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http://www3.haaretz.co.il/eng/scripts/article.asp?mador=4&datee=02/20/00&id=69672


 

A surgical strike with a boomerang

By Zvi Bar'el, Ha'aretz, 02/20/2000


 

The Israel Defense Forces chief of staff's demand that the army be authorized to fire into Lebanese villages has generated so much opposition and so much international noise that some people might think it is a new policy.The IDF already fires into villages, and in at least three famous operations it received full authorization to take such action: in Operation Accountability (1993), Operation Grapes of Wrath (1996) and the attack this month on Beirut.

Between such operations, the IDF and the South Lebanon Army (SLA) constantly shoot at "the sources of firing" against them and, in the process, inflict casualties on Lebanese civilians, whether they happen to be in the village itself or in its municipal boundaries.

The most striking instance was the shell fired by the SLA last December on the village of Arrab-Salim, which hit a school and wounded 24 children - but there are plenty of less wholesale examples.

The IDF differentiates between authorized shooting at populated locations and mistakes, but when the chief of staff promises that the firing will be cautious and well-aimed and that every effort will be made not to hit civilians, this is misleading at best.

It is impossible to fire into villages "cautiously," particularly when the speed of the reaction is of the essence in order to strike immediately at the enemy.

But that is only part of what is misleading. The other part involves the attempt to persuade the public that the IDF can in fact hit, in real time, those doing the shooting. The Hezbollah fighters do indeed operate out of villages, but a relatively lengthy time elapses between their highly mobile shooting attacks - which are carried out by a few people, who immediately disappear into another area - and the IDF's ability to react.

According to an Israeli military source, "it is impossible in that amount of time to identify the source of the shooting, to aim the artillery - let alone to send in the Air Force - and to give the fire order and then score an accurate hit on the shooters. Our response will always be after the fact and will at most send a sharp message to the village."

"Sending a message" is, then, the main benefit that the IDF hopes to derive from the new policy. And far from being a new policy, it is an old method that has its roots back in the days of the reprisal raids in the 1950s.

Villages in Jordan and localities in the Gaza Strip still remember the IDF's attempts to deliver messages in the form of shelling and cross-border raids.

In Lebanon, firing on villages will reflect the bankruptcy of the previous method, in which a large number of villages were fired at in order to induce their residents to pressure the Lebanese government to pressure Syria to restrain Hezbollah.

The new method will also do away with the grounds for bombing infrastructure targets in Lebanon. Henceforth, every village will get individual treatment; a village that permits Hezbollah fighters to open fire from its area, for example, will pay for it.

At most, this will be punishment that does not guarantee prevention, but it will absolve Beirut and Damascus of responsibility and place the onus on the local mukhtar, or village headman. And when the mukhtar has to decide between a confrontation with Hezbollah fighters and those in the village who support the organization, or a strike by the IDF, it is not difficult to guess which one he will choose.

At most, the chief of staff asked the security cabinet to authorize surgical punishment that is of dubious operational usefulness. The problem is that the instrument he wants to use is not a scalpel, but a boomerang.

Lieutenant General Shaul Mofaz is no position to ensure that Hezbollah will fire at the IDF from one village every day, so that the IDF will be able to punish that village and rest - and a situation could develop in which Hezbollah will fire from 20 villages in one day, and the IDF, which will get authorization to fire at will, will strike at all of them.

If even one civilian is killed in each village, the IDF will have to put its weapons into storage at the order of the United States, while the government will have to look around to see whether it has any friends left - even outside the Arab world.

The government does not have to apologize to the IDF for curbing its reactions, and the IDF is not the body that is responsible for the quality of the government's decisions. The army need only carry them out.

That proper structure is undermined if the IDF's chief of staff makes an attempt to drag both the government and the state into a regional and international entanglement by means of a dangerous and futile solution


 




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