- The Washington Times - Thursday, August 10, 2006

TEL AVIV — Israel’s Security Cabinet yesterday approved an expanded ground offensive into southern Lebanon, a decision that came as Israel suffered its biggest single day battlefield losses of the war — 15 soldiers killed.

Hours after the decision, Hezbollah leader Sheik Hassan Nasrallah appeared on television, pledging to turn southern Lebanon into a graveyard for Israeli soldiers.

The Bush administration warned both sides not to escalate the month-old war.

The decision by Israel’s Security Cabinet authorizes Prime Minster Ehud Olmert to order Israeli forces to move north of a narrow strip just beyond the border to the Litani River.

The 9-0 vote with three abstentions came as the U.N. Security Council remained deadlocked over a proposal for a cease-fire, with disagreements between the United States and France delaying a vote.

“The trauma of 1982 shouldn’t limit us in 2006. This is a completely different story. This isn’t the PLO, its Iran,” said Justice Minister Haim Ramon after casting his vote in the Cabinet. “We have to win this war.”

He was referring to Israel’s 1982 invasion of Lebanon, which led to an 18-year occupation of southern Lebanon.

Israel succeeded in driving the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) from Lebanon, but the war gave birth to Hezbollah, with financial and military backing from Iran.

Israelis have been frustrated that four weeks of fighting have failed to limit Hezbollah’s ability to paralyze northern Israel by firing more than 100 rockets a day.

The Israeli military said late yesterday that 15 soldiers had been killed during the day and another 38 soldiers wounded in battles across southern Lebanon, the Associated Press reported. There were 40 Hezbollah members reported killed.

Israel’s Channel 10 television reported that members of Iran’s Revolutionary Guard had been found among Hezbollah guerrillas slain by Israeli forces in southern Lebanon.

The report, which cited diplomatic sources, said the Iranian soldiers had been identified by documents they were carrying.

Hezbollah denied late yesterday that Iranian fighters were among its guerrillas battling Israeli forces in southern Lebanon.

“Hezbollah categorically denies the lies and claims that the enemy is promoting that Iranian fighters are present in the confrontations with the occupation forces,” the pro-Iranian Lebanese guerrilla group said.

The Revolutionary Guards are traditionally very close to fellow Shi’ite Muslims in Hezbollah and were deployed in south Lebanon in the 1980s.

In mid-July, Israeli military sources were quoted as saying Hezbollah’s most advanced missiles were under the direct control of some 200 members of Iran’s Revolutionary Guard.

In Crawford, Texas, yesterday, where President Bush is vacationing, White House press secretary Tony Snow told reporters, “We want an end to violence, and we do not want escalations.”

He said the statement applied to both sides. Nevertheless, it marked the administration’s strongest public warning directed at longtime ally Israel since the fighting began July 12.

Commenting on discussions at the Security Council in New York, Mr. Snow said:

“We are working hard now to bridge differences between the United States position and some of the positions of our allies.”

The main dispute is over the timing of an Israeli pullout from Lebanon, with France insisting that troops leave once a cease-fire is in place and the United States calling for an international force to be deployed first.

Lebanon has offered to send 15,000 troops to patrol the border region.

The United States is concerned that the Lebanese army won’t be able to prevent a security vacuum by itself.

Sheik Nasrallah endorsed the deployment of Lebanese troops in the south, but he criticized the U.N. draft proposal, saying it is slanted in favor of Israel.

The Hezbollah leader also made an unusual appeal to Israeli Arab residents of Haifa, telling them to evacuate the city ahead of renewed rocket strikes.

“I have a special message to the Arabs of Haifa, to your martyrs and to your wounded. I call on you to leave this city. I hope you do this. … Please leave so we don’t shed your blood, which is our blood,” Sheik Nasrallah said.

By last night, about 160 rockets had fallen on Israel in the previous 48 hours, among more than 3,000 fired by Hezbollah since the war began.

Military discontent with the slow pace of the war apparently prompted Israeli army chief of staff, Dan Halutz, to sideline northern command chief Maj. Gen. Udi Adam on Tuesday by sending the deputy chief of staff to oversee the northern war headquarters.

Though the army has tried to minimize the significance of the announcement, officials conceded it was the first time since the 1973 Arab-Israeli war that a general has been sacked in the middle of a war.

“It’s the right decision, in light of everything that has happened,” said Matan Vilnai, a Labor Party member of parliament who previously served as deputy chief of staff.

“We all know that this [war] should look different,” said Nachman Shai, a former army spokesman.

Avshalom Vilan, from the dovish Meretz party, wrote on the Ynetnews.com Web site:

“The more we understand the limits of force of a modern army — no matter how strong it is — against guerrillas that don’t count their dead and say they’re playing for all the stakes, the more we understand that the solution to the problem can only be achieved through a diplomatic solution.”

c This article is based in part on wire service reports.

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