Israelis Skeptical that Lebanon Peace will Hold
STEVE INSKEEP, Host:
And let's go next to NPR's Eric Westervelt in Jerusalem.
And Eric, we just heard about European doubts about peacekeepers - willing to send the navy but maybe not troops. How do Israelis see this?
ERIC WESTERVELT: Well, Steve, there are big doubts here too. Israeli officials said at the outset of this cease-fire, they wanted a robust U.N. force quickly deployed. Ten days into this, that's clearly not happening - as we heard from Emily. There's fear that the longer it takes to get this force into place, the more time Hezbollah has to rearm and regroup.
Senior Israeli officials met yesterday with a top U.N. envoy. Israel said it will not lift the air and sea blockade of Lebanon until this U.N. force is in place at key border crossings with Syria and at the airport. And who knows when that will be.
INSKEEP: Do they Israelis still expect that international peacekeepers, or the Lebanese army for that matter, are going to disarm Hezbollah?
WESTERVELT: No. There's deep skepticism that the U.N. force will be able to disarm them. Many Israelis are voicing frustration that Hezbollah remains a potent armed force.
At the outset of the war, Steve, people were told by their leaders - Hezbollah will be militarily destroyed. It wasn't. They were told U.N. troops would enforce this peace and try to halt the flow of any new weapons to the group and create a kind of Hezbollah-free zone in south Lebanon. That hasn't happened either. And so, even if a robust U.N. force is eventually put in place, it's really not clear they'll have the mandate or the military will to disarm Hezbollah.
INSKEEP: So what does all this mean for Israel's government?
WESTERVELT: Well, I think there's a growing political price to pay. There's complaints over how the war was managed. Politicians - including Benjamin Netanyahu, the leader of the opposition - are starting to speak out. He's been careful in his criticism, but he said there were, quote, many inadequacies, and he's called for a formal wide-ranging government inquiry into the alleged mismanagement of the conflict.
But it's been Israeli army reservists, Steve, who are really leading the charge, criticizing Prime Minister Olmert. A growing number of them, including family members, have been protesting near the prime minister's office. They've leveled some scathing criticism at Olmert, his defense minister, and top military officials.
They charge that equipment and supplies for the war were inadequate, and more importantly, the commanders, they say, let them down through indecisive, hesitant leadership.
INSKEEP: And then we have this news out of southern Lebanon that an Israeli soldier has been killed and three others injured when their vehicle drove over a landmine. That kind of news cannot help the political situation.
WESTERVELT: That's true. The Israeli military has no comment on that, so far, but Arab media is reporting at least one Israeli soldier was killed - underscoring the continued dangers to Israeli troops in south Lebanon.
INSKEEP: You said that Israelis are not optimistic that Hezbollah is going to be disarmed. Are Israelis optimistic that the cease-fire, at least, will hold?
WESTERVELT: Not really. Many here say unless this large U.N. force moves in quickly and actually cuts off the flow of rockets and weaponry to Hezbollah, that another round of fighting sometime in the near future may be inevitable.
INSKEEP: So is there a real threat then to the government of Prime Minister Olmert?
WESTERVELT: I don't know. It's early, Steve. It's hard to tell. But I think it's important to note that after the 1973 Mideast war, and after the 1982 Israeli invasion of Lebanon, it was criticism from army reserve soldiers that helped lead to several commissions of inquiry into wartime shortcomings, and to the resignation and dismissal of several top civilian and military leaders. So it's clear, Olmert isn't out of the woods, politically, from the fallout from this war.
INSKEEP: Do you see signs of people preparing themselves for another war against Hezbollah?
WESTERVELT: Well, I think psychologically they're preparing. Everyone you talk to on the street, or soldiers who've just come out of the fighting, say they think a new conflict may be inevitable unless the situation on the ground changes. But preparations beyond that, I don't see any.
INSKEEP: You know, one other thing, Eric, just very briefly, is anyone saying, you know, this might be a moment when we have to radically change our policy in the Middle East and deal with Hezbollah, deal with the Palestinians in a different way, for example?
WESTERVELT: There are some grumblings that perhaps this is time to send out peace feelers for a larger peace agreement with Lebanon. But those are initial, early, tests. And so far there's no groundswell supporting that.
INSKEEP: Eric, thanks very much.
WESTERVELT: You're welcome.
INSKEEP: That's NPR's Eric Westervelt, in Jerusalem.
It's MORNING EDITION, from NPR News.
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