Israelis furious over their leaders’ conduct of war

As the Mideast cease-fire took hold, there was no truce in Israeli politics: Demands mounted for the military chief’s resignation, and the government came under increasing criticism over how the war against Hezbollah was waged.

Newspapers and radio shows were filled with outrage over army chief Lt. Gen. Dan Halutz’s decision to sell off his stock portfolio just hours before launching Israel’s biggest military operation since its 1982 invasion of Lebanon.

Halutz declared himself a victim of malicious reporting, saying he has been turned “into a Shylock.”

Calls mounted Wednesday for setting up a commission of inquiry into how the war was run, amid growing dissatisfaction with Israel’s leaders and Monday’s cease-fire.

The 34-day war against Lebanese Hezbollah guerrillas, widely seen here as just, had united Israel’s fractured society. Hezbollah was considered a growing threat after it had vastly expanded its arsenal of missiles in recent years.

But the unity crumbled after Israel’s fabled army pulled out of south Lebanon without crushing Hezbollah or rescuing two soldiers whose July 12 capture by the guerillas during a raid in Israel triggered the fighting.

The war began just two months after Prime Minister Ehud Olmert and Defense Minister Amir Peretz, men with little military experience, took office. Surveys in two major Hebrew-language dailies on Wednesday showed low approval ratings for both.

A poll of 500 people by TNS-Teleseker showed support for Olmert sinking to 40 percent after soaring to 78 percent in the first two weeks of the offensive.

Peretz’ approval rating plunged to 28 percent from 61 percent, according to the poll, which has a margin of error of 4.4 percentage points. A second poll, by the Dahaf Research Institute, showed 57 percent calling for his resignation.

The Dahaf poll, which had a margin of error of 4.5 percentage points, showed 70 percent opposed to a cease-fire that did not include the return of the captured soldiers, and 69 percent backing an official inquiry into the war’s prosecution.

Under the truce, Israel is to withdraw from southern Lebanon, and 15,000 Lebanese army forces, backed by a similar number of U.N. peacekeepers, are to patrol the territory, which had been controlled by Hezbollah before the war. Critics of the truce question the ability of the new force to keep Hezbollah at bay.

Halutz’s wartime decisions did not score him many points with the public: Fifty-two percent of those polled by TNS and 47 percent of those surveyed by Dahaf said they were dissatisfied with his handling of the fighting.

Politicians and military commanders called for his resignation after a newspaper reported he sold his stock portfolio just before the fighting began. Halutz has acknowledged selling about $28,000 worth of stocks at noon July 12, three hours after Hezbollah launched the cross-border raid that touched off the war.

He has expressed no regret over the timing of the sale, saying he has finances to manage like any other Israeli.

“They’ve turned me into Shylock,” he told the Yediot Ahronot daily, referring to Shakespeare’s despised Jewish “Merchant of Venice.”.

Also under fire is Halutz’s decision to rely heavily on airstrikes in the first phase of the war. In another controversial decision, a massive ground offensive was ordered just as a cease-fire deal was within reach. More than 30 Israeli soldiers died after the U.N. Security Council had already approved the truce deal.

The government has said its final push deep into Lebanon was necessary to maximize gains against Hezbollah before the cease-fire.

One of the last casualties was Staff Sgt. Uri Grossman, the son of internationally acclaimed novelist David Grossman. The elder Grossman supported the war but two days before his son was killed he condemned the last-ditch campaign as dangerous and counterproductive.

“I won’t say anything now about the war in which you were killed,” Grossman said in his eulogy to his son. “We, your family, have already lost in this war.”

Copyright © 2006 The Associated Pr