Bold Words; But What Reality?

In a speech this afternoon that Fox News termed “defiant,” Israeli Defense Minister Amir Peretz:

…vowed that Hezbollah will “not return to what it was” and that “anyone who attacks Israel” awaits the same fate.

The Jewish state “will not allow the Hezbollah flag to be flown on the borders of Israel,” Peretz said, adding that Israel had no intention of waging war against Syria.

The Defense Minister’s speech followed a cabinet meeting whose tone, according to Haaretz, was considerably less militant:

The cabinet decided earlier Thursday morning against expanding the IDF operation in southern Lebanon, but did okay a further, extensive call-up of reserve troops.

During the cabinet meeting, which came a day after nine IDF soldiers were killed in fierce battles with Hezbollah, the ministers decided that while the troops would be called up, they would not be deployed until further notice.

The cabinet agreed that everything must be done to avoid hostilities with Syria, or any actions that could result in Syria being dragged into the conflict.

Senior military personnel requested a widespread call-up of reserve soldiers for a two-month long ground operation to “cleanse” the area south of the Litani River of Hezbollah infrastructure.

A more daring operation was proposed by Mossad chief Meir Dagan.

So the military’s request to expand the operation against Hezbollah was rejected. IDF leaders are apparently unhappy:

Military sources claimed Wednesday that the IDF’s current tactics are having an insufficient impact on the Katyusha rocket launchers and expose the soldiers to excessive danger. The criticism was mostly aimed at the decision not to employ large ground forces in Lebanon, which would give the IDF a significant advantage over a guerrilla force.

The sources also criticized what they described as insufficient utilization of aircraft in ground support operations, because of concerns that they might kill Lebanese civilians that did not evacuate target areas.

Israel is experiencing the same pressures that the United States encounters whenever it tries to take decisive action against terrorists. Israel is endangering its own troops by providing limited air support in order to minimize civilian casualties. Does it receive any credit for this restraint? Of course not. On the contrary, international press coverage of the conflict is limited almost entirely to hysterical body counts, which, on the Lebanese side, don’t even distinguish between terrorists and civilians.

The current strategy is intended to “push the rocket launchers further north.” But, given what we now know about the range of the rockets Hezbollah already has, and given Iran’s ability to resupply the terrorist group with ever more dangerous weapons, is this a sensible strategic goal?

I don’t think so. I think that Israel needs to kill as many Hezbollah terrorists as possible, thereby disabling the group, at least temporarily. The Lebanese government can then assert its sovereignty over southern Lebanon, and the international community must both hold Lebanon responsible for any terrorism launched from its territory, and provide whatever help is necessary to prevent Hezbollah or similar armed groups from re-forming there. Anything less, it seems to me, is a strategic defeat for Israel and for the free (i.e., non-Sharia) world.

UPDATE: The Jerusalem Post’s characterization of the cabinet meeting is similar:

While approving the call-up of three reserve divisions, the security cabinet on Thursday decided against significantly widening the IDF’s operations in southern Lebanon, rejecting a recommendation by Chief of General Staff Lt.-Gen. Dan Halutz to escalate the offensive against Hizbullah.

Halutz, IDF officials said, asked the cabinet for permission to expand Israel’s ground operations in southern Lebanon, to insert larger forces to sweep through the Hizbullah strongholds in the area. According to a high-ranking source in the Northern Command, Hizbullah has several hundred underground bunkers in southern Lebanon, mostly near the border with Israel.

As a result of the cabinet decision, the IDF said the operation in Lebanon, now called “the war within the straits” would retain its current format, according to which brigade and battalion-level forces – not division-level as Halutz had requested – carry out pinpoint incursions on specific targets.

PAUL adds: One can’t help but wonder, as IDF leaders seem to, whether Israel is fighting to win. Much has been made of the tough going the Israelis faced in the Hezbollah stronghold town yesterday, when eight or so Israeli soldiers were killed. But according to Shepard Smith at Fox, approximately 100 Israelis were killed when Israel took the same town in the 1980s. There was also a report today that the ambush that resulted in a number of Israeli deaths occurred because Israel left one road out of town open to enable civilians to escape. According to that resport, Hezbollah used this road to bring in reinforcements.

So the difference we’re seeing in Arab resistance this time may be less the result of a more determined, better trained and equipped Hezbollah and more the result of Israel’s unwillingness to send in enough troops, and take ruthless enough measures, to get the job done. Unfortunately, the perception that Hezbollah can now successfully resist Israeli forces is all that’s required for Hezbollah to emerge from this war as the winner.

It’s still too early to pass judgment on whether Israel’s center-left government is up to the military task that past Israeli concessions have left it to perform. But the evidence so far is less than encouraging.

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