Israel calls up largest group of reservists in two decades

Monday, April 1, 2002

JERUSALEM -- When Paul Manor was summoned over the weekend for Israeli reservist duty, he didn't bother waking his 7-year-old son and just rushed out the door -- willing to serve in Israel's largest mobilization in two decades.

Public support is strong for the call-up of 20,000 soldiers following a bloody string of Palestinian bombing attacks, but rare signs of unease were emerging as some worried the campaign's plans were dangerously fuzzy.

"I want to know exactly what is the scope, how far we're going, for how long," Israeli Foreign Minister Shimon Peres told Israel Army Radio. He abstained from a vote last week when the military plans were presented to the Cabinet.

The last time so many reserves were mobilized was in 1982 when Israel invaded Lebanon, a move that led to an 18-year military entanglement in Lebanon. The defense minister who masterminded that campaign is now the prime minister behind the latest one: Ariel Sharon.

His government was meeting to approve the next stage in the military offensive that began Friday with an invasion of the West Bank city of Ramallah and the encirclement of Arafat's offices.

Despite some concerns, many Israelis support the mobilization, which comes after a month of Palestinian attacks that have killed more than 100 Israelis, including 22 diners at a traditional Passover meal on Wednesday night.

After the weekend draft calls went out, thousands of reservists showed up at meeting points across the country, hugging their loved ones before piling into buses that whisked them away to army bases.

Manor got his orders at midnight Friday. Without saying goodbye to his sleeping son, the 41-year-old man who served in Lebanon packed his bags and kissed his wife and crying daughter.

"I'm missing his birthday today," Manor said from his base Sunday.

Manor said there was a high turnout of soldiers in his company and that motivation was high among the troops and at home. "My wife was very supportive," he said. "We all know what the situation is. She took it better than me."

A reservist identified by only his first name, Uri, was quoted by the Maariv daily newspaper as saying soldiers agree with the move.

"There is a feeling of unity, of defending the homeland. We are all participating in the fighting. No one is complaining," he was quoted as saying.

The call-up was expected to cost the Israeli economy more than $100 million a month, the Haaretz daily estimated. But the cost of the operation would be offset by a subsequent economic boost if it led to greater security, the paper quoted Treasury director-general Ohad Marani as saying.

But one barometer of the public's mood -- shares on the Tel Aviv Stock Exchange -- plunged 5 percent Sunday amid uncertainty about whether the offensive will be successful.

Amit Mashiach, a spokesman for reservists refusing to serve in the West Bank or Gaza Strip, said 20 reservists had contacted the group following the mobilization decision. Three members of the group were jailed Sunday for ignoring call-up notices, he said.

"We don't know what its goals are," he said. "It's another step by an irresponsible government."

Haaretz expressed a similar concern in a front-page commentary on Sunday.

"Sharon's actions frequently have been characterized by the fact that he always knows how to begin, yet does not know how to end," the article said.

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