Wednesday, August 09, 2006

IDF Operating North of Metulla--Why Only Now?

Ynet, the online news service of Yediot Acharonot, Israel's largest circulation daily newspaper, reports here that the IDF is now operating in the area of Lebanon north of the Israeli border town of Metulla, which is the area from which Hezbollah has launched rockets daily at the city of Kiryat Shemona and other northern Israeli targets.

I continue to be astonished at the way that Israel has conducted this war. Metulla is only a few kilometers north of Kiryat Shemona. It is on the border with Lebanon. The area of Lebanon immediately across the border fence has been a Hezbollah stronghold since Israel pulled out of Lebanon in 2000. Rockets have been raining on Kiryat Shemona, launched from this area immediately on Israel's border, for a month now. (The Hezbollah rockets that accompanied its initial incursion to kill and kidnap Israeli soldiers would have been launched from there.) We are talking about yards from the border, not kilometers. Why now, only now, is Israel sending troops into this area?

Are questions such as these the reason that the Chief of Staff of Israel's armed forces, Dan Halutz, yesterday appointed a "liaison" to the Northern Command? As reported by Israel National News here, this move is widely seen as a demonstration of "no confidence" in the northern district commander, Major General Udi Adam, and preparation for a major insertion of ground troops, perhaps 30-100,000 soldiers, into southern Lebanon. If so that might be a helpful sign. But one must ask the following questions:

1. Is it already too late? Will U.S. pressure on Israel to call a truce stop Israel before it can clean out Hezbollah south of the Litani River?

2. Why did it take so long? Was it General Adam's fault, or did Halutz and Israel's political leaders deny him the ground troops to properly accomplish the mission of confronting Hezbollah, relying instead on air power? Remember, Chief of Staff General Halutz is the former commander of the Israeli air force. Who was more likely to have insisted on the use of air power instead of ground troops, Adam or Halutz?

The pity of it all, whatever the cause of the delay, is that the failure to go to war with all the force needed to do the job has a cost in lives of Israeli soldiers and civilians, and, yes, Lebanese civilians as well. Israel is paying the toll in soldiers' live in any event--15 today alone as reported here. Four soldiers died on Tuesday in Bint Jabril, a town that Israel first entered weeks ago. It seems clear that insufficient ground forces were available in order not only to clear out the town completely, but to prevent enemy forces from returning to it. And every day that Hezbollah continues to fight increases its standing in the Arab world.

And yet, delay only continues. The Jerusalem Post reports that although 40,000 troops are massed on the border, in preparation for the expanded ground operations, the IDF General Staff has postponed the onset of the operation. The story continues:

"A high-ranking IDF officer and member of the General Staff told The Jerusalem Post Wednesday that it would take the military at least one week to reach the Litani and beyond, and to set up position and begin taking control of the area.
"The officer said that it would then take four to six weeks to clear out southern Lebanon, from the Litani river south, of the Hizbullah presence and to destroy the thousands of Katyusha rockets and rocket launchers believed to be in that area. "

Of course, Israel does not have 4 to 6 weeks before a ceasefire is imposed. And as for a week to advance to the Litani River, is this the IDF that defeated the combined armies of Syria, Jordan and Egypt and conquered the Golan Heights, the West Bank and the Sinai Peninsula in 6 days?


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