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Sunday, August 06, 2006

Welcome to Lebanon-Surprise


Alon Gelnik, 20, a soldier in the Israel Defense
Forces, discusses fighting against Hezbollah after
returning from a week-long tour of duty in southern

West Bank battles didn't prepare the Israeli army for Hezbollah

By Dion Nissenbaum
McClatchy Newspapers

KIRYAT SHEMONA, Israel - Amir hunkered down in a battered apartment building, praying to God as Hezbollah fighters fired volley after volley at the Israeli soldiers working to drive the militants from southern Lebanon.

This isn't the kind of fighting Amir and his Nahal Brigade comrade Assaf imagined when they joined the Israeli army.

"I didn't expect it," said Assaf, a 21-year-old first sergeant whose Israeli unit repelled a fierce Hezbollah attack last week in the southern Lebanese town of Taibe. "I thought it would end, like, two weeks ago."

After years battling untrained and ill-equipped Palestinian militants, Israel's young soldiers now find themselves fighting a disciplined, well-armed Hezbollah force putting up surprisingly strong resistance.

All along the border, dirty, tired, shell-shocked and surprised Israeli soldiers emerged from Lebanon this weekend for a brief respite before being sent back in to try to push Hezbollah farther north. So far, about 10,000 soldiers have fanned out across southern Lebanon where they have methodically worked to seize key towns after weeks of air strikes.

Although the United Nations may call for an end to the fighting early this week, the Israeli cabinet will meet Sunday to consider sending thousands more soldiers to drive Hezbollah out of the bottom fifth of Lebanon.

The job has proved to be more difficult than the Israeli military had imagined. In just over three weeks of fighting, 46 Israeli soldiers have been killed by Hezbollah ambushes, anti-tank missiles and firefights.

The Israeli military describes Hezbollah fighters as being equipped with sophisticated equipment, from night-vision goggles to a seemingly endless arsenal of missiles.

"That's the most scary situation," Amir, a 21-year-old medic, said while taking a break with other members of his brigade at a hotel a few miles south of the Israel-Lebanon border. Like Assaf, he declined to give his last name. "When they shoot missiles, there's nothing you can do but lay on the floor and pray to God. It's only destiny if you get out of it."

Until Hezbollah sparked the conflict on July 12 by capturing two Israeli soldiers and killing eight others in a border clash, most of the young Israeli soldiers had seen little serious combat.

Many have spent time fighting Palestinian militants in the West Bank and Gaza Strip. Few considered them worthy adversaries.

"We're not used to people who know how to fight," said Assaf. "Here, it's scary. It's like a war."

Hezbollah runs an army, not guerrillas. They can fight toe to toe with the IDF. And Israeli intelligence should have known this.

posted by Steve @ 11:23:00 AM

11:23:00 AM

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