- The Washington Times - Tuesday, July 18, 2006

Israel is trying to defeat an enemy from the air, using U.S.-made strike fighters and precision-guided weapons to hit hundreds of Hezbollah targets throughout Lebanon and choke off the terrorist group’s supply of weapons from Iran and Syria.

A military analyst said Israel’s long-range objective appears to be to inflict so much damage on Hezbollah that the Iranian-backed militia is discouraged from trying to locate again in southern Lebanon, near the Israeli border.

Unlike U.S. Air Force and Navy pilots, who must prepare for a panoply of targets around the world, Israeli air planners can focus on enemies right next door, including Lebanon.

The current air war, which Israeli officials say could last for another week or two, is the result of years of planning and was aided by the Ofek-5 satellite and human intelligence, which provided the Israel Defense Force with a substantial list of possible targets.

Israel has more F-16 fighters than any other country besides the United States. With aerial refueling, “smart bombs” and some of the best fighter pilots in the world, Israel can maintain a 24/7 campaign for as long as the target list lasts.

Its air war in many ways duplicates the way U.S. air power dismantled targets in Bosnia, Serbia and Iraq in the past 10 years. Israel uses American-made F-16s and F-15s, bombs guided by the U.S.-designed Joint Direct Attack Munition (JDAM) and the Airborne Warning and Control System (AWACS) surveillance aircraft.

But the problem with trying to defeat a terror enemy from the air is that when the bombing stops, Hezbollah likely will try to regroup, and again start receiving rockets, rifles and munitions from Iran and Syria.

Israeli Deputy Prime Minister Shimon Peres ruled out the ground option yesterday, telling Britain’s Sky News, “We’re not going to penetrate Lebanon on the ground.”

Israel, under a U.N. resolution, withdrew from Lebanon in 2000. But Hezbollah never disarmed, as the resolution required.

Retired Air Force Col. John Warden, a planner for the 1991 Desert Storm air war, said Israel’s strategy appears to be to punish Hezbollah to the point that it will rethink basing itself in southern Lebanon. He said Israel also wants to destroy Hezbollah’s newer, longer-range rockets that can hit northern cities, and then keep the U.S.-designated terror group from obtaining replacements.

“They can probably restrict the new stuff that comes in reasonably well,” Col. Warden said. “They are almost certainly making it significantly more difficult for Hezbollah to move around, and to that extent, they are more easy to find and attack.”

He said he assumed the attacks on specific Lebanese army bases are aimed at those elements who have aided Hezbollah with arms or men.

The target list includes Hezbollah command centers, arms caches, mobile rocket launchers, the homes of Hezbollah leaders, the Beirut airport, key highway links to Syria and to southern Lebanon, power stations and communication centers. The Israeli air force said it hit more than 50 targets yesterday.

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