Thursday, July 27, 2006

Lebanon offensive criticized in Israel

Yahoo! News
Lebanon offensive criticized in Israel

By ARON HELLER, Associated Press WriterWed Jul 26, 4:56 PM ET

As Israel's offensive against Hezbollah guerrillas in southern Lebanon enters its third week, the government is coming under growing criticism at home.

Israel is sustaining heavy casualties — nine soldiers were killed and at least 22 others were wounded in south Lebanon on Wednesday alone — while the army has been unable to stop the rocket barrages on northern Israel that have killed 18 civilians in 15 days.

An Israeli airstrike that killed four U.N. peacekeepers in Lebanon and plans for a new 1.2-mile-deep buffer zone also have rekindled fears of a return to Israel's 18-year occupation of southern Lebanon, which ended in 2000 after the Israeli public grew exhausted with the mounting death toll there.

After Hezbollah guerrillas crossed the border July 12, killing three soldiers and capturing two others, there was nearly unanimous political consensus in Israel behind the government's decision to launch a large-scale offensive to crush the militant group.

But that consensus is beginning to crack, and critics are starting to say the government launched the offensive hastily, with no exit strategy. Many fear the country is again being dragged into a quagmire across its northern border.

"The war is leading us by the nose to sink deeper in the Lebanese mud. The Hezbollah wants to drag us into its territory. The moment the army will be in Lebanon for an extended period, it will be hell for us in there," said Ran Cohen, a dovish lawmaker and a colonel in the Israeli army reserves. "The deeper we get drawn in, the worse it will be."

While Cohen called for a cease-fire, political hawks demanded a tougher military strategy, taking issue with Israel's decision to begin the offensive with airstrikes and artillery barrages and only later to send in ground troops.

"We should have begun moving troops on the ground right from the beginning, when the war started," said Moshe Arens, a former defense minister from the Likud Party. "It's difficult terrain, and we're up against some tough fighters who have dug in, who have prepared themselves for six years for this encounter."

Prime Minister Ehud Olmert tried to quell the criticism Wednesday, warning of tougher times ahead and asking lawmakers to hold their tongues until the fighting ended.

"Back us, because the homefront needs to know that we are united," he told a group of parliamentarians, according to participants in the meeting.

Wednesday saw one of the heaviest days of battles with at least 129 Katyusha rockets landing in northern Israel. Coupled with the deadly clashes in southern Lebanon, many Israelis started to wonder when it will all end.

Israel's Haaretz newspaper featured three front-page columns reflecting the frustration. Their headlines: "Was there a proper decision process?" "No goals attained," and "Has the army failed?"

Among the questions raised were whether the military operation included an exit strategy and took into consideration the scope of rocket fire at Israeli towns, and whether the army has the ability to crush Hezbollah. They also questioned whether the military was prepared for guerrilla warfare on enemy land.

The military countered such concerns, calling for Israel to unite behind its soldiers.

"There are difficult days like this and the army I think is operating with determination, the soldiers are acting with courage," said Maj. Gen. Udi Adam, chief of Israel's northern command. "There is no doubt about their abilities and I think at this time we have to strengthen them because they are the ones who have successes and prevent terrorism."

But Danny Yatom, a retired general and Labor Party legislator, said the operation's initial goals were too grandiose and the government now realizes that wiping out Hezbollah is no longer realistic.

"This campaign will not be won by knockout, but by points," he said.

Brig. Gen. Miri Regev, the army's chief spokeswoman, told Israel Television that while Israel has hurt Hezbollah, it would not be able to stop the rocket fire completely.

Israeli military analyst Shlomo Brom said it was too early to say whether any strategic mistakes had been made in the offensive. He did, however, say there was something wrong in the way the political leadership was relaying its message to the people.

"They aren't telling the public where we are going, what are the realistic aims and how we are going about achieving them," he said.

No comments: