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Cablegate: Criticism Over Israeli Government Handling Of

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Leza L Olson 08/25/2006 02:05:09 PM From DB/Inbox: Leza L Olson

Cable
Text:


C O N F I D E N T I A L TEL AVIV 03370

SIPDIS
CXTelA:
ACTION: POL
INFO: IPSC PD IMO RES ECON DCM DAO AMB AID ADM RSO
CONS

DISSEMINATION: POL
CHARGE: PROG

APPROVED: AMB:RJONES
DRAFTED: POL:MDPEARLSTEIN/RBL
CLEARED: DCM:GCRETZ, POL:NOLSEN, ECON:BMASILKO, DAO:PJDERMER

VZCZCTVI017
PP RUEHC RUEHXK RHEHNSC
DE RUEHTV #3370/01 2361255
ZNY CCCCC ZZH
P 241255Z AUG 06
FM AMEMBASSY TEL AVIV
TO RUEHC/SECSTATE WASHDC PRIORITY 5862
INFO RUEHXK/ARAB ISRAELI COLLECTIVE
RHEHNSC/NSC WASHDC

C O N F I D E N T I A L SECTION 01 OF 02 TEL AVIV 003370

SIPDIS

DEPARTMENT FOR NEA/IPA
NSC FOR WATERS AND LOGERFO

E.O. 12958: DECL: 8/23/2016
TAGS: PGOV PREL IS
SUBJECT: CRITICISM OVER ISRAELI GOVERNMENT HANDLING OF
LEBANON WAR ON THE RISE


Classified By: Ambassador Richard H. Jones; Reasons: 1.4 (B and D).

1. (C) Summary and comment: The cease-fire in Lebanon has
rapidly eroded the strong public and political support for
the Government's conduct of the war and has left both Prime
Minister Ehud Olmert and Defense Minister Amir Peretz open to
an increasingly loud chorus of criticism. Initial GOI
attempts to channel criticism through a friendly commission
of inquiry evoked strong protests and leave Olmert with the
option of ordering a formal government inquiry or risking an
independent investigation. The problems faced by Olmert and
Peretz are exacerbated by coalition infighting on the budget
and by political maneuvering within Kadima and Labor, while
the opposition Likud Party waits for the appropriate moment
to strike in an effort to increase its own support. Israelis
will continue to digest and assess the outcome of the war,
Olmert's first real test as prime minister, over the next
weeks and months. This process will likely determine the
political futures of Olmert and Peretz. End summary and
comment.

--------------------------------------------- ---
Strong Public Support Drops Following Cease-Fire
--------------------------------------------- ---

2. (SBU) Following the July 12 attack by Hizballah, Israeli
political leaders and the public rallied around Prime
Minister Ehud Olmert and his government as they authorized
extensive air and ground operations in Lebanon. Olmert's
approval ratings soared and even the often-acerbic Bibi
Netanyahu offered support.

3. (SBU) As pressure from the international community for a
cease-fire increased and hostilities came to an -- at least
temporary -- end, this situation changed. Embassy contacts
and the media are all skeptical that the war has removed the
threat or resulted in anything but a minor setback for
Hizballah. To many, this result is inadequate compensation
for the approximately 180 Israelis (including 110 soldiers
and more than 70 civilians) killed in the conflict, the
disruption of economic life from rocket attacks and the
call-up of the reserves, the high financial cost of
conducting the war, the destruction of homes and businesses
in parts of northern Israel, and the failure to obtain the
return of kidnapped IDF soldiers.

---------------------------------------------
Olmert Likely to Form a Commission of Inquiry
---------------------------------------------

4. (SBU) The emerging criticism is exacerbated by a public
debate over the government's planning and conduct of the war.
A small but vocal group of reserve soldiers have called for
the resignation of Olmert, Peretz, and IDF Chief of Staff LTG
Dan Halutz. They blame the political leadership for what
they say was a grave underestimation of Hizballah's
capabilities and for a failure to provide Israeli troops with
the necessary equipment and, in isolated incidents, even
sufficient food and water.

5. (SBU) Such charges played a role in leading Peretz to form
a commission led by his advisor, former IDF Chief of Staff
Amnon Lipkin-Shahak, to examine the conduct of the war. This
idea, however, drew fire from both the IDF -- which wants to
guarantee the confidentiality of any military witnesses --
and much of the public -- which objects to an investigation
led by a Peretz supporter -- and the commission has suspended
its activity. As he faces increasing pressure for a more
independent investigation, Olmert has two choices: a
governmental inquiry over which he would have substantial
influence, or an independent commission. While the latter
option would be more acceptable to the public, any potential
findings of mismanagement or lack of planning by the GOI
could potentially bring down senior members of the coalition.
In a conversation with congressional visitors from
Washington on August 20, Supreme Court Chief Justice Aharon
Barak said that he believed such a commission would be formed
and hinted that he expects to be chosen to lead it.

-------------------------------
Coalition and Party In-fighting
-------------------------------

6. (SBU) In addition to the public criticism, the government
has also suffered from coalition infighting, as well as
internal party disputes in both Kadima and Labor.
Transportation Minister and former Defense Minister Shaul
Mofaz abstained from the Cabinet vote on the cease-fire,
calling UNSCR 1701 "less than satisfactory." More
importantly, FM Tzipi Livni and Olmert disagreed on tactics
during the cease-fire negotiations, resulting in Olmert
calling off at the eleventh hour Livni's planned trip to the
UNSC on September 12. The disagreement was an apparent
first. Livni was widely viewed as a real asset to Kadima's
electoral campaign, and her decision to back Olmert after
Sharon's stroke precluded any leadership challenge at that
time.

7. (SBU) Peretz faces similar problems in Labor. His
performance during the Lebanon war has only strengthened
criticism that he is unqualified to manage what most Israelis
feel is the country's most important portfolio. Former naval
chief and Shin Bet Director Ami Ayalon and former IDF Deputy
Chief of Staff Matan Vilnai, both Labor MKs who see
themselves as future prime ministers, have attacked Peretz in
public. Former Prime Minister Ehud Barak has been more
subtle in his criticism, but is building upon his image as
the leader who extricated Israel from the last Lebanon war.
One or more of them is likely to challenge Peretz for the
Labor leadership in internal party elections scheduled for
May 2007.

8. (C) The two main parties in the coalition, Kadima and
Labor, have also publicly disagreed on how to finance the
war. With Treasury experts now leaking war cost estimates
exceeding NIS six billion (approximately 1.3 billion
dollars), the coalition has been unable to reach consensus on
where to find the funding. As a result, Kadima caucus chair
Avigdor Yizhaki publicly threatened to end the coalition,
telling reporters "the Labor Party is not a coalition partner
that can be trusted. Therefore, I am going to propose to the
Prime Minister that he immediately reshuffle (the Cabinet)
and enter into new coalition negotiations." Note: Gabi
Golan, advisor to the Prime Minister for Planning and
Development told EconCouns that while the next few months
will be rocky for the coalition, he does not expect the Labor
members on the Finance Committee to continue to disrupt
budget negotiations because, "they know that if the PM
reshuffles the Cabinet their position will not be any
stronger." End Note.

-----------------------
Likud Waiting to Pounce
-----------------------

9. (SBU) To further compound Olmert's difficulties, Likud
Chairman Bibi Netanyahu is waiting for the right opportunity
to pounce. Netanyahu was atypically restrained in his
comments during the fighting, merely referring in a Knesset
speech to "hitches" in the conduct of the war. On August 22,
however, he told the press that "with this many inadequacies,
there is no choice but to form a state commission of
inquiry." Likud is also attempting to lure former IDF Chief
of Staff Moshe "Boogie" Ya'alon into the party to bolster its
claims to the "strong on defense" title.

--------------------------------------------- ---------
Comment: Jury Still Out, but GOI Facing Difficult Time
--------------------------------------------- ---------

10. (C) Comment: The conflict with Hizballah was Olmert's
first real test as Prime Minister. Israelis will continue to
digest and assess the outcome of the war over the next weeks
and months. Their views of the war's achievements -- or lack
thereof -- will have a long-term impact on his government's
political standing. Local perceptions of the deployment
timing, mandate, and composition of the enhanced UNIFIL
force, as well as the effectiveness of the arms interdiction
regime and progress on securing the return of the two
abducted soldiers, will play a large role in shaping their
opinion. These factors will also determine what type of
inquiry on the war's conduct Olmert will feel compelled to
order. In the end, Olmert and Peretz are both likely to face
increasingly vocal opposition within their own parties.

********************************************* ********************
Visit Embassy Tel Aviv's Classified Website:
http://www.state.sgov.gov/p/nea/telaviv

You can also access this site through the State Department's
Classified SIPRNET website.
********************************************* ********************
JONES

© Scoop Media

 
 
 
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