Several hundred thousand Israelis displaced by a month of war against Hizbollah are happy to be returning home but many questions remain unresolved. Kiryat Shmona is at the border with Lebanon. Some 700 missiles drove out half the inhabitants. Those such as Ayla who stayed in the bomb shelters are strongly critical of the government. She says: “We were left here for a month; the kidnapped soldiers have not been returned; and the terrorists are still close to the border.”
The military offensive seriously undermined Israeli voters’ support for Prime Minister Ehud Olmert. One hundred and fifty-seven Israelis were killed, according to the army. Around 1,000 were wounded. And the economy has suffered. Coordination and strategy were weak, critics say, and the needs of ordinary Israelis ignored.
In the Knesset parliament, Olmert has admitted to failings in his actions, while arguing that they did bring about a victory over Hizbollah. Others are demanding an investigation into the government’s behaviour and several have called for Olmert to step down.
His former Likud party colleague Benjamin Netanyahu spoke for many of the critics. He said: “It must be said, honestly, that there were many failures: failures in identifying the threat, in preparing to meet the threat, in the management of the war, and failures in the management of the home front”.
Last March, Olmert’s plan to retreat from the West Bank won him the Israeli elections and the confidence of the Palestinians. But now his limited military experience appears to have been his undoing. The latest public opinion polls indicate that 60% of those who voted for Kadima and the Labour Party would not do so again.
The changing face of politics, from dovish to hawkish, has, however, reinvigorated the peace camp in Israel. Last Thursday the activists again flocked to the streets.