EXPRESS CHECKOUT

Urging caution

Posted in Politics + Diplomacy by expresscheckout on 11 August, 2006

Keep this side of border

Leading Israeli commentator breaks ranks to urge caution
By Harvey Morris in Jerusalem
The Financial Times
August 10 2006

The senior commentator of Israel’s largest newspaper, writing from the war front on Thursday, advised the government to secure the best diplomatic deal available and get out of Lebanon.

“We are getting lost in pursuit of a victory that is not there,” wrote Nahum Barnea of the mass-circulation Yedioth Ahronoth.

The comments by Barnea, whose role as the newspaper’s veteran chief political columnist has made him a household name in Israel, represented a minority view in a mainstream press that broadly welcomed the government’s decision on Wednesday to escalate the conflict against Hizbollah.

However, he reflected public unease that a wider war might involve heavy casualties without fulfilling its stated aims. “There is no sense in investing in a lost cause,” he wrote. “Adding more ground forces to those already stuck in Lebanon will not bring about the hoped-for turnabout in the Lebanese gamble.”

He believed that, with US support, Israel still had a chance to extricate itself from the war with significant achievements. “Take what they are offering you, Ehud Olmert,” he advised the Israeli prime minister. “Take it and run.”

Barnea, among a handful of Israeli journalists who are politically influential because of their close relationship with the military-political establishment, has generally been hawkish on Israel’s conflict with the Palestinians. In a war that so far even the peace camp has supported, he has been among those urging caution.

However, there were indications yesterday, the day after 15 soldiers were killed in fighting with Hizbollah, that opposition to an expanded war was growing.

While Mr Olmert withholds the order to launch the planned advance to Lebanon’s Litani river to allow for further diplomatic efforts, leftwingers have begun to voice objections to a larger offensive.

Zahava Gal-On, spokeswoman of the leftwing Meretz party in the Knesset, said on Wednesday, the day the security cabinet voted to escalate the war: “It is forbidden to enter Lebanon by ground because the move will cost a bloody price and Katyusha rockets will continue to fall on Israel.”

Shimon Peres of Mr Olmert’s Kadima party and Ophir Pines-Paz, Labour culture minister, who both abstained in Wednesday’s vote, argued that all diplomatic channels must be exhausted before a wider offensive was launched.

Peace Now, a leftwing lobby group that previously supported the war against Hizbollah because it said Israel had no choice, meanwhile announced it would take part in an anti-war protest in Tel Aviv scheduled to take place last night.

Concerns focused on the likelihood that an enlarged military campaign to safeguard the lives of 1m Israelis threatened by Hizbollah rocket fire would be at the expense of soldiers in the field. In a country where reserve duty lasts until the age of 40, thousands have left civilian jobs to answer the call-up.

Avi Dichter, a security cabinet member, acknowledged yesterday: “It will release Israeli civilians from being targets for terrorists. But of course it raises, significantly so, the danger to IDF [Israel Defence Forces] soldiers in Lebanon.”

 

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