Wednesday, August 09, 2006

August 9, 2006, Day 29, War in Israel

August 9, 2006, Day 29, War in Israel

Fox News calls it “War in the Middle East.” The sub-headline says “Israeli Commander: The most important war Israel ever fought.” Were these statements bombastic, or accurate? Today Israel’s cabinet agreed to expand the ground war, send in the troops that had massed on the border waiting for the green light. The cabinet voted 9-0 with three cabinet ministers abstaining. Israeli analysts said the troops might take a month to reach their objectives. Others say that substantive results will be seen within seven days. By about 11:00 PM Israel time the tanks started moving across the border to their targets. The expanded invasion had begun. But a few hours later the UN asked Israel to put the push on hold. But by that time the army had started to move.

Some experts say that Israel needs a ratio of six to one to defeat Hezbollah. But the Israeli army isn’t going for ‘overwhelming force.’ Why? Because Israeli leaders say that they don’t really want to risk that many Israeli boy’s lives. Eli Ishai, ultra-orthodox Shas party leader, and member of the Israeli security and defense committee, and one of those who abstained from the vote approving the ground force, said he wanted more of an air campaign. “If Hezbollah fires rockets from a village, destroy the village,” he said. “Destroy ten, twenty, thirty villages, and the Lebanese will stop Hezbollah from sending the rockets. They’ll pay such a steep price that they’ll call off the attacks.” He also said, “The air war is better than risking soldiers’ lives on the ground.” A lot of Israeli mothers would agree with him.

One knesset member, a former Mossad operative, said that Israel would face one fierce battle after another on the way to the Litani river, 18-miles from the Israeli border. Some Israeli analysts say the cost of as many as 200 soldiers would be killed in the fighting. Early Thursday morning the Israeli army announced officially what had been rumoured earlier in the day: fifteen Israeli soldiers had been killed, forty injured, in fierce fighting. The worst losses Israel has suffered so far.

Israel’s former Prime Minister Benjamin “Bibi” Netanyahu, just back from a PR tour in London, said it took time but he got the message across. He told them that no nation will allow its citizens to be bombed incessantly without striking back. Israel has already absorbed over 3,400 rockets. Another 150 fell today. During the famous Blitz in London the Nazis only sent 4,000 missiles at Britain. Ah, he said, but the British countered they were being bombed by Hitler. Netanyahu scoffed at that. To Israel, Nasrallah is Israel’s Hitler. Iran’s President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad is Israel’s Hitler. If he’s not stopped, one day the missiles will hit Paris, London, Madrid. But that’s something we’ve been hearing for a while.

Gain initiative, gain momentum, get Hezbollah off base. But Hezbollah’s leader Sheik Nasrallah said on his Al Manara TV tonight that he was ready for an Israeli force moving farther north. One of the commentators said Hezbollah hopes to draw Israeli troops north, suck them into a trap already set. And Israel is marching in, quickly. Let’s hope the Israeli’s have some sort of intelligent battle plan. Yesterday Israel switched commanders on the Northern Front. Maybe the new guy has better ideas.

Quagmire. A neighbor’s son is in Lebanon. He’s an officer in the paratroopers. His parents are worried. Understandable. Israel TV showed scenes of the wounded in Haifa’s Rambam hospital, visited by their family, and army chums off for a few hours from the front. “I was lucky. The guys that saved me were brave. They fought their way from cover to get me, and bring me back,” said a paratroop captain. In the bed beside him a soldier lay in bed, his hand bandaged up to the elbow. “Soon as they let me I’m going back to the unit.” He was only a sergeant, but one of the guys who pulled his captain to safety. Now they’re side by side in the hospital.

And they’re not alone. Seventeen soldiers were wounded today, five seriously. Serious usually means close to death. Other reports say that at least five soldiers were killed. All this just a few miles from the Israeli-Lebanese border During the day it was discovered that a huge Hezbollah arms cache was hidden in a couple of homes in a hilltop village overlooking the Israeli border. An Israeli sapper unit was filmed going across the border, setting their charges, pulling back, then detonating the dynamite, razing the homes. The secondary explosion of the Russian supplied Sagar rockets sent out a dark black plume of smoke into the clear blue summer sky.

