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QUO VADIS ISRAEL

Decision To Mobilize Up To Three Reserve Divisions Keeps Options Open

IDF Chief Of Staff Halutz: We Dont Want A Full Scale Ground Invasion In Lebanon But If Theres, No Alternative Were Ready

We Have No Interest In Going To War With Syria

IDF tank

Israels decision to mobilize three IDF reserve divisions has aroused speculation about the course of the war against Hezbollah. At the same time, the security cabinet has also decided to continue the policy of limited incursions against Hezbollah strongholds in southern Lebanon that killed nine soldiers on Wednesday. In an interview with the Maariv daily, Chief of Staff Dan Halutz has unveiled his thinking at this stage of the war.

:: IsraCast Audio ::

We dont want to prod ourselves into a major ground operation in south Lebanon, but if need be were ready. So says IDF Chief of Staff Dan Halutz.

General Halutz added if Hezbollah did not stop firing rockets, Israel might get fed up and launch an invasion. The IDFs ground forces might be ordered to advance to a point that could halt or distance Katyusha rockets from Israel.

How far might that be?

Halutz replies: Thats unknown. It could be five kilometers or a kilometer. I wont refer to greater numbers. Meanwhile, were trying to find professional alternatives.

While the IDF was empowered to call up three reserve divisions, the military must seek further cabinet approval to send them into battle. General (ret.) Yaacov Ami-Dror says there is logic in the IDF refreshing other reserves that were mobilized earlier. But the move also comes against the backdrop of the generals debate raging over the current IDF policy of limited incursions rather than a full-scale land invasion to drive the Katyushas out of range of northern Israel. Ami-Dror says such an invasion would require more ground troops. He notes that the size of the regular army has been cut in recent years due to the slashing of the armys budget. In addition, the IDF must be ready if Syrian President Bashaar Assad loses his common sense and joins the war against Israel. Although Ami-Dror feels this is remote at this stage he also feels that the young Bashar Assad lacks the political prudence and military caution of his father, the late Hafez Assad.

What of Cabinet Minister Avi Dichters proposal to hit Syrian targets linked to Syrias rocket supplies to Hezbollah?

Ami-Dror retorts: Absolutely not! Israel must concentrate its war effort against Hezbollah. The question was: Is this is great enough? Israel had to succeed in breaking Hezbollahs hold of Lebanon and then the U.N. implementation of resolution 1559. Ami- Dror declared this was something that must not be abandoned even if it prolongs the war. If achieved, the clout of both Syria and Iran would then be drastically reduced in Lebanon. Tehran and Damascus will lose their match-box for setting the Middle East ablaze whenever they choose. The intelligence expert added that he would not waste a gram of energy on Syria and the theatre of operations against the Syrians.

So, this appears to be the thinking behind the call-up decision.

Update: Hezbollah continues to launch more than one hundred rockets daily into Israel killing and maiming Israelis and causing extensive damage. Over one million Israeli civilians remain in bomb shelters while hundreds of thousands have fled south. How are Prime Minister Ehud Olmert and Defense Minister Amir Peretz faring in the opinion polls?

Yediot Ahronot newspaper reports the Israeli public is solidly behind the war effort.

  1. 71% support sending more ground forces into Lebanon
  2. 82% feel the war is justified
  3. Only 21% support an immediate cease-fire
  4. 71% say PM Olmert is doing a good job, only 10% give him a poor rating
  5. Defense Minister Amir Peretz rates 64% with 15% critical
  6. 80% believe the IDF is performing well

Casualties: Nine Israeli soldiers including four officers were killed on Wednesday sending a wave of sadness throughout the Jewish state. In a country of seven million people, the death of young combat soldiers, considered to be among the best and bravest, spreads like wildfire. Nearly everyone has a son or relative serving in the IDF. And then there are your neighbors, friends and colleagues who may have sons on the frontlines or flying aircraft over enemy territory. The killing of eight Golani infantrymen at the town of Bint Jbail was a major body blow. Just the day before, a senior IDF officer announced that the Hezbollah stronghold had been captured. But then the Golani patrol was ambushed while seeking out terrorists and their rocket launchers. Before storming Bint Jbail, the IDF warned its residents to evacuate. However, Hezbollah forced hundreds of them to remain behind to serve as a shield. In order not to harm innocent Lebanese, Israeli aircraft did not soften up the terrorists holed up in buildings. From behind fortified positions, Hezbollah opened fire firstthats when most of the Israeli soldiers were killed. Several dozen more were wounded in a firefight that lasted for hours as helicopters were hard pressed to land in the combat zone to evacuate the wounded. The battle of Bint Jbail has sparked an angry public reaction. Several public figures including two cabinet ministers have demanded that the IDF provide greater air support to ground units fighting in populated areas- after the Lebanese civilians have been warned to evacuate. There has also been some muted criticism of the senior IDF commanders involved.

Reacting to the casualties Chief of Staff Halutz replied: We are in a war and there are casualties in combat. The terrain is full of terrorists, explosive charges and land mines. Our forces are fighting with courage, professionalism and high morale. The war is still at its peak. We will suffer more casualties and more Katyushas will fall. Terrorists must not be allowed to take cover behind innocent Lebanese. At the same time were doing everything so that uninvolved civilians will not be harmed. I dont think theres a country in the world that behaves as we do. We announce a day in advance what were going to do. We even telephone homes when we have the number and say: Were going to attack, evacuate the building. We even warn those Lebanese we know are storing rockets for Hezbollah in their homes. This week we detected a Katyusha rocket launcher and rockets inside a mosque. Again the question arose should we hit it or not because its a mosque.

And what of replacing commanders who may have made mistakes? General Halutz said: People make mistakes. The IDF does not think that everyone is an angel and nobody makes mistakes. The question is whether a commanders mistake is within the realm of reason. Theres a Hebrew saying: Dont change horses when going uphill or the wagon may careen downhill. Right now were going uphill.

The Iranian and Syrian support for Hezbollah? General Halutz said Tehran viewed Hezbollah as its forward base in Lebanon. Since the Iranians do not have presence or landlink to Lebanon, they needed Syria as a middleman. Israel had no interest in fighting the Syrians. The Syrians must understand that Israel is not the problem-its their partnership with Iran.

And this footnote: There are many stories emerging from the Golani and Paratrooper units storming the fortified Hezbollah positions in the hilly terrain of southern Lebanon. One that stands out is that of Captain Dr. Marina Kaminsky, the only female combat doctor serving in enemy territory. The Israeli army not only has medics serving with the troops but also full-fledged doctors in the battle zone. Dr. Marina was one of the heroes in the battle for Bint Jbail. She treated more than twenty wounded soldiers in the midst of the firefight. One commander later said: It was amazing how cool and efficient she was under intense fire that lasted for hours. Dr. Marina described the fighting as tough and scary. I had to treat my friends, fellow officers and my soldiers. At age 32, Dr. Marina says: Im older than the soldiers so Im like their mother. It was very difficult. Captain Marina immigrated to Israel from Moldova where she studied medicine. The combat doctor travels in the combat zone inside a Merkava-Chariot tank which is plated with extra armor and medical equipment. It serves as an ambulance to rescue the wounded. She says her parents have some idea of her job but do not know she is serving on the front line in Lebanon. All they know is that their daughter is somewhere where its impossible to telephone. So, one of her friends at battalion headquarters telephones them once a day to tell them: Marina is fine.

David Essing

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