Israeli general admits serious errors in Lebanon war

Posted in Israel / Palestine | 03-Jan-07 | Author: Steven Erlanger| Source: International Herald Tribune

Israeli army Chief of Staff Lt. Gen. Dan Halutz speaks at a briefing for Israeli military correspondents in Tel Aviv, Tuesday Jan. 2, 2007.

Not halting rockets early was a failure

JERUSALEM: The Israeli chief of staff, Lieutenant General Dan Halutz, conceded Tuesday that the military made serious errors during last summer's war against Hezbollah in Lebanon but said that he would not resign his post.

Halutz said that Israel had badly damaged Hezbollah in southern Lebanon and killed "hundreds of terrorists." But he said that Israel was "not successful in reducing the short-range rocket fire on Israel's north until the cease-fire," which came after 34 days of fighting.

Critics of Halutz and of the Israeli government of Prime Minister Ehud Olmert have said that the military relied too heavily on air power and delayed too long in deploying ground troops in sufficient numbers to push back the Hezbollah fighters who were firing Katyusha rockets into Israel.

Critics also said that the military should be led by a ground forces commander — Halutz spent his career in the Israeli Air Force — and that reserves were not called up in time, were badly trained and equipped and often faced contradictory orders.

"We attacked the Katyushas, but unsuccessfully," Halutz said.

Halutz spoke Tuesday at a Tel Aviv press conference and summed up the army's own investigation of its behavior during the war. He said that he would stay on "to correct what can be corrected" and that to resign now would be "running away." He said that Olmert and Defense Minister Amir Peretz had not asked him to go.

"I have not heard my superiors calling on me to resign," he said. "If they do, I will respond."

He suggested that discipline broke down to some degree.

"There were cases in which officers did not carry out their assignments, and cases in which officers objected on moral grounds to their orders," he said, an apparent reference to resistance against attacking towns and villages in southern Lebanon.

He said these instances of refusal "ran counter to the army's basic values." He said a senior officer was suspended as a result.

During the war, as criticism mounted, Halutz effectively demoted the commander of the northern front, Major General Udi Adam, putting the deputy chief of staff, Major General Moshe Kaplinski, alongside him. Adam later quit the army.

Previously, Halutz has said that the army fired some cluster munitions in artillery shells into southern Lebanon in contradiction to his orders that they only be aimed at specific targets. The United States is investigating whether the Israelis used cluster munitions made and paid for by the United States in ways that contravened U.S. regulations.

Halutz implicitly criticized Olmert for setting as a goal of the war the release of two Israeli soldiers captured by Hezbollah in a cross-border raid on July 12, which set off the fighting.

The Winograd committee, appointed by the government, is in the midst of its investigation of the conflict and its outcome. Halutz said if that committee called for his resignation, "of course" he would comply.

Peretz has made the same pledge.

The war ended in cease-fire on Aug. 14 after a UN Security Council resolution mandated an enlarged and strengthened international peacekeeping force in southern Lebanon and supervision of the Lebanese coast and of its border with Syria to prevent the rearming of Hezbollah.

The fighting left more than 1,000 people dead on both sides.

Israel says that more than 500 of the dead were Hezbollah fighters, but Hezbollah disputes that.

Some 159 Israelis died, including 39 civilians killed by the more than 4,000 rockets Hezbollah fired into Israel.

In Gaza on Tuesday, Palestinian security forces were searching for a Peruvian photographer for Agence France- Presse, Jaime Razuri, 50.

Several unmasked gunmen abducted Razuri in the center of Gaza City on Monday.

The Palestinian president, Mahmoud Abbas, told a delegation from the news agency that he was hopeful that Razuri "will soon be released. In past incidents of this kind, hostages have been freed after one or two days."

Separately, the warring Hamas and Fatah factions returned 14 fighters kidnapped Monday after mediation from representatives of Islamic Jihad, Palestinian officials said. The violence resumed on Monday when Hamas gunmen shot at a brother of a senior Fatah militant in the northern Gaza Strip, violating an earlier deal of general truce.