Israel's Strategy in Southern Lebanon
NOAH ADAMS, host:
As we mentioned, more than 300 Lebanese civilians have been killed in this conflict. That's according to the Lebanese government. Many have died trying to get out of harm's way in the southern part of the country, following Israeli warnings.
The Israeli military has been urging civilians to evacuate so the villages and countryside can be cleared of Hezbollah missiles and troops.
Captain Ishai David of the Israeli Defense Forces joins us now from Tel Aviv. Welcome back to our program, Captain David.
Captain ISHAI DAVID (Israel Defense Force Spokesman): Thank you, sir.
ADAMS: We spoke with you last week when the evacuation program was just getting underway. And how effective has it been, in your view, over the weekend? What's been going on?
Captain DAVID: Well, I believe that the desired result is, you know, starting to expose itself. We're seeing fewer casualties, although we're still seeing Lebanese civilian casualties as a result of the fact that they are living in the midst of the hub of terrorism, namely terrorists, Hezbollah terrorists using their infrastructure, using their homes, their villages, as hiding places and safe havens to hide in and to store their weapons, their artillery, their anti-tank missiles, and all the different kinds of weapons that they are using against our civilians in Israeli and against our soldiers.
ADAMS: Describe the countryside as you can envision it now. You're saying that Hezbollah fighters are there. There are still rockets there, and there are people who are loyal, at least, supporting Hezbollah who are staying behind?
Captain DAVID: I don't have an explanation for that. You know, I don't want to go into the heads and minds of the people who are staying there. But we've been doing our best. We've gone all out to try to convince the civilians in those areas to flee the areas, to get out of there, and to let us continue on with our operation until the situation is resolved, until there are no more Hezbollah terrorists living there and until the civilians on the Israeli side and the Lebanese side can start living peacefully again.
ADAMS: They could, the people who live in southern Lebanon, they could say, paying attention to what's going on, Israel just wants to get us out on the road so they can shoot us because they've seen civilian cars being hit.
Captain DAVID: We're not trying to hit civilians. That is the point that I want to make very unequivocal. We're trying to hit the terrorists and end this war.
ADAMS: Well, let me give you an example. Let me ask you about this. If you're an Israeli jet fighter pilot, you see a Mercedes on the road below, on the road in southern Lebanon, there's a white flag out the window. You fire a rocket and hit the car.
If that car has civilians, what was the purpose of that strike?
Captain DAVID: Look, sometimes the cars are not always marked. If the pilot understands that it is, in fact, a civilian car, he will not target it. If the pilot has prior intelligence information that the car might be loaded with explosives or the car might be loaded with terrorists or is a mix between civilians and terrorists, then that is a very difficult dilemma.
And if the car is mixed with civilians and terrorists, then we will not hit them intentionally. But sometimes it's very hard to distinguish between terrorists and civilians. That's a very difficult dilemma.
For the most part, we're successful at distinguishing between them. Unfortunately sometimes that's not the case.
ADAMS: Captain David, how do you see this week going in terms of being able to get most of the people out of southern Lebanon? And then will there be more incursions by Israeli ground forces to go in and see what can be done about the remaining rockets?
Captain DAVID: Israeli operations are continuing as we speak. We have artillery, we have our infantry, we have our air force, all working together to try to find the terrorists and to try to diffuse a very difficult situation.
Let me remind you that our soldiers are being met with land mines and roadside explosives that have been pre-planted by the terrorists in order to prevent a possible IDF attack on the Hezbollah terrorist organization.
That is something that's obviously unacceptable, for civilians to be living around land mines and explosives. But we will continue to make sure the civilians in southern Lebanon understand our intention. We will continue to distribute leaflets for the remaining civilians to try to stay clear from these areas, and hopefully the number of civilian casualties will not rise any more.
ADAMS: From Tel Aviv, Captain Ishai David of the Israeli Defense Force.
Capt. DAVID: Thank you, Noah.
ADAMS: You can follow all of NPR's coverage of the ongoing conflict, plus read a sampling of world opinion on the crisis. Go to npr.org/mideast.
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