Public Believes IDF Not Winning the War

Most Israelis do not buy Prime Minister Ehud Olmert's declaration that Israel is winning its war against Hezbollah, and most also oppose expanding the ground operation in Lebanon, as the cabinet decided in principle to do on Wednesday, a Haaretz poll has found.

The poll, conducted Wednesday and yesterday among 570 Israelis, also revealed a marked decline in support for the government, and particularly for Olmert and Defense Minister Amir Peretz.

Only 20 percent of respondents said that if the war ended today, it would be possible to declare Israel the winner. Some 30 percent said that Israel is losing, while 44 percent said that neither side is winning.

However, many people said that they had trouble answering this question, as they lacked relevant data.

Only 39 percent of the respondents backed the cabinet's decision to expand the ground operation. Another 26 percent favored continuing the fighting in its current form, but stepping up diplomatic efforts, while 28 percent advocated an immediate cease-fire and a diplomatic agreement.

While this is the first poll conducted by Haaretz since the fighting began, a comparison with polls by other organizations reveals a marked drop in support for the government. Olmert, for instance, enjoyed a 75 percent support rating early in the war, but the Haaretz poll found that only 48 percent currently approve his functioning, while 40 percent expressed dissatisfaction with it. Peretz, who enjoyed a 65 percent approval rating early in the war, won the approval of only 37 percent of respondents in the Haaretz poll, while 51 percent disapproved of his functioning. The figures for both men are now about the same as they were before the war began.

Most of the decline in both Olmert's and Peretz's ratings occurred just over the past week. One measure of the public dissatisfaction is that 53 percent of respondents said that the war would have gone better had the government been led by people with a "security background" - something that neither Olmert nor Peretz has.

One cabinet member, however, continues to enjoy widespread public approval - Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni. Some 61 percent of respondents said that they approved of her performance, while only 23 percent disapproved.

Likud chairman Benjamin Netanyahu, who has carefully refrained from criticizing the government's conduct of the war, has also seen his ratings rise: Some 58 percent of the respondents approved of his performance as "leader of the opposition," compared to 29 percent who disapproved.

Netanyahu is in fact more popular now than Israel Defense Forces Chief of Staff Dan Halutz. Only 47 percent of the respondents approved of Halutz's performance - an almost unprecedentedly low rating for an IDF chief of staff, especially in wartime.