Israeli Soldiers Express Frustration About the War
MELISSA BLOCK, host:
In Israel today, the country's defense minister, Amir Peretz, created a committee to investigate the handling of the month-long war with Hezbollah. With the cease-fire holding, some Israeli soldiers are coming out of the conflict area.
And as NPR's Eric Westervelt reports, many are disillusioned and voicing deep disappointment with the wartime leadership from politicians and army brass.
ERIC WESTERVELT reporting:
Avi(ph) is a 27-year-old reservist who didn't want his last name used because he's criticizing his superiors. He was just released from wartime duties today. With his uniform and other clothes stuffed into a backpack, he started back to Tel Aviv, hitchhiking outside of Avideen(ph). He's leaving his border post with a truce in place but with a sense of frustration that the mission to destroy Hezbollah as a fighting force and retrieve two abducted soldiers was not completed.
AVI (Reservist, Israeli Army): The reason for the war was the release of the hostages and defeat Hezbollah. And we didn't do this.
WESTERVELT: In civilian life, Avi works in real estate. As an army combat communications specialist, his unit went in and out of Lebanon many times during the weeks of fighting. He's heading back to civilian life a little bitter. We'll be back fighting in Lebanon, he predicts. Maybe a month, maybe a year from now. But we'll be back.
AVI: Disappointed. I'm disappointed from the politicians and the higher ranks of the army, because they take us to fight for our country and then we didn't finish the war.
WESTERVELT: The committee formed today by Defense Minister Amir Peretz consists of retired generals and business executives. The group will examine the Israel defense force's conduct during the war, as well as the preparedness in the active duty and reserve forces and other issues. Avi says he welcomes the move.
AVI: I'm not a judge and I'm not a jury. There will be an investigation and they will decide who is responsible for this fiasco.
WESTERVELT: The committee created by the army may not placate some here who are calling for a formal commission of inquiry. Yousef(ph) is a 23-year-old army reservist. He, too, withheld his last named because he wasn't authorized to speak with the media. He was released from duty today. He headed back to Tel Aviv where he works in a bike shop.
He says he's certain he has not seen the last of Hezbollah on the battlefield. He says the infantry wasn't sent in quickly enough and with enough force to destroy the guerrillas and military commanders, he says, relied too much on air power alone and did too little to late to defeat Hezbollah.
YOUSEF (Reservist, Israeli Army): (Through translator) We could have come out of this a lot better, this war. If you call it a war. Was just suicide for both sides. I call it a disgrace for the country.
WESTERVELT: Some commentators here have raised questions about the readiness and performance of Israel's highly praised reservists. Yousef says in fact military commanders didn't use these combat-tested soldiers quickly enough or effectively.
YOUSEF: (Through translator) First the soldiers between war just active duty that had no experience in fighting in Lebanon. They were just little kids. Active reservists, we had a little more experience in Lebanon. We should have been the one that was sent in.
WESTERVELT: Yousef says several soldiers in his unit were killed and wounded by wire-guided Hezbollah anti-tank rockets, weaponry, he says, Israeli Intelligence failed to detect or adequately prepare the armed forces to face. I feel like Olmert sent us to war, he says of Israel's prime minister, without really thinking it through.
Eric Westervelt, NPR News on the Israel/Lebanon border. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.