'Intelligent discontent is the mainspring of civilization.' -- Eugene V. Debs

Wednesday, July 26, 2006

IDF Stuck in Neutral in Southern Lebanon 

UPDATE 2: IDF soldiers describe the intensity of the fighting in Bint Jbail:

The wounded soldiers described the battle as a bitter one which took place in a built-up setting, one where enemy forces had organized a well-planned ambush. Soldiers faced gunfire from any and all directions.

"They shot at us from 180 degrees," said one of the soldiers. Most of the dead and seriously wounded are those from the initial wave of ground troops which tried to enter one of the homes in Bint Jbail. The soldiers who suffered light wounds are primarily those who arrived on the scene to retrieve the bodies of the dead and wounded soldiers lying in the battlefield.

Some of the wounded were in an open field and others behind walls as well as inside homes. Sergeant Tzachi Duda suffered light injuries in his leg due to shrapnel.

"The battle began at 3:30 at night," he said. "Ten minutes after the first clash, we arrived to help. There was heavy fire from rocket launchers, missiles, rocket-propelled grenades. I provided cover fire for soldiers who tried to reach the wounded, and this went on for hours. Eventually, a missile hit the yard where I was standing. I was thrown back along with the wall which I was hiding behind. In my lifetime I never expected to see bodies and people with bullets in their chest."

More from McClatchy News Service:

Among the nation's most elite unit, the Golani had been chosen to clear out the last Hezbollah fighters from a deserted city of 20,000. Israeli forces had controlled the hills around the town for days, but their intelligence services believed that as many as 50 fighters remained, hiding in basements, waiting. Military spokesmen said they were thought to be preparing a final, glorious attack.

"They weren't looking to survive," said Israeli Capt. Doron Spielman.

Still, the Israelis weren't ready for what hit them. As they entered a manmade canyon, gunfire rained down from the ridge and from the upper stories of empty apartment buildings. Mortar rounds poured in. Closer to the ground, Hezbollah fighters launched rocket-propelled grenades and anti-tank missiles. It would later be described as a hornets' nest.

"Overnight, the Hezbollah strength had at least doubled, and there were perhaps as many as 150," said Maj. Zvika Golan. "The attack came from all sides."

In the first minutes of the battle, at least eight Israeli soldiers were killed. Many more were wounded. Israeli officials said it was an hour before others were able to start evacuating the dead and wounded because the barrage was so fierce.

No doubt, the IDF will learn from this. But, so will Hizbollah.

UPDATE 1: Ha'aretz now reports that the IDF lost 8 soldiers in Bint Jbail yesterday. Meanwhile, Uri Avnery nails it in a Counterpunch article originally written over the weekend:

Only one thing is already certain on the 11th day of the war: Nothing good will come of it. Whatever happens - Hizbullah will emerge strengthened. If there had been hopes in the past that Lebanon would slowly become a normal country, where Hizbullah would be deprived of a pretext for maintaining a military force of its own, we have now provided the organization with the perfect justification: Israel is destroying Lebanon, only Hizbullah is fighting to defend the country.

As for deterrence: a war in which our huge military machine cannot overcome a small guerilla organization in 11 days of total war certainly has not rehabilitated its deterrent power. In this respect, it is not important how long this war will last and what will be its results - the fact that a few thousand fighters have withstood the Israeli army for 11 days and more, has already been imprinted in the consciousness of hundred of millions of Arabs and Muslims.

INITIAL POST: Sam Ghattas of Associated Press gets the story. Hizbollah has inflicted heavy casualties upon Israeli troops fighting to take control of a city across the border that they claimed to have seized 4 days ago:

Hezbollah inflicted heavy casualties on Israeli troops as they battled for a key hilltop town in southern Lebanon for a fourth day Wednesday, with as many as 14 soldiers reported killed. Lebanese officials, meanwhile, confirmed that four U.N. observers were killed by an Israeli airstrike on their post Tuesday night.

Increasingly, it appears that the Israeli campaign in southern Lebanon is stalled, which may explain Olmert's recent statements that the Israelis have the stamina for a long struggle:

Israel has faced fiercer resistance than expected as it advances across the border in its two-week campaign against the Islamic militant group.

Wednesday's fighting broke out when Israeli forces tried to advance inside Bint Jbail, a town that has symbolic importance to Hezbollah as one of the centers of resistance to the 1982-2000 Israeli occupation.

There were conflicting reports about the casualty toll in the fourth day of fighting for Bint Jbail, which holds the largest Shiite Muslim community in the border area.

Al-Arabiya, a Dubai-based satellite TV channel, said 14 Israeli soldiers had been killed. Hezbollah's chief spokesman Hussein Rahhal said of the battle: "What I can tell you is that 13 Israelis have been burned alive in their tanks on our land."

If confirmed, it would be the largest death toll suffered by the Israeli military in a single attack since the offensive began two weeks ago.

The Israeli military said there were 20 Israeli casualties, but it would not say if any soldiers had been killed.

Israeli TV reported 13 casualties, but was not more specific. Israel Radio said "at least 10 Israeli soldiers had been hit" in heavy fighting against 200 Hezbollah guerrillas in the town. The radio did not specify if any Israelis were killed.

The Israeli army said several Hezbollah fighters had taken cover in a local mosque. The Israeli army said several Hezbollah fighters had taken cover in a local mosque. A senior Hezbollah official, Mahmoud Komati, told The Associated Press that Israeli forces had managed to seize a few points inside Bint Jbail, but had not yet taken the town center.

A senior Hezbollah official, Mahmoud Komati, told The Associated Press that Israeli forces had managed to seize a few points inside Bint Jbail, but had not yet taken the town center.

And, predictably, it's not just Bint Jbail where the IDF is experiencing difficulties:

Fighting also has been heavy for days around the border towns of Aitaroun and Maroun al-Ras, where Israeli forces are trying to eliminate the guerrillas who have been firing rockets into Israel. The area controls the high ground in the central sector of the Lebanese-Israeli border.

The IDF has, however, effectively ignored the pleas of UN peacekeepers, and successfully killed four of them, as described in yesterday's UPDATE 2:

The four unarmed UN observers from Austria, Canada, China and Finland, died after their UN post in the town of Khiam was hit by an Israeli air strike on Tuesday.

A senior Irish soldier working for the UN forces had warned the Israelis six times that their bombardment was endangering the lives of UN staff, Ireland's foreign ministry said.

Had Israel responded to the requests, "rather than deliberately ignoring them", the observers would still be alive, a diplomat familiar with the report said.

Israel could have negotiated the release of the two soldiers with Hizbollah, reaching an agreement to release Shia still in its custody, as it has done in the past. Instead, it decided to seize upon their capture as an opportunity to achieve its goal of creating a client state in Lebanon.

Now, much of the world is appalled at the systemic destruction of Lebanon's infrastruture, and the use of broad rules of engagement that make it legitimate for IDF pilots to fire missiles at homes, ambulances, civilian convoys of people fleeing their homes as ordered by the IDF and, amazingly, entire apartment blocks, even as the troops that it sends into combat against Hizbollah take substantial casualties.

People like Olmert and Bush do not strike me as the type of people known for self-reflection, but one wonders if others, both here and in Israel, have finally recognized that it might have been better to avoid a war with an adversary that prevails merely by staying upright in the ring.

Unfortunately, the success of Hizbollah strongly suggests more violence and more deaths, not less. Hizbollah will be emboldened to launch more rocket attacks into Israel, while the IDF will thrash about wildly to obscure its difficulties in direct combat with Hizbollah by more aggressively targeting non-combatants. After all, somebody must be held responsible for the failures of Olmert and IDF leadership, and who better than the people of Lebanon?

Morally and ethically, it has already been squared away. Alan Dershowitz reassures us that we should not consider them the equal of Israelis who have been victimized by the conflict. Tragically, the failings of Olmert and the IDF are so severe that they have no choice but to kill large numbers of Lebanese and decimate what remains of Lebanese society in order to atone.

Like many of us, Zbigniew Brzezinski takes a different view:

"I hate to say this but I will say it. I think what the Israelis are doing today for example in Lebanon is in effect, in effect -- maybe not in intent -- the killing of hostages. The killing of hostages."

"Because when you kill 300 people, 400 people, who have nothing to do with the provocations Hezbollah staged, but you do it in effect deliberately by being indifferent to the scale of collateral damage, you're killing hostages in the hope of intimidating those that you want to intimidate. And more likely than not you will not intimidate them. You'll simply outrage them and make them into permanent enemies with the number of such enemies increasing."

Brzezinski fails to note, however, that many of these outraged people will rightly consider the US equally culpable for what has been done to them, as I discussed at length in yesterday's initial post. It probably just skipped his mind.

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