- The Washington Times - Friday, August 11, 2006

TEL AVIV — After a month of silence by Israel’s dovish left wing, growing criticism of war in Lebanon was highlighted by a plunge in support for Prime Minister Ehud Olmert in a poll published yesterday.

The survey sponsored by Ha’aretz newspaper showed that 48 percent of Israelis were satisfied with Mr. Olmert’s performance, compared with more than 75 percent shortly after the war erupted July 12.

Ha’aretz also published a front-page column under the headline: “Olmert must go.”

With no military background, Mr. Olmert has also been criticized from the right as underqualified to lead Israel at a time of war.

Members of the hard-line Likud party have said that they would work to topple the government.

Prominent Israeli doves demonstrated outside of the defense ministry yesterday to protest the Security Cabinet’s green light to widen the army’s ground offensive against Hezbollah and to advocate a cease-fire.

But with the left-leaning Labor Party in the government and its dovish leader Amir Peretz overseeing the war effort as defense minister, big anti-war protests remain unlikely.

“People like me wanted to protest, but others said, ‘[Israel] needs to fight back,’” said Mossi Raz, a former secretary-general of Peace Now.

“As long as the Labor Party is in the government, we won’t see big protests, but I don’t understand how the Labor can be at peace with itself.”

Few Israelis could argue against the nation’s right to respond militarily to the July 12 kidnapping of two soldiers in a Hezbollah cross-border attack.

However, as the fighting enters its fifth week, the Cabinet decision this week to push Hezbollah north of the Litani River has emboldened doves to begin openly questioning the army’s ability to rout the Islamist militia. They warn of spiraling casualties.

“It’s unthinkable even to the left that we would just sit and turn the other cheek,” said Yael Dayan, a former Labor Party parliament member, referring to her initial support for the war.

“But [the government] is talking about acts of war that won’t be successful, and won’t be totally destructive to the Hezbollah,” she said.

The criticism comes amid general dissatisfaction among Israelis about how the war in Lebanon is proceeding. The public is impatient for an outright military victory against Hezbollah and a silencing of Katyusha rocket attacks against cities and towns in northern Israel.

In a Tel Aviv University survey last week, about 79 percent of Israelis said they favor continuing the fighting.

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