Sunday, 4 January 2009

Lebanon lurks in shadow: Israel, Hamas say they learned lessons from 2006 war

Monday, January 5th

BY MATTHEW KALMAN in Jerusalem and HELEN KENNEDY in New York

Smoke, caused by explosions during an Israeli operation, rise over Gaza City on Sunday.

The specter of Israel's ill-fated 2006 war on Hezbollah hangs heavy over Gaza, with both sides hoping to profit from lessons learned in Lebanon.

Israeli infantry units, who were so poorly prepared for urban combat two years ago, have been training in a $30 million mock Gaza City at the Tze'elim army base east of the real Gaza Strip.

Built by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and funded largely by the U.S., the fake city covers 7.4 square miles and consists of 1,100 basic modules that can be arranged to represent market squares, public buildings and mosques. Israeli soldiers play the part of Arab civilians and militants, with all the shooting done by paintball.This time, Israel will not underestimate the enemy, leaders promise

Meanwhile, Hamas has taken note of where Hezbollah fighters had the edge in 2006.

Since taking over the Gaza Strip in 2007 from the Palestinian Authority, which was committed to disarming the militants, Hamas has been free to build a sprawling network of tunnels - the kind Hezbollah pioneered - to hide in and launch remote ambushes. Hamas also is believed to have built a vast armory of smuggled weapons.

"The Zionist enemy is advancing toward the trap we have prepared for them," said the Qassem Brigades, Hamas' military wing.

This time, Israel is better prepared to deal with the tunnels, however, including employing new sonar, radar and other sensors deployed in unmanned drones and in helicopters.

Analysts say bitter memories of 2006 are driving Israel in another way: A main objective of the Gaza war is to wipe out memories of failures in Lebanon.

"Israel believes its deterrence was lost in that war, and Israel's current campaign against Hamas should be seen as an effort to regain that deterrence," said David Makovsky, director of the Washington Institute's Project on the Middle East Peace Process. "Military officials believe that if Hamas feared Israel, they would not be firing rockets."

The 34-day Lebanon campaign was marred by hasty decisions and unrealistic expectations. War plans were abandoned at the last minute; the bombastic goals of the operation were impossible to fulfill; the command structure was faulty and troops were under-trained and ill-equipped.

"Things are being done in a much more orderly way," cabinet minister Isaac Herzog said.

In Lebanon, Hezbollah chief Hassan Nasrallah said the Gaza operation is so far "identical" to Israel's 2006 war on Lebanon.

"It is the same choices, the same battle, the same conspiracies. And God-willing, there will be the same outcome," he said.

No comments: