Israeli officer quits in Lebanon inquiry

Arab League calls for Mideast peace talks

November 13, 2006|By Richard Boudreaux | Richard Boudreaux,LOS ANGELES TIMES

JERUSALEM -- An Israeli general who led troops along the Lebanese border resigned yesterday after an army inquiry faulted him for failing to prevent the capture of two soldiers that ignited 34 days of fighting with Hezbollah.

Brig. Gen. Gal Hirsch's angry resignation letter, the most recent in a series of recriminations here over the inconclusive end of the summer war, was expected to raise the pressure on Israel's military chief of staff to step down. He insisted that "senior echelons" should share blame.

"Placing field commanders at the focus of the inquiry is a grave error," he wrote. "This is not the way to treat a commander."

Israelis, who are used to clear-cut military victories, say that the campaign in Lebanon was poorly planned and executed, and that leaders should be held accountable. Israel failed to halt Hezbollah rocket fire into its northern cities, and the soldiers captured in a July 12 cross-border raid are still missing.

Since fighting ended Aug. 14, a group of reserve soldiers has been demanding the resignations of Prime Minister Ehud Olmert, Defense Minister Amir Peretz, and senior officers that include the chief of staff, Lt. Gen. Dan Halutz.

Olmert, who is to meet today with President Bush in Washington, has been emphasizing Israel's gains from the war. Visiting northern Israel last month, he noted that Hezbollah's positions had been pushed back from the border, declaring: "Hezbollah does not threaten Israel and will not threaten it in the future."

But political analysts say they believe a high-level military shake-up is coming.

"I have a feeling that the government and Halutz know this and are waiting for a decent interval in order to deny Hezbollah another opportunity to declare a victory over Israel," said Michael Oren, a senior fellow at the Shalem Center, an academic research institute in Jerusalem.

"For now, it is difficult for Olmert on the one hand to say we won the war and on the other hand to accept Dan Halutz's resignation for having lost the war," Oren said.

The army inquiry led by reservist Gen. Doron Almog said Hirsch's Galilee Brigades failed to prepare adequately for a Hezbollah attack aimed at seizing Israeli soldiers. The officer resigned hours before the release yesterday of Almog's report, which recommended that Hirsch be fired.

Hirsch, a 42-year-old ex-paratrooper, said he was quitting because the army had not defended him against public criticism.

He was considered a rising star and a candidate to become the next chief of staff. Fellow officers describe him as brilliant, charismatic and arrogant. They credit him with predicting the war, if not the exact provocation that would start it, and performing well after it started. Several generals lobbied against his dismissal.

Halutz, who contested some of the inquiry's findings, has not accepted Hirsch's resignation.

In Washington, Olmert and Bush are to discuss Israel's conflict with the Palestinians. On the eve of those talks, Arab League officials meeting in Egypt called yesterday for a peace conference embracing leaders of Israel, the Palestinian territories, Arab nations and permanent members of the United Nations Security Council.

Hamas, the Islamic movement that leads the Palestinian Authority, endorsed the statement, saying for the first time that it is willing to hold peace talks with Israel.

Richard Boudreaux writes for the Los Angeles Times.

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