While the Israeli-Lebanese ceasefire seemed to be holding on Tuesday, a storm was brewing in Israel over the handling of the war and preparations on the home front.
With a huge amount of air power at its disposal and the tacit backing of America, how did Israel fail to crush Hizballah, critics are asking.
President Bush noted that while Hizballah claimed victory, in reality it had suffered a tremendous blow.
“Hizballah, of course, has got a fantastic propaganda machine, and they’re claiming victories,” Bush said on Monday. “But how can you claim victory when at one time, you were a state within a state, safe within southern Lebanon, and now you’re going to be replaced by a Lebanese army and an international force?”
According to U.N. resolution 1701, which has so far ended the Israeli-Hizballah fighting, Lebanon will deploy thousands of troops in southern Lebanon with the help of an international force to displace Hizballah.
The resolution also calls for the disarming of militias and a halt to supplying weapons to anyone in Lebanon except for the Lebanese government and army and international monitors.
Hizballah leader Hassan Nasrallah said in a taped message on Monday that his group had won a “strategic, historic victory,” against Israel. He also said that he did not believe the timing was right to discuss disarming Hizballah.
“Who will defend Lebanon in case of a new Israeli offensive?” he asked. “The Lebanese army and international troops are incapable of protecting Lebanon.”
Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert stopped short of claiming victory in the war but said Israel had succeeded in changing the “strategic balance against Hizballah.” He said the enemy was no longer a “state within a state.”
But there were calls on Monday for a major inquiry to examine the war strategy.
Opposition leader Binyamin Netanyahu offered only muted criticism of Olmert’s war effort during a speech at the Knesset on Monday, indicating that the country is still under threat.
Netanyahu said there were “failures in identifying the threat, in managing the war, and in comforting the home front.” He also said that Israel must learn its lessons and correct its mistakes. “We were asleep and we received a wake-up call.”
Another rightwing Knesset Member, Effi Eitam, a former army general, said there would be plenty of time for criticism – later, not now.
Prof. Ephraim Inbar, from the BESA Center for Strategic Studies near Tel Aviv, said it is not bad that Israel “lost” this round of fighting.
“We have to prepare for the next round,” said Inbar. “This slap in the face was at the right time,” said Inbar in a telephone interview.
Better for it to happen when Israel is fighting the Hizballah, he said, rather than another enemy, such as Iran or Syria.
It is not clear when the next “round” will be fought, said Inbar, but hopefully it will not be until Israel has had time to absorb the lessons learned in the past month.
Inbar said he believes that Israel will have to hit Syria because it is the “strategic address” for stopping Hizballah.
Israel has accused both Syria and Iran of supplying weapons and money and training for Hizballah.
“Iran is farther away,” said Inbar. Without Syria, Iran cannot help Hizballah. “This is the center of gravity.”
Olmert not in jeopardy
“Olmert is not in jeopardy. His coalition is stable. It’s not about to fall apart any time soon,” said Gil Hoffman, political correspondent for The Jerusalem Post.
If there is no serious inquiry, and so far there is no public outcry for one, then Olmert is not in any trouble, said Hoffman in a telephone interview.
There also is an understanding that on a strategic level, Olmert inherited a lot of problems. Hizballah stockpiled its rockets during the tenure of former Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon; former Finance Minister Binyamin Netanyahu is being blamed for defense budget cuts; and 25 years of government negligence explains why shelters in the north were not prepared for an emergency, Hoffman said.
Hoffman also said army chief Dan Halutz bears the blame for what Hoffman called bad decision-making.
Olmert will be held accountable for the decisions he made — not sending ground troops deeper into Lebanon sooner; and sending them in at the last minute, he added.
Inbar said the security establishment and specifically Halutz probably will take the fall for the war blunders.
“The soldiers fought well,” said Inbar. There was not even one incident where the soldiers were thrown into battles and did not win. The problem was on the level of the generals, he said.
On Tuesday, the Hebrew daily Ma’ariv revealed that just hours after two Israeli soldiers were abducted and a number of others killed by Hizballah in a cross-border attack, Halutz sold his private portfolio of stocks.
The revelation was a major embarrassment. The Israeli stock market plummeted during the first three days of the war. The Israel Securities Authority reported that Halutz’s actions were not illegal but many are questioning the timing of the deal.
People are upset that he wasn’t paying closer attention to his duties, said Hoffman.
Reservists returning from the fighting in Lebanon are beginning to express their opinions, and many said in various media reports that someone should pay a price for the mistakes that were made.
Many have said that the war was a failure because they were not allowed to fight as they were trained to do.
Shuki, a convenience store owner in Jerusalem, expressed the sentiments of many Israelis.
“The results are not good,” said Shuki, who was not called into the reserves this time. “We didn’t succeed. We made tactical mistakes and didn’t achieve our goals. It didn’t solve anything for the long-term.”
But many mothers and wives were breathing a sigh of relief that the war is finished – at least for now. They said they hope the ceasefire will hold, even it they are doubtful that it will.
“I hope. I hope [it will last],” said one woman, “even if I’m not optimistic.”