Israel Will Keep Fighting, General Says

A convoy of Israeli tanks. Credit: AP Photo/Ariel Schalit. i i

hide captionA convoy of Israeli tanks prepares to enter southern Lebanon near the northern Israeli village of Avivim.

A convoy of Israeli tanks. Credit: AP Photo/Ariel Schalit.

A convoy of Israeli tanks prepares to enter southern Lebanon near the northern Israeli village of Avivim.

Increased diplomatic efforts are unlikely to bring a quick end to the week-old war between Israel and Hezbollah militants. An Israeli general says the fighting could continue at least another week, if not longer.

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JOHN YDSTIE, host:

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And I'm Renee Montagne.

Israeli planes are still bombing areas of Lebanon. Today's attacks killed dozens more Lebanese civilians. And more Hezbollah rockets fell on Haifa in northern Israel.

There are increased diplomatic efforts to stop the fighting, but as NPR's Eric Westervelt reports there's little prospect that those efforts will lead to a quick end to this latest conflict in the Middle East.

ERIC WESTERVELT reporting:

Despite some early diplomatic maneuverings, there are few signs the fighting will stop anytime soon. Israeli Major General Udi Adam, head of the northern command, told Army radio yesterday that the air attacks had significantly degraded Hezbollah's fighting ability. But there's more fighting ahead, he said, adding, I think we should assume that it will take a few more weeks.

Shlomo Brom is a retired Brigadier General and the former head of strategic planning for the Israeli Army. He says the air war has inflicted far more damage on Hezbollah, particularly in the south, than is readily apparent.

Mr. SHLOMO BROM (Brigadier General, Israeli Defense Forces, Retired): You don't see the damage to Hezbollah. The media cannot see the rocket launching groups that are hunted and killed. And this kind of organization, that is a guerrilla organization, is consistent of many small groups of combatants that have to be intercepted, one by one, and killed. And it takes time.

WESTERVELT: The civilian death toll in south Lebanon may be greater than current estimates. Reuters reports that 12 civilians including several children were killed in an overnight air strike in the southern village of Screfa(ph). More than 270 people, mostly civilians, have been killed in Lebanon so far. Twenty-six people have been killed in Israel, 13 of tem civilians.

On the diplomatic front, there are doubts in some corners, that the Lebanese Army is a credible option to enforce any potential ceasefire in the south. Some European Union members in the U.N. are pushing for international peacekeepers, perhaps backed up the Lebanese army.

U.N. Secretary General Kofi Annan Tuesday, said any U.N. force should be larger and have a wider mandate than the current U.N. force, UNIFIL, which has been in south Lebanon since the late 1970s, and has been largely ineffective.

Itamar Rabinovich, the former Israeli Ambassador to the U.S., says UNIFIL's abysmal track record has turned many in Israel against the idea of any U.N. force.

Mr. ITAMAR RABINOVICH (Former Israeli Ambassador to the United States): UNIFIL, I'm afraid, is a joke. They have been there for 26 years. Since then there have been so many skirmishes, so many wars, and, you know, UNIFIL has not been effective, and yet nobody bothered to recall UNIFIL. So, I'm not sure that the magic word of, let's send an international peacekeeping force to south Lebanon and take care of the problem, is going to take care of the problem.

WESTERVELT: Potentially, that leaves the Lebanese army as the main stabilization force. Israel's Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni, Tuesday, reiterated that there would be no ceasefire until two captured Israeli soldiers are released, Hezbollah is disarmed, and Lebanese army forces moved in to enforce the disarmament.

But Israeli air strikes have also pounded at least Lebanese army bases or outposts, and radar sites, weakening the very force that might be used to disarm Hezbollah. General Brom said Israel is walking a tightrope, trying to take out only those Lebanese forces seen as operationally supporting Hezbollah.

Mr. BROM: When some elements of the Lebanese military are being in cahoots with Hezbollah, is cooperating with it - they are punished.

WESTERVELT: In addition to its armed wing, Hezbollah is also a political and religious movement, and Itamar Rabinovich says when the fighting stops, Israel's biggest challenge will be dealing with the future of Hezbollah in Lebanon.

Mr. RABINOVICH: Extending the real sovereignty of the Lebanese state, all the way to the border, is not going to be easy. Because, you know, you are dealing with the Lebanese government that has two Hezbollah ministers in its ranks. So you need to be sure that the government is solidly behind it and capable of doing that.

WESTERVELT: But the continued fighting underscores just how far away those challenges are right now. Yesterday, Israeli military officials said the number of Hezbollah rockets fired was down in the last few days. Just a few hours later, a new barrage hit ten cities and towns across the north.

A 37-year-old factory worker in the coastal city of Nahariya had just hurried his family into a bomb shelter, when a Katyusha landed, killing him instantly. This morning, more rockets hit cities across northern Israel, wounding several people.

Eric Westervelt, NPR News, Jerusalem.

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