- The Washington Times - Thursday, August 10, 2006

TEL AVIV — After four weeks of relying on relatively small numbers of ground forces in southern Lebanon, Israel needs to bring the full brunt of its military superiority to bear on Hezbollah if it decides to push deeper into Lebanon to stop its rocket fire, military observers said yesterday.

Although a U.N. vote on a cease-fire resolution could bring the fighting to the end in a matter of days, if the diplomatic solution is not found, Israel is liable to act on a Security Cabinet decision Wednesday to widen the fighting.

That means deploying more infantry and armored units that would alter the fighting from limited skirmishes that favor Hezbollah to a full-scale ground war in which Israel could use some of its size advantages.

“You have to reach your goals fast and with strength. And we aren’t using that strength,” said Rafi Noy, a former brigadier general who served in Israel’s northern command. “We are a month after the beginning of the operation, and the army hasn’t gone out to war.”

High Israeli casualties — probably very high — are anticipated in the drive to the Litani River. Some 3,000 to 4,000 well-equipped Hezbollah guerrillas are thought to be awaiting the Israeli drive south of the river, sheltering from bombs and artillery in bunkers and tunnels. Several thousand more Hezbollah fighters are deployed north of the river.

Seven thousand Israeli troops have been engaged in the fighting in the security zone close to the border. Some 40,000 troops would be involved in a push to the Litani. Israeli officers estimated that it would take four to seven days to reach the river but that another four to six weeks would be needed to clear the 130 villages between the river and the Israeli border of Hezbollah fighters and of thousands of short-range Katyusha rockets stored there.

“You’ll see a lot more bloodshed before this is over,” said Shibley Telhami, a Middle East scholar at the University of Maryland. “We’re no way close to the top of the ladder in escalation.”

Mr. Noy said Israel’s tolerance of Katyusha rocket fire over the past four weeks marks a departure from the army’s long-standing battle doctrine that favors pushing the fight into enemy territory.

“Instead of engaging Hezbollah at Bint Jbeil, let them sit there and starve,” said Mr. Noy, referring to the southern Lebanese city where Hezbollah fighters have extracted heavy losses from Israel. “You just need to surround them.”

Israeli tanks should be deployed in large units rather than on individual patrol cleanup jobs, which raise the probability of getting hit by anti-tank missiles, he said.

And yet, Israel has already achieved a degree of success by reducing the number of Katyusha rockets fired from the strip of territory just north of the border, said Yaakov Amidror, a reserve major general who once headed the army’s planning division.

After establishing control over Hezbollah’s front line of bunkers, it should be easier for the Israeli Defense Forces (IDF) to advance to the Litani, he said.

He said it would be a mistake to stop the offensive before dealing a painful blow to Hezbollah.

“It will be a disaster because the Hezbollah can claim that they stopped the IDF,” he said. “All around the Muslim world, it will look like a victory for extremist Islam over the only democracy in the Middle East.”

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