Israel Shifts Strategy in Fight Against Hezbollah
ALEX CHADWICK, host:
NPR's Mike Shuster is in northern Israel. Mike, welcome back to the show. Let's just note Israel's stated goal here is to destroy Hezbollah. Is Israel getting anywhere with this two weeks now of air and ground offensive?
MIKE SHUSTER reporting:
Well, the Israeli military leaders say they are. They're telling the Israeli public that they are. They say they're hitting important Hezbollah targets across Lebanon, command and control, rocket launchers, that kind of thing. And they're also pounding Hezbollah positions across the border in southern Lebanon. They're hitting them hard with artillery and air strikes, especially hard in the last couple of days.
But at the same time it doesn't look like the Israelis are - certainly not destroying or defeating Hezbollah. Dozens, scores, more than 100 a day, rockets that Hezbollah is launching are hitting Israel, some Israeli towns and cities, some harmlessly in the countryside.
So if the goal is to stop Hezbollah from launching its rockets against Israel, more than two weeks into this war, Israel hasn't done it.
CHADWICK: Mike, I see television pictures out of southern Lebanon, and I can't figure out where these rockets could be coming from, because it looks like it's all bombed and blown up.
SHUSTER: Well, I haven't seen the same pictures because I don't see everything about what's taking place across the border from here, but it's very rugged country. As I understand it, Hezbollah over the course of the last few years has acquired a lot of rockets and has dispersed them well.
They've put them in a lot of buildings, in bunkers and some tunnels near the border. These are small things, too, that can be moved around quickly, at least most of the Katyusha rockets that have been hitting just across the border.
So even despite the destruction, at least we know - there's evidence - that scores of rockets keep hitting Israel. In fact today there was a more longer-range rocket that went some 30 miles into Israel. This is a greater range than we've seen so far.
CHADWICK: So what other options do you think the Israelis have at this point?
SHUSTER: That's not clear, and right now they're weighing their options. The political and military leadership are weighing their options, since the firefight that left nine Israeli soldiers dead on Wednesday. There's been a lull in the ground action, particularly along the border not far from where I am, and I think that the Israeli military leadership is trying to determine what might be the best course for it to pursue, maybe to focus more carefully on what its war goals are and how to achieve it militarily.
Not much action on the ground yesterday, not much action on the ground today, and we go into the Jewish Sabbath tomorrow, Saturday. So it's not at all clear, and I don't think it'll become clear for a few days.
CHADWICK: Israel's called up reserves, military reserves, 15,000 soldiers called up yesterday. Does this mean more escalation?
SHUSTER: Everybody is wondering that. The Israeli government took pains to say that this does not mean more escalation, that this doesn't mean a ground invasion. But we're getting signals from Syria that Syria is seeing this call-up and wondering about whether Israel is going to expand the war.
And in fact Israeli leaders today, both military and political leaders, went to great lengths to send a signal to Syria that they don't mean this to be a general mobilization to lead to an attack on Syria. What the Israeli leaders say is they're calling these reservists up to meet any eventuality.
CHADWICK: Let me ask you another question, Mike, and that's about where all this leaves the United States diplomatically. There's an interesting piece in the New York Times today that talks about how Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice had managed to kind of knit together the idea that the U.S. would be working with allies on very important questions, Iran and Korea, over the last year. And now maybe all of that's blown apart by the diplomatic conference on Wednesday and the U.S. isolation there.
SHUSTER: Almost the rest of the world has been gradually, day by day, in this war putting greater pressure on the United States to increase the energy of its diplomacy and to work for a cease-fire. And Secretary of State Rice has resisted that, President Bush has resisted that. They say they want a cease-fire, but they say they want it to be sustainable and enduring. And they use that phraseology to hold back from pushing aggressively for a cease-fire because pushing aggressively for a cease-fire would first and foremost mean putting pressure on Israel.
The rest of the world seems to have come to the viewpoint that they want this fighting to stop, that it's very dangerous, it could spread further, and that the Lebanese have suffered enough. But yet it goes on day to day and the United States has pulled back. So if there was an interest in building a greater multilateral diplomatic coalition on other issues before, that's eluded the United States in this particular case.
CHADWICK: NPR's Mike Shuster in Kiryat Shemonah in northern Israel. Mike, thank you.
SHUSTER: You're welcome, Alex.