In a protest reminiscent of demonstrations that ultimately brought down Israeli leaders after political and military blunders in the 1973 Middle East war, some 100 people, many of them reservists, vented their anger in Jerusalem.

The demonstrators set up a protest tent in a park on the edge of the government office compound in the city. Some called on Ehud Olmert, the Israeli prime minister, and Amir Peretz, the defence minister, to resign.

Zvi Marek, a reserve infantry soldier at the demonstration, said: "The government didn't take seriously the lives of our troops."

Indecisiveness

In a separate protest, reservists from the Spearhead Paratroop Brigade complained in an open letter in the Haaretz newspaper that the 34-day war was marked by indecisiveness at the top.

Hundreds of soldiers signed the document, published a week after a ceasefire went into effect. The manifesto demanded a broad state inquiry into the actions of government leaders and senior military.

Olmert, surveying damage in Kiryat Shmona, a border town hit by more than 900 rockets, faced similar calls from local officials for a state inquiry, which would have powers to question the prime minister.

Olmert said: "I won't be part of this game of self-flagellation. I won't be part of this game of slandering the army as some would like to do."
 
But he repeated a promise to launch an investigation into the conduct of the war and said Israel's attorney-general would soon present recommendations on the inquiry's format and powers.

National consensus
 
In their letter, the reservists did not challenge the decision to go to war after Hezbollah seized two Israeli soldiers in a cross-border raid on July 12, reflecting a national consensus that the campaign was justified.

"I won't be part of this game of self-flagellation."

Ehud Olmert, Israeli prime minister

But they raised questions about how the government and senior officers pursued a campaign in which the Israeli military failed to deliver a knockout blow to the Lebanese group or prevent it from firing nearly 4,000 missiles into Israel.

Israeli decision-makers, the letter said, had got "cold feet" during the fighting, which the reservists alleged led to the cancellation of all the brigade's missions.

They said: "This led to prolonged stays in hostile territory without an operational purpose and out of unprofessional considerations, without seeking to engage in combat with the enemy."

Arrogance

One security official, who asked not to be identified because he was not authorised to speak to the media, told Reuters that military intelligence on Hezbollah's strength and positions in southern Lebanon had been inadequate.

The official said troops were often sent into villages with little idea of the type of opposition they would face.
  
An Israeli general said that the military had been "guilty of the sin of arrogance" in its approach to the war. Yossi Heiman's comments appeared to justify growing public criticism of how the campaign was waged.