July 20, 2006

Questions emerge in Israel over Lebanon war

By Matthew Tostevin

JERUSALEM (Reuters) - "We will win" and "Israel is strong"
are the message on the latest bumper stickers in the blue and
white colors of the Jewish state.

Support for the war on Lebanon's Hizbollah guerrillas
remains firm in Israel, but questions are starting to surface
over the effectiveness of a week-old blitz that has wrecked
Lebanon and killed more than 300 people there.

Despite the assault, Hizbollah is still firing deadly
rockets into Israeli towns, still able to fight troops at the
border and still holding the two Israeli soldiers whose
abduction started the crisis.

"Hizbollah remains the same intransigent rival as before.
It is showing no signs of breaking," wrote Amos Harel in
Haaretz, a usually dovish paper that has generally backed the

Prime Minister Ehud Olmert has vowed to keep fighting until
he meets Israel's goals of bringing home the hostages and
ensuring that Hizbollah is disarmed under a U.N. resolution and
removed as a threat to the northern border.

The question is whether those aims can be achieved by
bombing Lebanon or if Israel might have to either begin a major
land war or find a way to back out.

"At a certain point, people are going to start wondering
'Is air power enough?," said Cameron Brown of the Herzliya
Interdisciplinary Center in Israel.

"There was a wave of optimism, but I think Israel is
starting to become more sober in the appreciation of what it
can do with each option."

The only obvious military alternative to the air campaign
is to send tanks into south Lebanon.

Even if smaller than Israel's 1982 invasion, it would
inevitably bring casualties and tie troops down in the hilly
terrain, ideal for guerrilla attacks, that Israel evacuated
under fire six years ago.


So far, incursions into south Lebanon have been close to
the border and solely by special forces trying to destroy
Hizbollah outposts. Two soldiers were killed there on

Security sources say Israel is not at the invasion stage
yet, but it knows time is limited before even the United States
joins pressure to curb air raids -- particularly as Lebanon's
civilian death toll grows and Israel's outside image worsens.

Supporters of the air campaign argue that it is hard to
tell how much damage has been done. A cabinet minister
estimated on Thursday it amounted to half Hizbollah's capacity.
Israelis distrust Lebanese figures showing few Hizbollah dead.

"This is a three-week carefully detailed strategy. It's
carefully planned, almost computerized, and we're only one and
a half weeks into it," said Gerald Steinberg of Israel's
Bar-Ilan University.

Israel's public still appears behind the idea of waging
war, even if there is debate over the best way to do it.

Support has only been strengthened by Hizbollah rocket fire
that accounted for 15 of the 29 Israeli dead, though if the
volume of Katyushas falling on Israel grows it could increase
pressure for ground action.

Israel is also still determined to ensure that it walks
away with something that looks like a victory -- more than just
official pronouncements on the degree of damage done to an
Iranian-backed group that could quickly recover.

But an attempt to kill Hizbollah leader Sayyed Hassan
Nasrallah with a huge bombing raid on Wednesday appeared to
have failed. The goals of disarming Hizbollah or at least
keeping it from the border also look far off.

"This war is going to end with a sour taste in our mouths,"
wrote Yaron London in the best selling Yedioth Ahronoth daily.
"We had best begin to accustom ourselves to that flavor."