Prime Minister Ehud Olmert toured Israel's northern border on Thursday to mark the one-year anniversary of the country's war against Hezbollah guerrillas, declaring the much-criticized military campaign a success that made Israel safer.
Olmert acknowledged the 34-day conflict exposed problems in Israel's military capabilities and said his government was fixing "weaknesses" resulting from the war. Still, flouting the widely held perception that the war was a failure, he said Israel is better off today than it was at the outset of fighting on July 12, 2006.
"We had in this war great achievements," Olmert said near a road that was hit by one of the nearly 4,000 rockets that Hezbollah fired into Israel last summer. "We also had not a few weaknesses and failures that we are trying to deal with ... to fix, to deploy, to renovate and to strengthen."
Olmert's tour included an army outpost on the border and a school that had been hit by a rocket.
The fighting erupted when Hezbollah militants attacked Israeli soldiers in a border patrol, killing three and capturing two others. In retaliation, Israel launched a military campaign in southern Lebanon that killed more than 1,000 Lebanese, most of them civilians and caused heavy damage. In the fighting, 158 Israelis, including 119 soldiers, were killed.
A year later, many Israelis believe the war was a failure since the army failed to meet its two main objectives: crushing Hezbollah and bringing the two captured soldiers home.
Both are believed to have been badly wounded, but Hezbollah has given no details on their conditions or proof they are alive. Secret negotiations for a prisoner swap have not yielded results.
U.N. Mideast envoy Michael Williams said Thursday that the United Nations has held "many, many meetings" with Hezbollah representatives, but that no progress has been made.
"It causes me pain to report to you that those negotiations have not so far met with success," he told Israel Radio, calling on Hezbollah to give an indication on the conditions of the men.
A rally for the abducted soldiers was planned later Thursday in the northern city of Haifa.
Olmert has repeatedly claimed the war was a success, noting the heavy damage inflicted on Hezbollah and the presence of a massive U.N. peacekeeping force policing Lebanon's southern border. However, he remains deeply unpopular with the Israeli public.
In April, a government commission looking into the war found a "severe failure" in Olmert's handling of the war, saying he hastily went to war without a comprehensive plan and exercised poor judgment.
Israel's wartime military chief and defense minister have already lost their jobs in the wake of heavy public criticism, and the final conclusions of the government commission, expected in the coming weeks, could put pressure on Olmert to resign.