Israeli army chief admits to logistical errors in Lebanon

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The Independent Online

Lt-Gen Dan Halutz, Israel's chief of staff, admitted for the first time publicly yesterday that there were failings in his country's four-week war against Hizbollah, which ended inconclusively on 14 August.

"The fighting uncovered shortcomings in various areas; logistical, operational and command," he wrote in a letter to his soldiers. "We are committed to a thorough, honest, rapid and complete investigation of all the shortcomings and successes." General Halutz, who is fighting for his professional life as the government comes under increasing pressure to appoint an impartial commission to find out what went wrong, did not exonerate himself. "We have to draw professional lessons, as we are faced with more challenges," he said. "This test concerns us all, from me down to the last soldier."

He acknowledged that Israel paid a heavy price in civilian and military deaths, but contended that his troops inflicted significant damage on Hizbollah, killing hundreds of fighters and seizing territory south of the Litani river. He congratulated his soldiers on striking a heavy blow to Hizbollah's capacity to launch long-range rockets, as well as destroying hundreds of operational and logistical facilities and dozens of launchers and command posts.

At the same time Yuval Diskin, director of the Shin Bet internal security service, admitted that the government had abandoned the northern towns and villages that came under attack from thousands of Katyusha rockets. He said: "The government system collapsed there completely. This is the truth. It should not be whitewashed. It should be investigated in depth."

Calling it "a fiasco", Mr Diskin added: "There were many failures, and the public sees and understands this. Someone has to give explanations and take responsibility." Ehud Olmert, the Prime Minister, toured some of the worst-affected areas of western Galilee yesterday, including a hospital in the border town of Nahariya that suffered a direct hit.

Like General Halutz, he is under siege. On the one hand he is still trying to convince a sceptical public that the war changed the political map of Lebanon, weakening Hizbollah and strengthening the central government and its army. On the other, he is promising to invest billions in rehabilitating the north.

"Next week," Mr Olmert said in Nahariya, "we will convene a special cabinet meeting in the north and discuss northern Israel. I estimate that in the course of more than one budget year, sums that could reach 10bn shekels [£1.2bn] could be collected."

Mr Olmert noted that foreign Jews had donated more than $300m (£160m) for developing the north. "More funds from existing budgets will also be invested," he pledged. "All this will be approved, not in one year, but within two weeks."

Disenchanted Israelis will judge him by his deeds. Dozens of reserve soldiers demonstrated in Jerusalem last night, urging the Prime Minister, the chief of staff, and Amir Peretz, Defence Minister, to resign.

"They had the guts to send people to battle," said First Sgt Baruch Eitam, "they must now have the guts to resign."

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