- The Washington Times - Wednesday, August 2, 2006

TEL AVIV — Prime Minister Ehud Olmert is facing the first serious domestic criticism of the war effort amid concern that Israel will be forced to accept a cease-fire before winning a decisive victory over Hezbollah guerrillas.

The major ground offensive mounted this week comes only after three weeks of bombing failed to dislodge the Iranian-backed militia from its positions in and among the villages of southern Lebanon.

And with Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice talking about a cease-fire by the end of the week, military analysts fear that Israel is running out of time to finish off Hezbollah.

Mr. Olmert promised at the outset of the war to defang the organization, and Israelis are concerned that a premature cease-fire will leave Hezbollah emboldened and able to claim a moral victory.

Public support for the war effort remains overwhelming, but the frustration with how it’s being waged is coming into the open among analysts who think Israel should have moved into Lebanon sooner and more forcefully.

“Is this the way to restore the [Israel Defense Force]’s deterrent power? Hasn’t the exact opposite occurred?” asked Ha’aretz columnist Ze’ev Sternhall yesterday under a headline reading: “The most failed war.”

He also asked: “Hasn’t it become clear in the eyes of the world that our ‘anything possible’ air force not only didn’t stop the rockets within three weeks but needed to order up an air shipment of weapons?”

A record number of Hezbollah-fired Katyusha rockets rained on Israel yesterday, less than a day after Mr. Olmert boasted that the offensive in Lebanon had permanently changed the Middle East.

The claim was mocked as spin by news anchors on Israel Army Radio, who compared the statement to Prime Minister Golda Meir’s declaration amid the 1973 Arab-Israeli war that Israel had not been surprised by Egypt.

“The government has oversold the goals of the operation,” said Yaron Ezrahi, a political science professor at Hebrew University.

“The public measures the army’s performance and the government’s success in the numbers of Katyushas. And it is difficult for Olmert to portray this as a success when on the next day the highest number of rockets land in Israel.”

Mr. Olmert drew further criticism when, in an interview with foreign news networks on Tuesday, he predicted the war would give momentum to his plan for a unilateral pullback in the West Bank — the signature issue in his campaign for prime minister.

The remark outraged conservative politicians and Jewish settlers, who this week marked the first anniversary of Israel’s withdrawal from the Gaza Strip.

“The backing Olmert received [for the war] went to his head,” said Zvi Hendel, a member of the Israeli legislature, the Knesset.

“How many missiles and rockets need to fall on the north and south in order for Olmert to understand that state security cannot be achieved through bragging and splitting the nation?”

Mr. Olmert also has been criticized from the left for changing his stated goals midwar.

Parliament member Yossi Beilin, a leader of the Meretz party, said Mr. Olmert moved from demanding implementation of U.N. Security Council Resolution 1559 — which calls for disarming Hezbollah guerrillas and replacing them with the Lebanese army — to demanding the deployment of an international peacekeeping force.

“Why make the deployment of a multinational force necessary for Israel to withdraw? People for years who have criticized multinational peacekeepers now see it as the redemption,” he said.

“It’s strange to see a government which at the beginning of the war spoke about goal A and is now talking about goal B as a condition to ending the war.”

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