Israeli general resigns over abducted soldiers

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The Independent Online

A second Israeli general has resigned as a consequence of this summer's Lebanon war. Brig-Gen Gal Hirsch, commander of a reserve division, quit under protest after he was severely criticised for failing to prevent the abduction of two of his men, Eldad Regev and Ehud Goldwasser, by Hizbollah on 12 July.

An inquiry, chaired by Doron Almog, a retired major-general, also criticised General Hirsch's leadership during the 34-day war, which Israel launched in response to the abductions. It called for his dismissal, but General Hirsch got his resignation in first.

General Almog reported that General Hirsch did not ensure that his orders were carried out and that there was a gap between planning and implementation. The reservists had not been drilled on how to handle an abduction, although that was standard practice on the Lebanese front, and an intelligence warning had not been passed up the chain of command. General Almog argued that troops should have been placed on alert after Hamas abducted a soldier on the Gaza border on 25 June.

Lt-Gen Dan Halutz, the chief of staff, last month recommended moving General Hirsch to another senior post, but the appointment was frozen after it was challenged by Amir Peretz, the Defence Minister, who wanted him to be dismissed.

Major-General Udi Adam, General Hirsch's superior, resigned earlier as chief of northern command after being shunted aside during the war. The Almog report will add fuel to demands for more senior heads to roll. It also criticised the general staff's inadequate preparation for a possible war and its indecisiveness during the campaign. General Halutz rejected some of the findings during a five-hour meeting with General Almog yesterday and urged General Hirsch to reconsider.

In his letter, General Hirsch hinted that the chief of staff should stand down. "It would be right," he wrote, "to conclude that concrete responsibility for the errors, the false steps and the failures fall not only on the forward units and their commanders. There is responsibility that truly should be taken by senior echelons."

Israelis, disappointed by the failure to bring the abducted soldiers home and to disarm Hizbollah, have lost faith in the political and the military leadership. A Tel-Aviv University poll last week found only 6 per cent trusting Ehud Olmert, the Prime Minister, with their security and 2 per cent trusting Mr Peretz. Israel is monitoring the Lebanese coalition crisis after five Shia ministers resigned. Ephraim Inbar, director of Bar-Ilan University's Begin-Sadat Centre for Strategic Studies, predicted yesterday that an increase in the power of Hizbollah and its allies would bring a second round of warfare nearer.

"The ability of Hizbollah to destabilise the pro-Western government will not cause any immediate security danger to Israel," he said, "but it will allow greater freedom of action to Israel. One of the reasons Israel was restrained in the summer was the American argument that we should not weaken the pro-Western government. If that government disintegrates, we shall have a situation like we have with Hamas in Gaza."

Mark Regev, the Foreign Ministry spokesman, said that Israel wanted a government in Lebanon that would abide by its obligations under Resolution 1701 of the UN Security Council, which ended the war.