Ultima Thule

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Saturday, July 22, 2006

Troops Ready, but Israel Bets on Air Power - New York Times

By Aussiegirl

Israel opts for air power for now.

Troops Ready, but Israel Bets on Air Power - New York Times

[...]But the preparation now seems to be less for a ground invasion than for more punishing airstrikes to try to eliminate Hezbollah military assets and stockpiles, which the Israelis say are distributed and hidden through the civilian population, in houses, garages and apartments.

“We want the freedom to attack these places,” the officer said. “I believe in air power. I believe in our ability to destroy Hezbollah without going into Lebanon again the way we did in 1982. And the only way to do it is to attack any movement we detect, any launch or any activity aimed at hitting Israel — especially from the villages we see.”

The overall aim, Israel says, is to weaken Hezbollah sufficiently so that the international community can help the Lebanese government to carry out United Nations Security Council Resolution 1559 and exercise its sovereignty all over Lebanon, expelling any foreign fighters and disarming Hezbollah.

Israel is more interested in having an international force patrol the border than it has been in the past, officials say, especially if the force has rules of engagement that will allow it to ensure that Hezbollah cannot reinfiltrate to the border.

Israel wants “to change the calculus for any future kidnapper,” showing that it will respond in force and that the Israeli population is willing to suffer pain and casualties, undermining the theory of Hezbollah’s leader, Sheik Hassan Nasrallah, that Israeli society is “like a spider’s web,” soft and easily broken.

Hezbollah will not surrender, the officer said. “They won’t come out with a white flag. But at the end they should be beaten and be seen to be beaten. It won’t be a knockout, but what matters is how big the decision is on points.”

Currently, as Israeli troops and armor continue to build on the border and commandos operate secretly and deeper inside Lebanon, Israeli infantry activity has been limited to operations within a mile or two of the border.

These operations, described by Israeli chief of staff Lt. Gen. Dan Halutz as “limited” and “pinpoint,” have focused on knocking down Hezbollah outposts built on the border, finding and destroying camouflaged storehouses, barracks and rocket launching sites and defusing some of the many boobytraps and “improvised explosive devices,” which contain up to the equivalent of one ton of TNT, the Israelis say. Israel’s wider bombing campaign across Lebanon has killed hundreds of civilians and reduced parts of south Beirut and southern Lebanon to rubble.

[...]Part of the aim is to ensure, as Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert has insisted, that Israeli forces never again face armed Hezbollah fighters nose to nose across the international border. Part of the aim is to clear routes for any larger ground incursion. The army also hopes to pull Hezbollah fighters out of hiding into firefights, the officer said, “so we can kill them.”

The fighting has been intense, the army admits. Hezbollah has had six years to prepare its positions, ambushes and minefields, including buried explosives that can destroy the underbelly of even the most modern Israeli tank. Hezbollah forces are also well equipped with Syrian and Iranian infantry weapons, including laser-guided anti-tank rockets, that far outclass what the Palestinians can muster.

Hezbollah is also believed to possess the Russian Kornet missile, laser-guided and with a thermal sight, designed in the mid-1990’s to attack the most modern tanks equipped with explosive reactive armor, the officer said. Russia sold the Kornet to Syria.

[...]Many Israelis compare their 18-year occupation of southern Lebanon, which began in 1982 and lasted until 2000, to the American experience in Vietnam. Israeli commanders do not want to get sucked back into the “quicksand” of Lebanon, as one of them described it, leading Mr. Olmert and General Halutz to emphasize the “limited” and “temporary” nature of any Israeli raid.

But if there is a major ground operation, the senior officer said, it would be almost useless to go just a few miles into Lebanon, and necessary to go up to the Litani River. “The Katyushas have a range of 20 to 32 kilometers,” he said, and Hezbollah also has Syrian and Iranian missiles with ranges of 40 to 70 kilometers, or 43 miles, with a few Iranian Zelzals that can go 100 kilometers, or 62 miles.

“Two to five kilometers does the outposts, that’s all,” the officer said.

He predicted that Israel would stick largely to air power for now, on the presumption that its war against Hezbollah would not be curtailed too quickly by the international community, in particular the Bush administration.

[...]But ground forces won’t defeat Hezbollah, which can keep retreating northward. “A ground maneuver won’t solve the problem of the long-range missiles,” he said. “The problem is the will to launch. We have to break the will of Hezbollah” to confront Israel.

And how will that happen? “By killing them,” the officer said. “Maybe many of their soldiers are fanatics and want to be martyrs. But the leadership is clever, and it wants to live. They’re rational guys, and they’re hiding.”

Israel needs to “restore our military deterrence against terror organizations, whether Hamas or Hezbollah,” the officer added, “and this goal is already achieved.” Israel must show again that “Israeli soldiers on the ground can defeat any enemy,” the officer said, pointing to Gaza, where Israel has killed about 100 Palestinian fighters since June 25 and lost only one soldier, who was killed by another Israeli by error.


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