologise or ask anyone’s permission,” he added.
The Prime Minister said that he would personally oversee efforts to secure the release of the two Israeli soldiers whose kidnap led to the war, but urged his critics to be patient.
Binyamin Netanyahu, leader of the opposition Likud Party, responded by breaking the united front displayed throughout the fighting and accused the Government of committing grave errors. “It must be said honestly, there were many failures. Failures in identifying the threat, failures in preparing to meet the threat, failures in the management of the war, failures in the management of the home front,” he said.
Earlier police Tannoys sounded the all-clear and Israelis in the north emerged from bunkers, some after more than a month underground. Few were optimistic that the ceasefire would last, and there was much anger directed at Mr Olmert’s Government for failing to deliver on promises to eradicate Hezbollah’s missile threat, and for its conduct of the war.
“A ceasefire is necessary because the army has not managed to defeat Hezbollah militarily, but they failed because of the Government, not the army,” said Ishai Michael, 23, a computing student crowded into a shelter with fractious children, elderly women and Russian immigrants too poor to move south.
“I blame the Prime Minister and Defence Minister. Olmert doesn’t know how to organise an army — in the beginning he put all his hopes on the air force, then he called up the reserves too late.” Analysts believe that Mr Olmert and his Government face a rocky ride as the fighting subsides and reservist soldiers return home.
“I think politically he’s in trouble,” Professor Ephraim Inbar, director of the Begin- Sadat Centre for Strategic Studies, said. “The whole war was mismanaged, in setting political goals and military strategy. It’s clear it was no great victory. Hezbollah fired 4,000 rockets and were only stopped by a ceasefire.”
Shlomo Brom, a senior research associate at the Jaffee Centre for Strategic Studies, said that the public anger would not fade. “When people are not satisfied and frustrated they’ll look for a scapegoat. They may find it in the political leadership, or the military. Both created unrealistic expectations from day one and may pay the price.”
Israeli commentators were equally scathing, saying that the failures on the battlefield and in diplomacy had paved the way for future conflict. “The truth must be stated: the diplomatic move completely failed,” Ran Bratz wrote in Maariv. “Olmert’s giving up on a military victory turned the war in Lebanon, with its many victims, into an unnecessary and terrible failure.”