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
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.
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%
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.
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.
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”.‘