Public Support for War Fell as Casualties Rose

Yuval Azoulay
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Yuval Azoulay

A direct rocket strike on a reservist staging ground at Kfar Giladi, which killed 12 soldiers on August 6, was the breaking point in public support for Prime Minister Ehud Olmert and Defense Minister Amir Peretz during the Second Lebanon War, a series of surveys conducted during the war found.

At the start of the war, the two enjoyed broad public support, though throughout the war, the public had more faith in Olmert's performance than in Peretz's. Public support levels changed every few days, impacted largely by battlefield events, but the Kfar Giladi incident was the breaking point: Successive surveys by the BI and Lucille Cohen Institute for Public Opinion Research found that Olmert and Peretz never recovered from this, and the public's evaluation of their performance dropped sharply from then until the end of the war, against a backdrop of massive shelling from Lebanon and heavy Israel Defense Forces losses.

The institute began conducting surveys about a week after the war began, when IDF soldiers were already operating in Maroun al-Ras and Bint Jbail in southern Lebanon. By the August 13 cease-fire, the institute had conducted 14 telephone surveys of 950 participants to measure the national mood. "The war began with a broad public consensus that we knew would break at some point, so we conducted almost daily surveys," said the institute's director, Professor Yossi Shavit.

Throughout the period from July 19 through August 13, the public gave the war solid support, even though it was never overwhelmingly optimistic about the war achieving its aims: Only about half the public believed it was possible to bring back the kidnapped soldiers, get the Lebanese army to deploy in south Lebanon and disarm Hezbollah. Shortly after the tough battles at Maroun al-Ras and Bint Jbail, however, public esteem for the government's decisions began to retreat, and after the ground push into Lebanon began, that esteem suffered a sharp, consistent drop that continued through the end of the war.

Throughout the war, the IDF and Home Front Command enjoyed more public confidence than the prime and defense ministers, with the army itself slightly better regarded than the Home Front. This support remained stable even in the week prior to the cease-fire.

"We tried to give the population under attack a voice in the survey, but did not succeed, because the majority were in shelters when the surveys took place," Shavit explained yesterday. "Had northerners participated in the survey, we might have seen much different results regarding confidence in the Home Front Command."

The Cohen Institute also found that during the fighting, about half the adult Jewish population supported direct talks with Hamas and about one-third supported negotiating directly with Hezbollah over the return of the soldiers. These figures were climbing until the Kfar Giladi incident, when they made a sharp about-face and began to drop.

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