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Israeli Political Turmoil After the War in Lebanon


The inconclusive end to the recent war in Lebanon has shaken Israeli confidence in Prime Minister Ehud Olmert. VOA's Peter Fedynsky reports the political result for Mr. Olmert also may be uncertain.

Three members of the Israeli Knesset were recently ejected from parliament for heckling during a speech by Prime Minister Ehud Olmert. A public opinion survey by the country's largest newspaper (Yediot Aharonot) indicates 63 percent of those polled want Mr. Olmert to resign.

Mira Slasky is the mother of a soldier who died in the conflict with Hezbollah. "The situation in the country is desperate and we would like to change all our leadership. We feel that they all failed, all of them have to go home from the prime minister to the chiefs of the army, everyone has to go home."

Prime Minister Olmert and Defense Minister Amir Peretz had little military experience before the war in Lebanon. They are being blamed for a number of failures during the conflict.

Uri Dromi is a political analyst with the Israel Democracy Institute in Jerusalem. He says people are frustrated. "Right now people are very frustrated and people feel, especially the reservists who came back from the front, they feel that they were misled. There was no consistency, lack of leadership, zigzagging, a lot of flaws in the preparation for the ground operation."

Many reserve soldiers are publicly expressing their complaints about the government. Paul Scham is an Israeli analyst with the Middle East Institute in Washington, D.C. He says reservists play a traditional role in Israeli politics.

"Unlike virtually every other country, most Israeli men are reserve soldiers, many of them reserve officers, some of them with fairly high ranks. So these are people who in their army duties are soldiers, but in real life are people who play a political role and are very willing to do so."

Scham notes that protests by soldiers helped bring down the government of Prime Minister Golda Meir after the 1973 Middle East war. But he says there is no consensus among Israelis for a replacement to Ehud Olmert.

Uri Dromi of the Israel Democracy Institute agrees. "I think people are frustrated, but there is no alternative right now, so we don't see early elections here in the cards. And I also see a prospect for Olmert to regain some of his credibility if he takes upon himself the awesome task of reconstructing the north."

Prime Minister Olmert has authorized a public inquiry into the conduct of the Lebanon war.

Paul Scham of the Middle East Institute says the investigation will help dispel much of the anger that has accumulated in Israel over the conflict. He adds that Israel's domestic political turmoil does not mean the country is falling apart.

"And so, the political bloodletting that's going on is a democratic symptom. It's not that people don't feel it. It's just that people see no reason to moderate their voices. So if there is a feeling that, therefore, Israel is losing its resolve, I think that would be very dangerous for everyone to conclude from seeing the current political climate."

The investigation Mr. Olmert has authorized is not enough for some critics. Many people advocate the creation of a state commission with the power to dismiss members of government.

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