- The Washington Times - Monday, August 14, 2006

AVIVIM, Israel — Fatigue etched on their faces, Israeli reservists resting yesterday after a foray into Lebanon made no secret of their joy to be back — or of their frustration at the outcome of the war.

“We have all had enough of the war, but we know we have to do it,” said 27-year-old Lt. Becky Malakov, who had just returned from a week in combat with a motorized infantry division in southern Lebanon.

“When we were on the front, we didn’t realize how mixed Israeli opinion was on the handling of the war, and that was better for us,” he added, as a fragile cease-fire brokered by the United Nations took hold.

Lt. Malakov served in Lebanon eight years ago as a regular soldier during the Israeli occupation of the southern border area and has no good memories of that experience.

“I hoped to never go back. But today it’s different. We are fighting to defend our homeland, and the soldiers are very motivated,” he said.

The problem, he added, was that the enemy was “no less motivated and has prepared for a long time for a conflict on a terrain which is familiar to them.”

Another soldier was even more direct. “Hezbollah taught us a harsh lesson — 20,000 of our men failed in one month to overcome their 2,000 [men],” he said.

“All that we have done during a week is to hold a building in a sector of southern Lebanon, and even that cost us four dead in the battalion.”

Like other reservists, this soldier, who declined to be named, is not opposed to the war but would prefer to leave it to active personnel.

Many seemed to have a feeling of unfinished business after the Israeli offensive failed to silence the Hezbollah rockets.

“It’s a shame that it ended like that, with a half-victory,” said reservist Dror Bar Levav, who would have liked the army to have “finished once and for all with Hezbollah.”

The hardest thing of all, said the soldiers — many of them fathers, is the uncertainty.

The rumor is that their unit will be demobilized, but for now they are camped at the border, on alert to return to Lebanon at any moment if needed to join Israeli troops still deployed there.

The troops, who camp in a fairly relaxed yet serious atmosphere typical of reserve units, are recovering their strength and replenishing their equipment.

A similar mood prevailed among crew members recuperating by their Merkava tank at the border in western Israel.

“It was tough because Hezbollah fights well,” said one reservist, who thinks the massive use of tanks in a mountainous region was a mistake, given the deadly efficacy of Russian anti-tank missiles.

“We didn’t get out of it very well, and it’s maybe only putting off [fighting Hezbollah] until later, but we didn’t have a choice,” he said as scores of tanks roared up the road to the border to collect returning troops.

An estimated 119 of their fellow soldiers won’t be returning home alive, having died in clashes with Hezbollah since the start of the conflict on July 12 after the Shi’ite militant group kidnapped two Israeli soldiers in cross-border raids.

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