Israeli commentators talk about a war forced upon Israel. Not something that was asked for. Residents of the northern communities, near the Lebanese border, were highly supportive of the new initiative. “Israel can’t be held captive, nor hostage,” said Gen. Yosi Peled, former commander of the Northern Front. “These rockets keep falling on Israeli citizens. Some of these people have been in the shelters for 30 days. That is unacceptable. The Army has to go in, strong, in force, or three or four years from now we’ll be back in the bomb shelters.”

Dovish Meretz, of course, was one of those out against the increased invasion. If all conflicts end in negotiations, let’s save lives and start talking now. But most of the country doesn’t agree with them. Most of the country is getting ready to put on their uniforms and report for duty. It would be nice if talking would solve the problems, but talk to whom?

Hezbollah leader Nasrallah has said he encourages the Lebanese government’s intention to send 15,000 troops into South Lebanon. He said he’d been against it because the Lebanese army wasn’t as prepared for war against Israel as Hezbollah, which is why Hezbollah had taken control of Southern Lebanon, (and set up a State within a state in Lebanon with two cabinet ministers and 14 members of the Lebanese parliament) but now accepts the idea as a good one. He also rejects out of hand a multi-national force in Southern Lebanon. Especially a “vigorous” force with the ability to disarm Hezbollah. However, even Lebanon’s PM Siniora’s proposal of the Lebanese force doesn’t include enforcing UN Resolution 1559, which calls for disarming Hezbollah. Siniora knows what happens to people who oppose Hezbollah in Lebanese politics.

Israel’s stated goal is to weaken Hezbollah, drive them out of South Lebanon, if possible create conditions for a Lebanon without Hezbollah and Nasrallah, then turn the territory they occupy in southern Lebanon over to a strong multi-national force. Tonight the Israeli government started to implement those goals even more seriously.

The evacuation of residents of the northern towns and cities has begun in earnest as well. Tent cities were set up in Rosh Haayin, just outside of Tel Aviv, in Petach Tivka, in Beer Sheva, and in other towns and cities. A few days respite for those people with no place to go, and no means to go there. Government hired buses pulled up today in the north to take many residents stuck in bomb shelters to these tent camps in the center of the country. They’ll get beds, or at least mattresses on the floor, food, and live shows provided by Israeli entertainers who’ve volunteered for the purpose. All this because of Nasrallah. So far over 300,000 people have left their homes because of this war. Over 100 Israeli killed. A third of them Israeli Arabs.

Israel TV has begun broadcasting reports from Lebanese citizens who surprisingly enough agree that Iran is responsible for the destruction of Lebanon These Lebanese say they are tired of Hezbollah’s control of Lebanon. Reportedly over 80 per cent of the Lebanese were against Hezbollah before the war, but the numbers dropped, naturally, when Israel started retaliating for Hezbollah attacks on Israel. Lebanon is being hit, hard. Nearly a million Lebanese are on the road, fleeing Israeli counter-attacks. Many are boiling mad at Israel, but mad at Hezbollah for dragging them into this pit. Nasrallah is being criticized. Perhaps that’s why PM Siniora finally made his surprising statement that he was going to send his Army down south. Perhaps his nation has finally started to show some teeth and bite Nasrallah back.

So far this war has cost Israel about $1.5 Billion in direct expenses, according to Israel’s finance minister Hirschson. Where will this money come from? Budget cuts. Cuts in subsidies to the poor, cuts in education, cuts across the board. School starts soon. Where will the kids from the north be when classes begin? Tough times now, tougher times ahead.

Meanwhile the list of friends with kids in Lebanon grows longer by the day. Do you call, ask how the boys are, or wait? What is the proper etiquette for war?

At night we say a prayer for the boys in Lebanon we know are there, for the boys in the hospital, for the boys fresh in the ground, and for the three boys captured by Hezbollah over a month ago, at the start of this mess. When you’re far away from the front, what else can you do?