TOPICS > Nation

Israeli Soldiers Angry over Losses in Hezbollah Fight

August 23, 2006 at 6:20 PM EST
LISTEN SEE PODCASTS

TRANSCRIPT

INIGO GILMORE, ITV News Special Correspondent: They’re
converging on Jerusalem
from across the country. Reserve soldiers, now out of uniform, are in a mood to
protest.

As they take to the roads bearing Israeli flags, they’re
encouraged by hoots of support from passing motorists. It’s a time of deep soul
searching in Israel, as
reserve soldiers and their supporters demand answers about the handling of the
war in Lebanon,
where it went wrong and who should be held responsible.

Reserve soldiers make up 70 percent of the Israeli army. Unlike
conscripted soldiers, they can speak out, and they’re not holding back.

ISRAELI RESERVIST: Reservists got bad treatment, got bad
equipment, bad decision-making. And that’s what brought me here; I’m here for
the people of Israel
to say and to shout that, the next time it will happen, it won’t happen again.

INIGO GILMORE: This soldier was on his way to the prime
minister’s office in Jerusalem,
now the focal point of the burgeoning protests. More than 50 reserve soldiers,
mostly married men with families and businesses, were killed in this short war.
Some have accused the government and military of sending their comrades to
unnecessary deaths.

Their grievances have become a big story, plenty of talk
about poor planning, poor preparation, and general chaos around the operation. Day
and night, they’re now protesting here, young and old, new recruits by the
dozen.

“Olmert, resign, Olmert, resign,” they chant. Brigade
Commander Colonel Amnon, commander of the 7th Tank Brigade, was in charge of
the eastern section of south Lebanon
with thousands of soldiers under his command. Speaking on the night the major
ground offensive was launched, he agreed to talk on condition the interview
would be broadcast only after the war was finished.

Problems with readiness

COL. AMNON, Israel Defense Forces (through translator): The problem for me started when I realized there was a problem with the readiness of the reserve regiment to carry out its missions when the orders were given. The regiment commander came to me and told me he's not ready, so I went to my superior officer, the division commander, telling him they're not ready. He told me, "I don't care. We're going in."

INIGO GILMORE: Twice, Amnon returned to the division commander to request that the order be changed, and twice he was rejected.

COL. AMNON: I felt a very heavy dilemma. It was clear to me that I must carry out my mission, but I didn't want others below me to know I was in this dilemma, so I gave very clear orders what I wanted to be done.

INIGO GILMORE: Chiefly concerned about the risks facing the ill-prepared reserve soldiers, Colonel Amnon pulled over his maps and decided to change the plans just hours before the soldiers were sent in.

COL. AMNON: I approved the plans myself. No one else will approve these plans.

INIGO GILMORE: In a decisive move, he shifted some reserve units away from the high-risk missions they'd been earmarked for, replacing them with regular forces.

It's now midnight, just two hours before the mission starts. Here the redeployed soldiers arrive to collect their uniforms and weapons before rushing to the front line. Amnon's intervention may have saved many lives.

COL. AMNON: Sending soldiers to the battlefield is a very complicated mission, knowing that they're going to be shot at. You can't send soldiers into battle knowing that they will be killed. There is no war without risk, of course, but you can make calculated risks.

INIGO GILMORE: His measured caution yet firm resolve has won him praise, in contrast to other senior commanders who've been accused of pursuing a head-long rush to war.

Amnon's testimony is highly controversial, given the implications for some senior army commanders. As pressure builds in Israel for a full investigation, his evidence could prove pivotal. The chief of staff has now told senior officers involved in the war that they're not allowed to speak to the media.

Here outside the prime minister's office, hundreds sign a petition calling for the resignation of the prime minister, defense minister, and armed forces chief of staff. These are no peaceniks; the war was supported by an overwhelming majority of the Israeli public. But they're deeply dismayed by its conduct and outcome.