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Lebanon War a Failure for Israel

Political News--August & September of 06

War a failure:  Israelis want more aggressive attack, and the attack increased support by the Lebanese people for Hezbollah 

Green Left Weekly, Sept 6, 06 at www.greenleft.org.au

LEBANON: A defeat for Israel

Doug Lorimer


United Press International reported on August 25 that an opinion poll showed 63% of Israeli voters want Prime Minister Ehud Olmert to resign for what they see as the failure of Israel’s 34-day war on Lebanon to achieve any of its stated objectives. The poll also found that 74% believe Israeli “defence” minister Amir Peretz should resign.

Time magazine observed on August 27 that “however much Olmert’s media advisers try to spin it, Israel’s war in Lebanon was bungled: the Israelis failed to destroy Hezbollah's leadership or even halt its barrage of rockets ...

“What riles Israelis is that Olmert and his generals didn't hit harder and with more deadly effect. Says [Israeli political science professor Galia] Golan: 'There's a sense that if the army had been allowed to pulverize Hezbollah, we could've won.’”

In fact, the Israel Defence Forces (IDF) did try to “pulverise” Hezbollah, the Shiite-based Lebanese political party that led a successful guerrilla war of resistance against Israel’s 1982-2000 occupation of south Lebanon.

Within hours of Hezbollah’s capture of two Israeli soldiers along the “Blue Line”, Lebanon’s UN-recognised southern border, Israel launched a round-the-clock campaign of air strikes and artillery shelling against towns and villages across Lebanon.

By August 14, when a UN-brokered truce came into effect, Israeli attacks on Lebanon had destroyed some 15,500 apartment units and 34,000 houses and business premises, and killed at least 1000 civilians, a third of them under the age of 12.

At least 1 million Lebanese civilians — a quarter of the country’s population — were forced to flee their homes to escape the Israeli air attacks.

Israel’s aim was to turn the majority of Lebanese, including Shiite Muslims (40% of the country’s population), against Hezbollah. However, Israel’s attacks on civilian targets backfired.

The July 28 Christian Science Monitor reported that a poll released by the Beirut Centre for Research and Information found that 87% of Lebanese, including 80% of Christians (39%

of Lebanon’s population), supported Hezbollah’s resistance to Israeli attacks on Lebanon, up from 53% in February. Among Shiites, support had soared to 97%. “Lebanese no longer blame Hezbollah for sparking the war by kidnapping the Israeli soldiers, but Israel and the US instead”, the Boston-based daily observed.

In addition to carrying out more than 7000 air attacks acoss Lebanon, the Israeli army fired an average of 250 shells a day into towns and villages in south Lebanon.

The Hezbollah political stronghold of Bint Jbeil, a town located three kilometres north of the Blue Line and normally home to 30,000 people, was pounded for 48 hours by Israeli warplanes and by some 3000 Israeli artillery shells before Battalion 51 of Israel's elite Golani Brigade made a cross-border “incursion” into the largely deserted town on July 25.

Two days later, BBC News reported that “while Israeli commanders had expected Hezbollah resistance — one referred to the area as a 'dangerous nest’ — it appears guerrillas flocked to Bint Jbeil even as the shells flew in, preparing for the fight ahead.

“When Israel's troops arrived in the town's compact, narrow streets, they quickly came under fire from all directions. The ambush was fierce and deadly: small arms fire, rocket-propelled grenades, anti-tank missiles and mortar rounds, according to an Israeli major quoted by the New York Times.

Israel's troops quickly sustained serious casualties, and the nature of their mission changed. Pinned down by sustained Hezbollah fire, with eight dead and many more injured, Battalion 51 — which reportedly lost nine men in Lebanon in 1996 — spent the next six hours fending off attackers and trying to evacuate their casualties.”

On July 30, Israeli officials stated that 10 of their soldiers had died in the town. That day’s London Observer reported that “Hezbollah fighters still hold Bint Jbeil”.

On August 1, 10,000 Israeli troops crossed the Blue Line, and attempted to crush Hezbollah’s resistance in the towns and villages immediately north of the border, including Bint Jbeil.

The August 8 Washington Post reported: “In more than two dozen interviews at army bases, hotels, artillery batteries and staging points for their entry into Lebanon since the heaviest ground fighting began last week, Israeli soldiers expressed confidence in their superiority over Hezbollah, but frustration that they are fighting an elusive enemy as difficult to find as it is to defeat.”

The Post reported that Israeli soldiers said they were surprised by how long it was taking for the Israeli army to advance into south Lebanon. “When Israelis invaded Lebanon in 1982”, the paper noted, “they reached to within 10 miles of Beirut in two days. In the current conflict, after more than three weeks of fighting, the heaviest ground combat is still in a string of towns along the border ...

“The soldiers described a battlefield littered with booby traps and fortified by fighters who have been preparing to repel a ground invasion since Israeli withdrew from southern Lebanon six years ago, after an 18-year occupation.

“Master Sgt. Yusaf, a scout for the army's Baram Brigade who spent 16 years fighting in southern Lebanon during the 1980s and 1990s and who spoke on the condition that only his first name be used, said comparing Hezbollah's capabilities then and now 'is like talking about the difference between men who have guns and an army’ ...

“He described one bunker near the Lebanese town of Maroun al-Ras that was more than 25 feet deep and contained a network of tunnels linking several large storage rooms and multiple entrances and exits. He said it was equipped with a camera at the entrance, linked to a monitor below to help Hezbollah fighters ambush Israeli soldiers.”

The Israeli soldiers told the Post that the “most feared weapons in Hezbollah's arsenal are the antitank missiles that have been responsible for dozens of Israeli casualties, blasting through the armor of the most advanced Merkava tanks or at infantry soldiers maneuvering on foot”.

Writing in the August 16 Israeli Haaretz, military analyst Reuven Pedatzur observed: “When the largest and strongest army in the Middle East clashes for more than two weeks with 50 Hezbollah fighters in Bint Jbeil and does not bring them to their knees, the commanders are left with no choice but to point to the number of dead fighters the enemy has left behind. It can be assumed that Bint Jbeil will turn into a symbol of the second Lebanon war. For the Hezbollah fighters it will be remembered as their Stalingrad, and for us it will be a painful reminder of the IDF's defeat.”

He went on to note that across the Middle East, “people are looking with amazement at the IDF that could not bring a tiny guerrilla organization (1500 fighters according to the military intelligence chief, and a few thousand according to other sources) to its knees”, and that was “not able to advance more than a few kilometres into Lebanon”.

Pedatzur wrote that the IDF “was defeated and paid a heavy price in most of its battles in southern Lebanon” because Israeli military intelligence “did not assess correctly Hezbollah's fighting capability”. The military brass assured the politicians that through a massive bombing campaign “the IDF would dismantle [Hezbollah’s] organization within a few days, break its command backbone and end the fighting under conditions favorable to Israel”.

The subsequent Israeli defeat, he observed, was born of a “destructive combination of arrogance, boastfulness, euphoria and contempt for the enemy”.‘


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