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Israeli Politics after the War in Lebanon

In Israel, public anger is growing over the conduct of the war in Lebanon, and many army reservists are calling for Prime Minister Ehud Olmert’s resignation. Results of an Israeli opinion poll published Friday in the Yediot Ahronot daily newspaper show that 63 % of those questioned say Mr. Olmert should step down.

Nathan Guttman, Washington correspondent for the Jerusalem Post, says Israelis are frustrated that the “mighty Israeli army” could not deal a stronger blow to Hezbollah, the radical Shi’a militia. Speaking with host Judith Latham of VOA News Now’s International Press Club, Mr. Guttman says reservists returning from Lebanon describe the situation on the ground as a “total mess” and are criticizing their leaders’ lack of planning.

Although there were significant achievements, such as the degrading of Hezbollah’s military capability and the prospect of an international force taking over in southern Lebanon, they fall short of the initial goals the Israeli government set forth. So, Mr. Guttman says, the long-term political impact of the war will likely be to weaken Prime Minister Olmert’s Kadima Party and its platform of “unilateralism.” Mr. Guttman adds that the Labor Party and its leader, Defense Minister Amir Peretz – also part of Israel’s governing coalition – are in political trouble, which may ultimately serve to strengthen the right wing of the Likud Party.

Akiva Eldar of Ha’aretz newspaper in Tel Aviv says many Israelis feel their government was “incompetent” and are disappointed in Prime Minister Olmert, who blames not himself but problems in “logistics” and in the “chain of command.” Mr. Eldar says he expects an official inquiry into the conduct of the war, perhaps resembling the one following the 1973 Yom Kippur War, which signaled the end of a long period of Labor governments. He says that someone will have to pay for these mistakes, whether it’s the Prime Minister, the Defense Minister, or the Israeli chief of staff – or all three.

Lebanese-born journalist and UPI international editor Claude Salhani calls the political fallout of the war – both in Israel and in Lebanon – “paradoxical.” He says Mr. Olmert’s coalition government is “wobbly.” But Lebanese Prime Minister Fuad Siniora, who was thought to be a weak leader before the war, comes out looking like a “pretty tough negotiator.” Mr. Salhani agrees with Israeli journalist Akiva Eldar, who calls the Kadima Party “history” and who predicts there will be new political players. Mr. Eldar also suggests that the Israeli policy of unilaterally withdrawing from occupied territory may give way to “bilateralism.”

To listen to all of the comments, click on the audio link above.