August 13, 2006 Day 33 War in Israel
Nothing goes easily in the Middle East, not even the end of a war. The cease-fire is scheduled to go into effect tomorrow morning. Today the Israeli army has nearly 30,000 soldiers in the field. This is the biggest force Israel has mounted in this war. What began as a surgical air strike success then a limited ground incursion and finally this medium sized invasion. The latter comes on the eve of the UN agreed ceasefire according to resolution 1701. Today Lebanese PM Siniora ran into a snag. A cabinet member told him that Hezbollah wouldn’t disarm, nor allow a peaceful transition from Israeli to International forces hands. A cabinet crises ensued with the possibility the cease-fire won’t go into effect.
At a wedding tonight of my son’s friend, we spoke to another friend who is a medic in the paratroopers. He is doing reserve duty in Lebanon, off just because of the wedding. He never received a call-up order, but ran into a physician he’d served with who did get called up, and asked the young medic to go with him to Lebanon. He did, received his weapon, and went in and out of Lebanon taking out the wounded.
“It’s horrible,” he said. “Not fun at all.” But he was going back in the morning, to do his duty. “I hope there’s a cease-fire. No fighting, no wounded. No wounded, no need for a medic.” Later we heard that another close friend of the groom’s, who was serving his reserve duty with the paratroopers in Lebanon, was on his way to the wedding. He’d explained to his platoon commander that his best friend was getting married, and he was released, at the last minute, to go to the wedding. He was happy. His wife had recently given birth to their first child.
Israel TV showed footage of a wounded Hezbollah soldier who was taken to a hospital in Nahariya with a broken shoulder blade. The soldier said that he wasn’t against the Israelis. He wanted peace. He also said none of his company had received any word of an impending cease-fire. Then the interview ended as the doctors took him off to have his shoulder repaired.
Other reports on Israel TV showed a Hezbollah firing position. Nothing fancy. A shallow trench in the ground, a five-foot high ten-foot long cement wall, and behind it a few missiles ready to be fired. Further down the road an empty house, with missiles stacked up to the ceiling in a neat pyramid. A few long-range missiles on a table. Very well organized.
Many questions remain to be answered about this resolution, and its implementation. The future of this move is yet to be fully explained. The Israeli government has agreed to the resolution, but most pundits have little faith that the resolution will last very long. The Israeli media has pointed out that both Syria and Iran will take the opportunity to rearm Hezbollah. Today over 200 rockets fell in Israel, one landed on the apartment building where a 83 year old man lived. He was killed in the blast. The Israel police announced that a few of the rockets were long-range rockets supplied by Iran and Syria.
Israeli cabinet minister Yizchak Herzog, a scion of the Herzog family, said that the cease-fire and promise of an international force were very positive developments in the Middle East. He said that 15,000 soldiers from an international force were to join the 15,000 soldiers of the Lebanese army. This is the line pushed by the Israeli government, by nearly every minister who is allowed near a microphone. Problem with the international force is that a number of countries, like Italy and Germany, have said they won’t send in any troops until the area is clear of Hezbollah. Bit of a conundrum that.
Some analysts expect the Israeli Army, which is now making major advances across Lebanon, not to stop the attack until the US demands Israel honor the UN imposed cease-fire. The IDF is hoping to make some major gains before the cease-fire. However ex-General, and commander of the northern front Knesset Member Mtan Vilnai (Labor party) thought little of import could be accomplished in the remaining hours of this war.
He was one of those who was critical of the handling of the war but stressed that while the fighting was still going on criticism of the goals, execution, and strategy of the war should be kept under wraps. He also was one of many who criticized the Israeli media for not showing restraint in their reporting and commentary of the war.
The closer that the cease-fire approaches, the more the politicians are beginning to stake out their positions for the next elections. Labor, Meretz, Kadima, Likud, all are making their pitch to the press how they would have run the war, how quickly a full investigation should be launched into the handling of the war, and even how fast new elections should be called..
This rather cynical manipulation of the public to obtain political gains is just one example of the jostling for position going on. The war of the Generals is also on going, each blaming the other for the lack of Israeli accomplishments in this war.
The generals are also lining up on the sides of the various parties, hoping perhaps for a place on the next ballot.
More neighbors’ children have been called up. A cease-fire may be in the offing, but meanwhile the fighting goes on. The rockets continue to fall. 29 Israeli soldiers died in the last 24 hours. Five more died today. The Israeli army says that between 300 and 800 Hezbollah fighters have been killed. Lately the body count on the radio reminds one of the old Viet Nam war days.
The Israeli home front command was on the radio a dozen times in a hour announcing impending rocket attacks on villages, towns and cities in the north. Hezbollah was letting loose their most vicious day yet. Over 250 rockets fell on the north. Haifa was hit a number of time.
The questions asked in the press, and of government officials in radio and TV interviews, is why launch a massive offensive now when the cease-fire was evident. Was it worth the cost of lives just to gain a few more meters of land in a tough battle?
The answers were varied. Most thought that the fighting was necessary to take important positions that Israel would hole, in order to protect her citizens, until the International force, took over. The impression given was that Israeli forces weren’t leaving Lebanon anytime soon.
The two Israeli soldiers kidnapped by Hezbollah were to be released according to the UN agreement, but no date was set. No mention was made of Gilad Shaliet, the soldier kidnapped from his army position near Gaza, at the beginning of the conflict. Hamas has continued firing rockets into Israel, but at a much slower pace. Many commentators think that Hamas is holding back until they can get adequate media coverage for their actions. Only eleven Kassam rockets were fired from Gaza into Israel last week, compared to over thirty the previous week.
Tom Segev, writing in Haaretz, said that the Hezbollah campaign was a sideshow. The real issue was and still is the Palestinian issue. He thought the time had come for Israel to withdraw from Palestinian territory, and get on with negotiating a two-state solution.
Prmie Minister Ehud Olmert had made mention of his ‘disengagement’ plan during the course of the war, and got stuck in a ditch because of it. The right-wing settler movement yelped that they were in the midst of fighting for Israel’s security; their sons were on the battlefield, how could he talk about kicking these same people out of their homes? Olmert back-tracked on his statement, called former General Effi Eitam, head of the National Religious Party, and apologized, saying he had no plans to go back to the disengagement plan.
The Palestinians are not unhappy about Israel’s embarrassing performance against Hezbollah. Posters of Hezbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah are on sale in many shops in Gaza and the West Bank, as are Hezbollah flags. Hamas is still the Palestinian party in power, even if Israel has been pounding Gaza relentlessly while the world’s attention was focused in Lebanon. Some analysts believe that Hamas is not going to be able to resume control of the Palestinian government after the war.
Many pundits espouse encouraging ‘moderate’ Arab leaders to get the “road map” and other peace plans back on track. The names mentioned are Siniora in Lebanon, and Abbas in Ramallah. However neither of these men have the power to accomplish any political moves without the approval of the troublemakers’ like Hamas and Hezbollah. The end result is that the Palestinians will continue their “struggle” and Hezbollah will wait until they have recovered sufficiently to mount their next attack.
Meanwhile, the cease-fire will be used for Israel to take stock, resupply, probably change leadership, but in the end the conflict will heat up, once again. It always does.