Sunday 27 August 2006

Israeli war protests echo 1973

As troops battled Hezbollah, outcry arose that may yet end political, military careers

Sunday, August 27, 2006
Page A - 8

Matthew Kalman, Chronicle Foreign Service

Jerusalem -- Israel's war against Hezbollah in Lebanon ended two weeks ago, but one date keeps recurring in the endless Israeli press commentary: 1973.

That was the year of the Yom Kippur War, when Israeli intelligence failed to predict a surprise attack by Egypt and Syria that nearly overwhelmed the Jewish state. Israel's combat soldiers -- prominent among them future Prime Minister Ariel Sharon -- managed to eke out a victory, but the nation's leaders were forced to resign, clearing the way for a new generation led by Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin.

Back in 1973, however, the process took time. The war lasted for 20 days in October. Prime Minister Golda Meir was returned to power in a general election in December, albeit with a reduced majority, and eventually resigned the following April, six months after the war.

Moti Ashkenazi, the lone combat soldier who led the protests that eventually brought about the downfall of Meir and her legendary defense minister, Moshe Dayan, recalled that it took three months before he felt able to mount his one-man vigil outside the prime minister's office in Jerusalem.

In 2006, in keeping with the rhythm of the 24-hour news cycle that broadcast the war in real time, the protests began while the fighting was still going on. Last week, Ashkenazi returned to Jerusalem to address demonstrators.

"We are the sovereign, we are the bosses, we are the ones entitled to ask the elected officials to hand back their power if they do not come up to standard," he told the crowd.

Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert and the military chief of staff, Lt. Gen. Dan Halutz, did not lose the war against Hezbollah. On the contrary, a canny combination of military might and diplomatic finesse produced a cease-fire deal underwritten by the United Nations and secured by thousands of European troops.

If fully implemented, it will achieve Israel's strategic war aims: disarming Hezbollah, removing the threat of rocket fire on northern Israel, deploying the Lebanese army to the Israel-Lebanon border and extending Lebanese government control over the whole country.

But, as in 1973, the technical victory may not be enough to save Olmert's government or Halutz's military career. One clearly stated goal of the war -- the return of two Israeli soldiers captured by Hezbollah in the raid that sparked the conflict -- remains unrealized.

As Israeli protests mount, an internal military inquiry has already been opened by Defense Minister Amir Peretz, whose job is also on the line. There are calls for a wide-ranging, independent commission to investigate the many shortcomings in the conduct of the war, from the lack of food, water and equipment for frontline troops to the failure of the top brass to order bunker-buster bombs from America in time.

Some demonstrators have even been marching to the grave of Golda Meir and then to Olmert's office. The symbolism is clear.

On Friday, the family of Sgt. Refanael Muskal, who was killed in southern Lebanon a month ago, led one such protest to Meir's grave on Mount Herzl in Jerusalem.

"The leadership failed, and it must go," said Riva Muskal, mother of the fallen soldier. "We don't need public inquiries to tell us that."

The criticism is flowing from several directions.

Combat soldiers say they were given conflicting orders, with no clear direction. Reservists say they suffered from serious shortages of equipment and indecisive leadership. The families of the 116 soldiers killed in the fighting wonder what their loved ones died for, especially the one-fifth of them who died in the two days after the cease-fire was agreed to, but before it was implemented on Aug. 14.

One of those killed on the final weekend was Uri Grossman, the 20-year-old son of celebrated Israeli author David Grossman, who had held a news conference three days earlier calling for an end to the fighting.

"We as a family have already lost the war," Grossman told mourners at his son's funeral.

And on the home front, more than 1 million residents of northern Israel are demanding to know why they had to flee their homes or hide underground in unsanitary bomb shelters as Hezbollah rockets rained down on them for more than a month, and why the government failed to provide enough food, water or financial compensation for their suffering.

"No leadership has ever before come out of a war so battered and shamed," said Yossi Sarid, a former leader of the left-wing Meretz Party who as a young man served as a political aide to the disgraced generation of 1973.

"There's nothing for it but to get rid of them," he said.

On Friday, the daily Yediot Ahronot newspaper published a poll in which 63 percent of respondents said they wanted Olmert to step down. The paper said the poll, which had a margin of error of 4.5 percentage points, represented a political "earthquake" that threatens to undermine Olmert's premiership only five months after he was elected.

Whether Olmert's government will fall depends on many factors, not least the complexities of the Israeli electoral system, which has brought together the right-wing, capitalist Olmert and the socialist former union leader Peretz as partners in a government whose central pledge -- withdrawal of Jewish settlers from the West Bank -- now appears to be off the national agenda.

Many observers see the growing protests about the war as a symptom of a deeper dissatisfaction affecting Israeli society.

"Thank you, war, for creating the protest movement," wrote commentator Gideon Samet in Haaretz, a daily newspaper. "The protest is very much needed because it has come, though quite belatedly, to a country that is going off the rails."

There were other big stories in Israel last week, which together illustrated the feelings of many commentators that the country has some soul-searching to do before it can confront external issues like Lebanon or the Palestinians.

President Moshe Katsav was questioned for hours by police investigating allegations that he forced a female secretary to have sex in his office. Justice Minister Haim Ramon resigned to face charges that he also forced himself upon female employees in his ministry.

Then there was the search for Kobi Alexander, founder of the high-tech firm Comverse, who has been indicted in the United States for fraud over earnings from questionable stock options. Last, there was a bill for $10 million for two months' work, submitted by lawyers called in to save an Israeli supermarket chain from collapse.

For many Israelis, the arrogance and failure of Olmert and Halutz and their refusal to resign are symptomatic of a country that has lost its sense of spiritual heart and historical mission, replacing them with the mindless pursuit of money, sex and power.

Samet said Israel has become "a country of proliferating poverty, arrogant millionaires, insensitive bank executives with fat salaries, Third World infrastructure, crumbling city centers, a miserable Knesset and broken promises. Only a war could have brought the revulsion to the surface."

Sunday 20 August 2006

Hezbollah night-vision gear was from Britain, Israel says

It's believed to be an export to Iran in drug-fighting effort

Sunday, August 20, 2006
Page A - 7

Matthew Kalman, Chronicle Foreign Service
Night-vision equipment found in Lebanon was said by Israel to have been made by Agema, based in England and San Diego. Photo courtesy of Israeli Defense Forces

Kiryat Shemona, Israel -- Israeli intelligence officials have complained to Britain and the United States that sensitive night-vision equipment recovered from Hezbollah fighters during the war in Lebanon had been exported by Britain to Iran. British officials said the equipment had been intended for use in a U.N. anti-narcotics campaign.

Israeli officials say they believe the state-of-the-art equipment, found in Hezbollah command-and-control headquarters in southern Lebanon during the just-concluded war, was part of a British government-approved shipment of 250 pieces of night-vision equipment sent to Iran in 2003.

Israeli military intelligence confirmed that one of the pieces of equipment is a Thermo-vision 1000 LR tactical night-vision system, serial No. 155010, part No. 193960, manufactured by Agema, a high-tech equipment company with branches in Bedfordshire, England, and San Diego. A spokesman for Agema in San Diego denied all knowledge of the system.

The equipment, which needed special export-license approval from the British government, was passed to the Iranians through a program run and administered by the U.N. Drug Control Program. The equipment uses infrared imaging to provide nighttime surveillance that allows the user to detect people and vehicles moving in the dark at a range of several miles.

Use of such equipment would have enabled Hezbollah to detect and record the movements of Israeli forces inside Israel, as well as its military advance into Lebanon.

Britain and Italy both have provided specialized tracking and monitoring equipment over the past decade as part of U.N.-sponsored attempts to stem the flow of heroin and opium into Western Europe from Afghanistan and Pakistan. Iran is a major route for shipment of narcotics to the West.

A spokesman for the British Foreign Office in London said Saturday, "The Israeli Defense Forces have confirmed to us they have found some night-vision equipment in south Lebanon that is apparently made in Britain. We're trying to get further details to see exactly what the equipment is, who made it and who the original buyer is."

The spokesman, speaking on condition of anonymity, said Britain participates, through the U.N. drug-fighting agency, in Iran's interception program, which is run by anti-narcotics forces along the country's eastern border with Afghanistan and Pakistan, both major opium poppy-growing countries.

"We've been encouraging the Iranians as part of their anti-narcotics program, and there was an export in 2003 ... as part of the heroin and opium smuggling program. This is an area where we try not to let the nuclear issue prevent cooperation on countering narcotics," he said, referring to Iran's dispute with the United Nations over its nuclear enrichment program.

The Foreign Office spokesman said officials at the British Embassy in Tel Aviv have requested serial and parts numbers of the seized equipment to try to determine how it ended up in the hands of Hezbollah guerrillas fighting Israeli forces in Lebanon.

The equipment was found by Israeli forces in the southern Lebanese village of Mis-a-Jebel on Aug. 8, in a house belonging to a 60-year-old man whose four sons were all known to be Hezbollah fighters. The discovery was disclosed in a briefing by Lt. Col. Olivier Radowicz, an Israeli army spokesman, and later confirmed in detail by Israeli military intelligence officials, who also provided photographs of the equipment taken in the house where it was discovered.

"These are tactical night-vision systems ... given to Hezbollah by Iran. The Iranians are the 100 percent provider of all the materiel, especially intelligence materiel, to Hezbollah," Radowicz said.

The discovery of the night-vision equipment, together with sophisticated recording and monitoring devices and stashes of antitank missiles and rockets, led the Israelis to believe the five-room house was the command-and-control unit for Hezbollah in the local area, he said.

In the early phases of the Israeli ground advance against Hezbollah positions across the border region, commanders complained to their superiors that nighttime operations had been hampered by the ability of Hezbollah fighters to observe and counter the Israeli moves. In more than six days of bitter fighting around the village of Mis-a-Jebel, the Israeli army lost six soldiers, and more than 20 were injured.

"The night-vision unit was used to observe the movement of troops. It's very close to the border, so it can see Israeli troops. You can also record what you are watching. Then it is connected to computers. You can obtain a perfect intelligence picture in real time about the situation. It is then connected to firing systems or to units that are going to act in accordance with the intelligence they are receiving," Radowicz said during the briefing.

"It is a system that we can find in every serious army in the world. We don't talk here about just a terrorist fantasy. We are talking here about a very serious, high-quality system of a very professional army. We're talking here about hundreds of millions of dollars given by Iran to Hezbollah in the last six years," he said.

"In every village which served as the regional command, you can find the same unit -- intelligence, weapons systems, command and control and connection -- with the units which are firing or using the mobile platforms (for firing rockets) for targeting Israel," he said.

Israeli intelligence officials said they had contacted the British and U.S. embassies in Tel Aviv to pass on information of the discovery of the night-vision equipment, requesting explanations of where the equipment had come from and how it fell into the hands of Hezbollah fighters.

Freelance journalist Bob Graham contributed to this report.

Saturday 19 August 2006

PAYING WAR'S TOLL: Northern Israel's tourism fades, but cease-fire raises some hope

Saturday, August 19, 2006
Page C - 1

Matthew Kalman, Chronicle Foreign Service

Acre, Israel -- Like many residents of northern Israel, Doron Efrati has a few jobs.

By day he is a meteorologist, environmentalist and a lecturer at Western Galilee College. At home in the pastoral surroundings of Bustan Hagalil, a pastoral cooperative farming community on the outskirts of the ancient crusader city of Acre, he has built four holiday cottages on the grounds of his home that are rented out from June until September. But not this year.

"The war killed everything," said Efrati, who sat out the war with his family as the Hezbollah rockets exploded in the fields around their home.

Efrati's cottages may yet be filled. As Israel began to count the cost of the monthlong war against Hezbollah in Lebanon, Israeli Finance Minister Avraham Hirchson announced plans to bring Israeli and foreign tourists to the north in an attempt to provide an immediate cash injection for the beleaguered region.

Tourism slumped by 25 percent in July, compared with the same month in 2005, and the many hotels and guesthouses in the north of the country were occupied only by journalists, aid workers and soldiers.

The damage to tourism, worth $3 billion each year to the Israeli economy, came as officials were expecting a record-breaking 2.5 million passenger arrivals in 2006. Officials said cancellations were already being received for 2007. The Bank of Israel said in a report that the damage to tourism alone could erase half a percentage point off the country's annual earnings.

Hirchson said Israel's first priority is to repair the physical damage caused by the rocket barrages on homes, shops and community buildings. He said officials had already received more than 8,000 compensation claims and he expects that figure to rise sharply as the full extent of the damage becomes clear.

"This was a war with heavy economic costs. We will have to deal with it and restore the situation to what it was as quickly as possible in order for the north of the country to continue to grow," Hirchson said.

"We intend to use the last two remaining weeks of the summer vacation to bring everyone to the north with an aggressive marketing campaign, so they will fill the shops, make purchases, fill the hotels and holiday cottages, eat in the restaurants and create immediate earnings for the residents of the north," he said.

Israeli officials' initial estimate of the total cost was $5.3 billion, including defense spending, emergency aid to hard-hit communities, physical damage and the consequences of a $2 billion -- or 1.5 percent loss -- in the gross domestic product.

But analysts say that the Israeli economy was robust enough at the start of the war to endure the setback. "The ability of the economy to cope with this shock is quite good and will create a situation where it will have only a temporary negative effect and not longer-term negative effect," said Gil Bufman, chief economist at Bank Leumi.

Israel's gross domestic product showed healthy annual growth of 6.2 percent at the end of the second quarter of 2006, according to the country's Central Bureau of Statistics, led by exports, which grew by 25.8 percent over the year.

Two huge technology deals with Bay Area companies went ahead despite the war, signaling confidence in the Israeli economy. On July 25, Palo Alto's Hewlett-Packard Co. bought Mercury Interactive Corp. for about $4.5 billion, and on July 31, SanDisk Corp. of Milpitas, the world's largest maker of memory cards in consumer electronics, agreed to buy M-Systems Flash Disk Pioneers Ltd. for $1.7 billion.

In May, Warren Buffett's Berkshire Hathaway Inc. paid $4 billion to buy 80 percent of Iscar Metalworking Cos., whose headquarters is in the rocket-battered town of Carmiel northern Israel. Buffett is expected to visit Israel to inspect the company next month.

The Association of Israeli Chambers of Commerce estimated the direct losses to service and trade industries in the north at 5.9 billion shekels ($1.4 billion), affecting some 60,000 businesses employing 210,000 workers. The association said the average loss in revenue was 60 percent for the period. "There is no doubt that there are businesses where the loss in revenue was total because they were closed, like restaurants, shops, cinemas and others," the association said in a statement.

Friday 18 August 2006

Israelis in battered town start to pick up the pieces

Esther and Yigal Buskila assess the damage inflicted by a Katyusha rocket on their home in Nahariya. They had fled the attacks. Photo by David Blumenfeld, special to The Chronicle

Friday, August 18, 2006
Page A - 11

Matthew Kalman, Chronicle Foreign Service

Nahariya, Israel -- Lydisia Kadosh was watching the TV news two weeks ago when she realized that the house blazing away on the screen was hers.

The burning three-story duplex in this northern Israeli town had just been hit by a Katyusha rocket, fired across the border by Hezbollah guerrillas during the 34-day war, which entered a tense cease-fire Monday.

"I saw my house exploding and going up in flames," said Kadosh, inspecting the damage Thursday. "My daughter burst into tears when she saw the pictures."

Kadosh, her husband and their four children had left Nahariya in the first week of the fighting to stay with friends and relatives. They returned home this week to find their house uninhabitable, with a huge hole in the roof and broken glass and furniture scattered everywhere.

"We have been refugees for a month, moving from place to place, and we are still refugees because we cannot live there while it is in this state," she said. "The municipality has given us a place in a hotel, but only for a short time."

The Kadoshes have plenty of company: An estimated two-thirds of the 51,000 residents of Nahariya left to escape the daily rocket bombardments.

By Thursday, most had returned, and traffic filled the streets once more. Neighbors and workers searched out friends and surveyed the damage. Huge lines developed at banks and post offices as inhabitants began sorting out their personal affairs after a month in limbo.

In the basement of the Carlton Hotel, tax officials labored from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m., receiving information from thousands of people about damaged homes, cars and businesses. Some, like Kadosh, were given hotel vouchers while their homes were being repaired.

Many residents, especially those from poorer neighborhoods, complained that the compensation procedure was too bureaucratic and slow.

Nissim Assor, 57, had nowhere to escape to, so he was at home in the working-class Kiryat Assor neighborhood with his wife and five children two weeks ago when a Katyusha landed in their front garden, blowing out the windows and sending shards of metal through the door and walls.

"We escaped by a miracle," Assor said, pulling out a piece of jagged shrapnel from the pages of a cookbook where it had lodged after piercing a door, a cupboard and the book's cover. "Each day, we find more pieces in the kitchen cupboards. We have no windows, blinds or doors. We're still waiting for someone to come and fix it."

His neighbor Yigal Buskila, 36, also had nowhere to go, but he packed up his wife and 5-year-old son and headed south anyway.

"My wife and son were terribly scared. They were trembling all the time. My son still can't sleep," said Buskila, surveying the wreckage of his tiny living room and the smashed screen of his TV set. "We just turned up in cities all over the country and contacted the mayor in each place, and he found us families who were willing to take us in. We stayed a few days in each place, like refugees. People were wonderful."

Isaac Noah, a 44-year-old investment banker, also saw his home go up in flames on television after a third Katyusha hit his street, uprooting a streetlight, smashing walls, windows and part of his roof, and leaving the front of his house looking as though it had been freshly machine-gunned. "Thank God it was empty at the time," he said. "All they hurt were stones. We will rebuild them."

Around the corner, a huge banner outside the Diesenhaus Unitours travel agency declared, "The windows are broken -- but we're not!" Managing Director Nir Shilo kept the office open through the conflict but sent his staff home to work by phone and Internet. The company found accommodations for workers who wanted to leave the city with employees at its branches elsewhere in Israel.

By Thursday, the computers, telephones and electricity were up and working again, but the windows were in shards, waiting to be repaired.

"I had to stay. I believe in fate. Part of the struggle in this war was to show our enemies that even with 5,000 rockets falling in a month, the economy and life goes on," he said.

According to news reports, nearly 4,000 rockets hit northern Israel and about 12,000 homes were destroyed during the war.

Shilo said his business fell 40 percent in July, the beginning of the peak summer period, and he expected further losses for August, but he was confident the economy would recover. "My business has grown by at least 15 percent a year since 2001," he said. "It shows that people have the money to spend, and also they are of a mind to relax, to take vacations. I think that will return."

A few miles up the road, in the village of Shlomi, Shlomo Lugasi was sitting on his porch enjoying the sunshine, as he did every day throughout the war.

At 104, Lugasi is probably the oldest Israeli to survive the onslaught -- and perhaps also the toughest. He simply refused to leave the village he helped establish half a century ago, a place he picked because the name was so similar to his.

"It's much nicer now that it's quiet, without these rockets whistling over my head and exploding," Lugasi said.

"I'd prefer to have a cease-fire all the time. I believe in this peace, and I believe Israel wants peace, but I don't trust (Hassan) Nasrallah," he said, referring to the Hezbollah leader. "Nasrallah is just looking for trouble. But he'll lose in the end."

Thursday 17 August 2006

Israeli leaders face discontent over war's payoff

Despite confident assessment by Olmert, poll shows huge drop in his approval rating

Thursday, August 17, 2006
Page A - 12

Matthew Kalman, Chronicle Foreign Service

Jerusalem -- Israeli political and military leaders say they achieved almost all the goals they set forth at the start of the 34-day war against Hezbollah in Lebanon, yet a solid majority of ordinary Israelis appear dissatisfied with the outcome.

Prime Minister Ehud Olmert embarked on the military campaign after a mere three months in office, promising to cripple Hezbollah, to destroy its missile capability and to win the freedom of two Israeli soldiers whose capture on July 12 triggered the confrontation.

But instead of emerging strengthened after a decisive military victory, Olmert has seen his approval rating plummet -- 40 percent, compared with 78 percent in the first two weeks of the offensive, according to a recent TNS-Teleseker poll.

"We entered this war for justified reasons," said former Likud Foreign Minister Silvan Shalom. "The kidnapping of the two soldiers was a wild action, which demanded a response. Unfortunately, we did not succeed in bringing them home. We did not disarm Hezbollah. We did not succeed in removing the missile threat. The people of Israel are asking how it is, after a month in the shelters, that the threat remains, that we can expect another round of fighting," he said.

In an effort to defuse criticism, Defense Minister Amir Peretz on Wednesday appointed a committee headed by former military Chief of Staff Amnon Lipkin-Shahak to investigate the army's preparations and conduct of the war. But critics said a more independent commission is needed -- a view expressed by two-thirds of respondents polled by two rival daily newspapers, Yediot Ahronot and Maariv.

The yawning gulf between the satisfaction of the Israeli establishment and the anger of the general public appears to stem from a fundamental disconnect between the leaders of the country and the people.

Military reservists sent to fight in Lebanon reported shortages of basic equipment and food. Soldiers said their commanders appeared to have little understanding of the purpose of the dangerous missions they were asked to undertake. And more than a million residents of the north feel they were forced to abandon their homes or sit in uncomfortable underground shelters for days or weeks on end, without any tangible result.

Nowhere is the gap in perceptions between the leadership and the public sharper than in the growing scandal around the military chief of staff, Lt. Gen. Dan Halutz, after it emerged that he liquidated his personal investment portfolio on the day of the Hezbollah cross-border raid -- only hours before Israel's military operation began, when share values plummeted by more than 8 percent.

Labor Party legislator Colette Avital called on Halutz to resign, saying she questioned the general's priorities.

"Not only was this in my opinion unethical, I have doubts about his judgment. I hope he will consider his position," she said.

But aside from the personal conduct of the chief of staff, Israelis also had deeper concerns about the whole operation.

On Monday, hours after a cease-fire went into effect, Olmert said the Israeli offensive had ended Hezbollah's "state within a state," and "changed the strategic balance against Hezbollah." But he acknowledged that the two soldiers were not yet home, and he admitted there were "shortcomings" in prosecuting the war.

Shalom, the ex-foreign minister, said there were "some very tough questions to be asked about the conduct of the war, how decisions were made, the direction of the home front, and the diplomatic agreement -- which in my opinion is very bad for Israel."

The gap between the public's perception and the leaders' assessment extended also to the army.

"I would suggest we have met our objectives and even much better," said Brig. Gen. Ido Nehushtan, a top Air Force commander on the general staff. "We knew it would take weeks or months. We weren't surprised by what happened."

But many Israelis were surprised, and deeply disappointed, that Hezbollah appears to have emerged largely intact from the battlefield, with its missile capability impaired but operative.

One former senior intelligence official said the Israeli bombing campaign -- which provoked widespread international criticism and caused many civilian deaths -- did not produce the expected results.

"The hope was that the aerial bombardment would soften up Hezbollah to the point where they would not be able to carry out the kind of bombing they began on the northern part of Israel. Although Israel achieved great success in knocking out much of the strategic long-range missiles, more than 70 percent, we had less success with taking out the medium- and short-range missiles and launchers. Hezbollah were putting up stiff resistance, maybe stiffer than anticipated," said the intelligence official, speaking on condition of anonymity.

"Intelligence is not a pure art. You cannot expect an intelligence capability to assess accurately the resistance potential of a certain group of fighters," he said. "You can ask intelligence to locate sites, to describe the technical capabilities of forces based on the equipment they have at their disposal, but you cannot expect intelligence to assess the human element and their capability in a given situation."

Israeli planners also pinned their hopes on creating internal political pressures within Lebanon against Hezbollah, but badly miscalculated.

"The expectation was that if the aerial bombardment was fierce enough, there would arise in Lebanon a very formidable backlash against Hezbollah by a majority of Lebanese citizens. This did not happen," said the official.

On the ground, soldiers reported tactical errors, lack of training and shortages of equipment. In Israel's citizen army, those shortcomings could not be kept under wraps and will now be the subject of intense debate.

"We went to war and we should have been better prepared, it's clear. The result we achieved after 30 days of fighting was certainly not the result the government had in mind when it instructed the Israeli Defense Forces to embark on this struggle," said Dan Meridor, a former Likud minister who drafted a recent report on the army's lack of preparedness for just such a guerrilla war.

"There were things that we achieved, and Hezbollah suffered a huge blow. We can see that. But the aim of returning the kidnapped soldiers, which is the reason we began, has not been achieved, nor was it possible to achieve in my opinion. Stopping the Katyusha fire was also not achieved. These are things which we should have known from the beginning it would be impossible to achieve."

Meridor said Israel achieved "significant changes" in Lebanon, "but the test of how much will be in the implementation of the agreement achieved at the Security Council."

Wednesday 16 August 2006

Many Israelis see a strategic defeat

In Israel, critics condemn strategy behind war

BOSTON GLOBE | August 16, 2006

By Anne Barnard and Matthew Kalman, Globe Staff and Globe Correspondent

JERUSALEM -- Scathing indictments of the way the Israeli government and its military have conducted the longest war in the nation's history filled the country's newspapers and airwaves yesterday, as Israelis began to feel safe enough to return to their national pastime of blistering political debate.

Israeli analysts across the political spectrum branded the war against Hezbollah fighters in Lebanon ``an embarrassing defeat" for a ``semi-rookie government" that should have known the goals it set for itself were ``impossible to achieve."

Ha'aretz, one of Israel's leading daily newspapers, summed up the national mood by presenting readers with an online poll that asked: ``Who should resign?"

A popular nominee was the army's chief of staff, Dan Halutz, who yesterday admitted selling his entire stock portfolio, worth $27,600, in the hours between Hezbollah's initial attack and the first Israeli bombardment of Beirut.

On the second day since July 12 without Hezbollah rocket attacks, many Israelis looked around and declared themselves sorely disappointed with a war that forced a million people to flee their homes in northern Israel and killed 150 Israelis and more than 800 Lebanese. The war inflamed anger across the Muslim world -- without dealing a decisive blow to Hezbollah or bringing home the two Israeli soldiers whose kidnapping by the Lebanese militant group triggered the fighting.

The outrage came from the left and the right.

``We simply blew it," was the headline on a column in left-leaning Ha'aretz by Yoel Marcus, who asked, ``What makes an army -- or its chief of staff, to be exact -- get up one fine morning and persuade a semi-rookie government to launch an all-out war at the drop of a hat because two of our soldiers were kidnapped?"

``The question is whether [Prime Minister Ehud] Olmert posed the right questions and the army gave him truthful answers. Did Olmert ask, for example, whether the army was capable of knocking Hezbollah out of commission, or at least disarming it?"

Yossi Klein Halevi, a right-leaning columnist and an analyst at Jerusalem's Shalem Center, lamented that Israel's leaders squandered ``an unprecedented green light from Washington . . . and a level of national unity and willingness to sacrifice unseen here since the 1973 Yom Kippur War," by not ordering a ground offensive.

``This is a nation whose heart has been broken," he declared in a column for The New Republic, ``by our failure to uproot the jihadist threat, which will return for another and far more deadly round."

It was a far cry from the 80-percent-plus approval ratings that Israelis gave the war at its outset -- 58 percent now say the country achieved minimal goals, if any -- or the ambitious goals that Olmert laid out on July 17, five days into the war, when he promised to wipe out Hezbollah from southern Lebanon.

``We will search every compound, target every terrorist who assists in attacking the citizens of Israel, and destroy every terrorist infrastructure, everywhere," he said then.

And Olmert faced an awkward comedown from the speech he gave Aug. 2 -- what some Israelis are calling a ``Mission Accomplished" moment, similar to President Bush's speech in front of an overly optimistic banner less than two months into the occupation of Iraq -- in which Olmert declared, ``Never again will they be able to threaten this country with missile fire."

Instead, Hezbollah managed to fire scores of missiles a day for nearly two more weeks, including 250 it launched on the last day before the cease-fire early Monday.

``If a lightweight boxer is fighting a heavyweight champion and is still standing in the 12th round, the victory is his -- whatever the count of points says," wrote Uri Avnery, a veteran political analyst and peace activist.

The flood of criticism gathered momentum a day after Bush declared that Hezbollah had been defeated and a cease-fire took effect under a UN Security Council resolution that on paper gives Israel results that it has dreamed of for years -- but that now, after the war's sacrifices, seems insufficient to many Israelis.

The resolution adopted Friday calls for Hezbollah to be disarmed, for the Lebanese Army to deploy in the southern Lebanon area where the militia has operated with impunity, and for an existing UN force there to be expanded to 15,000 troops. Olmert said Monday that the Israeli offensive had ended Hezbollah's ``state within a state," and had ``changed the strategic balance against Hezbollah."

But serious questions remain about whether the resolution will be implemented. The Lebanese government is weakened and afraid to confront Hezbollah, and the militant group's main backers, Iran and Syria, are likely to act as spoilers in the vague ``interim period" in which Israeli troops and Hezbollah fighters will uneasily coexist in southern Lebanon.

Many Israelis had felt frustrated before the war broke out because unilateral withdrawal from the Gaza Strip last year did not stop Palestinian militants from firing rockets into Israel and capturing a soldier in a cross-border raid June 25 that triggered a re-invasion of the coastal territory.

A former defense minister from the right-wing Likud party, Moshe Arens, declared, ``The war, which according to our leaders was supposed to restore Israel's deterrent posture, has within one month succeeded in destroying it. That message will not be lost on Hamas, the Syrians, and the Iranians."

The Syrian and Iranian leaders made triumphal speeches yesterday, declaring that Hezbollah had scored a great victory over Israel that would derail US plans for a ``new Middle East."

Israeli military officials said that while they were impressed by Hezbollah's tenacity and surprised by some of its weapons, such as the missile that hit an Israeli ship early in the war, they knew about its advanced communications, elaborate tunnel networks, and tens of thousands of missiles.

``We knew it, but it's different when you see it on the battlefield," Brigadier General Ido Nehushtan told reporters Monday. ``It's not a surprise, but when you see it on the ground, it's impressive."

Still, Israelis are used to lightning victories, as in the 1967 Six-Day War, when Israel defeated three Arab armies and captured the West Bank and Gaza Strip . Brigadier General Yossi Kuperwasser, a former top intelligence officer, said the military's war plan factored in 200 rockets being shot daily at Israeli civilians.

If the military knew that, then the government may not have asked the right questions before going to war, Dan Meridor, a former Likud minister who recently drafted a report calling on the army to adapt to guerrilla warfare, told Israeli radio yesterday.

The government, he said, should have considered ``whether we should have been satisfied with a sharp attack, perhaps kidnap someone in return and then stop," and should have asked whether it was possible to stop the rocket fire or defeat Hezbollah militarily, ``things which we should have known from the beginning it would be impossible to achieve."

Monday 14 August 2006

Israel approves cease-fire resolution

2 sides continue fight before halt takes effect

BOSTON GLOBE | August 14, 2006
By Matthew Kalman, Globe Correspondent

JERUSALEM -- The Israeli Cabinet approved the United Nations Security Council resolution calling for a cease-fire in Israel's fighting with Hezbollah yesterday. But both sides ramped up their attacks to improve their positions ahead of the truce, which went into effect this morning.

Signs of political crisis were evident in both Israel and Lebanon. A Lebanese Cabinet meeting was postponed yesterday indefinitely amid serious disagreements over the key issue of disarming Hezbollah fighters. In Israel, Prime Minister Ehud Olmert faced growing calls for his resignation at what one critic called a ``humiliating defeat."

More than 20 people were killed in violence yesterday, including 15 in Lebanon, an Israeli civilian, and seven Israeli soldiers. Early today, Lebanese officials said another 11 people were killed in Israeli air raids that included a village in the Bekaa Valley and the edge of a Palestinian refugee camp.

Airstrikes continued until about 15 minutes before the cease-fire started at 8 a.m. There were no immediate reports of fighting after it went into effect.

Yesterday, Israeli jets repeatedly struck a Hezbollah stronghold in southern Beirut. Hezbollah unleashed more than 250 rockets at northern Israel, its largest daily barrage in the conflict, killing an elderly man in his home in the western Galilee village of Yaarah and injuring dozens more across northern Israel, from Haifa to Kiryat Shemona, police said. Sirens wailed repeatedly during the day, sending residents running for cover in underground shelters where many have been stranded for more than a month.

Late last night, the Israeli military said it had downed two unmanned Hezbollah drones packed with explosives, the first time such a weapon had been launched.

About 30,000 Israeli forces pushed north into Lebanon on all fronts. A fleet of helicopters carried Israeli special forces commandos deeper into the nation, while tanks reportedly advanced across the countryside with infantry in their wake, seeking to expand Israeli control of the territory up to the Litani River and in some places beyond.

Israeli artillery pounded suspected Hezbollah targets in Beirut and locations across southern Lebanon including the port city of Tyre, where several petrol stations and buildings were destroyed. Apache helicopter gunships unleashed scores of missiles at houses, rocket launchers, and other targets marked by Israeli commandos, leveling dozens of buildings and sending huge columns of smoke and flame into the sky across the south of the country, Lebanese media reported.

There were pitched battles between Israeli and Hezbollah forces with casualties reported on both sides. The Israeli Army said seven of its soldiers were killed. It was unclear how many Hezbollah casualties there were.

Early today, the Israeli Army said it estimates that it has killed at least 530 Hezbollah guerrillas in the month of fighting, Reuters reported. The army said it had released the names of 180 fighters whose deaths had been confirmed.

One of the 24 Israeli military fatalities on Saturday was Uri Grossman, 20, the son of the celebrated Israeli author David Grossman. Uri Grossman was killed in a rocket attack on his tank. Two days earlier, his father signed a public protest calling for an end to the conflict.

A political impasse was brewing in Lebanon, despite the government's official backing for the UN resolution, which it announced on Saturday. A Cabinet meeting scheduled for yesterday to plan the deployment of the Lebanese Army to the south of the country was postponed after Hezbollah refused to disarm, a key element of the UN plan, according to reports on the Arabic satellite channel Al-Jazeera.

In a speech broadcast Saturday on his Al-Manar television station, Hezbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah grudgingly accepted the UN resolution but said that his forces had a ``natural right" to confront Israeli forces ``as long as there is Israeli military movement, Israeli field aggression, and Israeli soldiers occupying our land."

``Once we reach what is called the cessation of hostilities, the resistance will abide by it without hesitation," Nasrallah promised, adding that he had reservations about the ``unjust and unfair" resolution.

In Israel, the approaching cease-fire was greeted with mixed emotions. There was relief at the prospect of an end to the fighting and the return of hundreds of thousands of Israelis to their homes in the north of the country. But it was coupled with dismay at the poor performance of the government and the army, reflected in plunging support for Olmert and the army chief of staff, Lieutenant General Dan Halutz.

Israeli military chiefs said their troops would hold their positions and would continue to attack Hezbollah positions if fired upon. They estimated it would be up to two weeks before the 15,000-strong UN force is ready to take control of the territory Israel seized in the fighting.

``We are ready to respect the cease-fire and we hope the other side respects it. The IDF will respect the cease-fire, but will defend its forces, and if fire is renewed, it will act," said Major General Benny Gantz, commander of Israeli ground forces.

The cease-fire agreement also unleashed a wave of criticism against Olmert that has been building as the fighting dragged on without any success in ending Hezbollah rocket fire.

Prominent commentator Ari Shavit, writing in the Haaretz daily newspaper on Friday, called on Olmert to resign.

``You cannot lead an entire nation to war promising victory, produce humiliating defeat, and remain in power," wrote Shavit. ``There is no mistake Ehud Olmert did not make in the past month."

``Olmert began this war with almost wall-to-wall national support," said Yossi Klein Halevi, a senior fellow of the Jerusalem-based Shalem Center think tank and a prominent Olmert supporter. ``He's ending this war with a frayed and wounded nation that feels itself to be leaderless."

But after the text of the UN resolution changed Friday, Olmert was hoping he had done enough to silence his critics.

Shimon Peres, Israel's deputy prime minister, said the Security Council resolution granted Israel ``maximum legitimacy."

``This resolution endorses Israel the whole way," Peres said. ``It says it was Hezbollah who attacked and has to return the kidnapped soldiers, and establishes a [buffer] zone with 15,000 Lebanese soldiers and a UNIFIL with more soldiers from different forces. "

But Avigdor Lieberman, leader of the rightist Yisrael Beiteinu Party, described the diplomatic gains as ``an illusion."

``The United Nations Security Council resolution essentially endorses Hezbollah as a legitimate force which will dominate the Lebanese Army within a year," Lieberman said. ``This is not a diplomatic solution but a temporary cease-fire with all that implies."

``If we have not succeeded in stopping the Katyushas, we have lost," said Moshe Arens, a former defense minister for the rightist Likud party. ``According to the Security Council resolution, in the current situation the state of Israel comes out humiliated. We are essentially giving Hezbollah and our enemies a shot of encouragement for another offensive against us."

On Israel's home front, Eliezer Goldberg, a retired supreme court judge and former state comptroller, said Israel's treatment of citizens in the north, hundreds of thousands of whom were forced to abandon their homes or sit in cramped, unventilated bomb shelters for a month, was ``negligent and irresponsible."

Weekend opinion polls suggested that Israelis did not believe Olmert handled the crisis successfully. Only 20 percent of respondents to a survey for Haaretz believed Israel had ``won" the conflict against Hezbollah, with 30 percent saying Israel was losing. The same poll saw Olmert's approval rating plunge to 48 percent from 75 percent a month ago.

Material from the Associated Press was used in this report.

Eye For an Eye

Israel shadow-boxes with a surprisingly high-tech foe. Inside the new Hizbullah.

By Kevin Peraino, Babak Dehghanpisheh and Christopher Dickey

Newsweek Aug. 14, 2006

— Hizbullah's fighters were as elusive last week as they were deadly. Thousands of them were dug in around southern Lebanon, and yet encounters with the hundreds of journalists also in the area were rare, and furtive. Like Hussein, as he chose to call himself, who popped out of the rubble in the blasted town of Bint Jbeil, site of what Hizbullah is calling its Great Victory, to crow a little. He was in civvies, the only way the Hizbullah fighters appear in public, but the walkie-talkie under his loose shirt was a giveaway. The hillside nearby glittered with metal in the bright sun. Here and there lay shell casings, mortar tubes, mangled shrapnel from artillery and bombs. Thousands of cartridges, the gold ones from Israeli M-16s, the duller brown from Hizbullah's AK-47s, all mixed together. This was asymmetrical warfare with a fearful symmetry. Hussein picked up a handful of empty brass. "Very close-range fighting," he said, jingling them in his palm. "You can imagine what weapons we have and what weapons they have."

In an olive grove about five miles away, it wasn't necessary to imagine. Under camo netting, half-covered with the broad-leafed branches of a fig tree, was a GMC truck with a rocket-launching platform, probably for the 122mm Katyusha, fired wildly into Israel. It was untouched, unlike its twin a football field away, which lay mangled in an Israeli counterstrike. There was no sign of Hizbullah fighters, though, and locals spoke of seeing little kids running like mad from the rocket batteries after they fired. In Khiam, a teenager on a motor scooter rolled through town, apparently minding his own business—except that the ear bud of the walkie-talkie hidden under his shirt identified him as one of Hizbullah's many scouts. They were hard to find—until they wanted to be found.

Hizbullah is proving to be something altogether new, an Arab guerrilla army with sophisticated weaponry and remarkable discipline. Its soldiers have the jihadist rhetoric of fighting to the death, but wear body armor and use satcoms to coordinate their attacks. Their tactics may be from Che, but their arms are from Iran, and not just AK-47s and RPGs. They've reportedly destroyed three of Israel's advanced Merkava tanks with wire-guided missiles and powerful mines, crippled an Israeli warship with a surface-to-sea missile, sent up drones on reconnaissance missions, implanted listening devices along the border and set up their ambushes using night-vision goggles.

NEWSWEEK has learned from a source briefed in recent weeks by Israel's top leaders and military brass that Hizbullah even managed to eavesdrop successfully on Israel's military communications as its Lebanese incursion began. When Lt. Eli Kahn, commander of an elite Israeli parachutists outfit, turned a corner in the southern Lebanese village of Maroun al-Ras early in the month-old war, he came face to face with this new enemy. "He had sophisticated equipment like mine and looked more like a commando," he recalled. Lieutenant Kahn ducked back around the corner and reached for a grenade, but before he could pull the pin, the Hizbullah fighter had tossed one around the corner himself. The Israeli picked it up and threw it back, just in time. "They didn't retreat," says Danny Yatom, a former director of the Mossad. "They continued to fight until the death."

That combination of modern lethality and Old World fanaticism has taken a deadly toll. By the end of last week, 45 Israeli soldiers had died, and as many as 250 Hizbullah fighters had perished. Thirty-three Israeli civilians had been killed in the rocket barrages, while more than 480 Lebanese had died. But Hizbullah was boasting of its success. As Israel continued to push its ground offensive, progress was painfully slow, one small Lebanese village at a time.

Diplomacy was stalled, too, despite agreement on a U.N. ceasefire resolution expected to pass early this week. By Saturday the Israeli Defense Forces, with six brigades—close to 7,000 soldiers—could claim only to have subdued half a dozen villages, a long way from their goal of establishing a secure buffer zone, possibly as far north as the Litani River.

Israel's cabinet approved the ground campaign after its air war had failed to suppress Hizbullah's fire. On Wednesday the Israelis declared they'd destroyed two thirds of Hizbullah's missile arsenal, but on Thursday Hizbullah launched more than 200, with almost as many on Friday. Hizbullah leader Hassan Nasrallah vowed to strike Tel Aviv if Israel bombed Beirut again, and some thought he might be able to.

The whole calculus of this sort of warfare has changed, as even the Israelis gave grudging high marks to their opponents. The sort of weaponry Hizbullah is deploying is normally associated with a state, and states can be easily deterred by a superior military force like Israel's. They have cities to protect, vital infrastructure. Hizbullah depends to some extent on supplies coming from Iran via Damascus, and last week Israel bombed the last roads from Syria into its neighbor. But the organization is believed to have laid in supplies for at least another month, and when it suits, the Hizbullah fighters can disappear into the population. "We live on onions and tomatoes," said Hussein in Bint Jbeil, as he pulled one off a vine in an abandoned garden.

Last week, when Sheik Ahmed Murad, a Hizbullah spokesman, showed up at the Tyre Hospital to rant against the civilian casualties Israel had inflicted, he was in his Shiite cleric's turban and robes. After the press conference, Murad was escorted away by three bodyguards, then reappeared on the street in untucked shirt and slacks, apparently just another civilian. "Their strategy is a strategy of disappearance," says one Israeli military official, who spoke on condition of anonymity because he was talking about operations. "They are well prepared for this kind of invasion. [But] we are much stronger than them. We can bring a much greater force than they can deal with."

But the Hizbullah guerrillas are well aware of that, too, and they know how averse the Israeli military and public have always been to taking casualties. "The strategy is to make them lose as many [soldiers] as possible," said Hussein, on the cartridge-strewn hillside at Bint Jbeil. "Israel doesn't care about the [loss of a] tank. They care about the people."

As the prospect of a quick victory faded from Israeli view, Israel's military tried to regain the initiative, raiding a Hizbullah safe house in Tyre on Saturday, killing at least three militants in a ferocious shoot-out. Earlier in the week it took five Hizbullah prisoners in a raid on a hospital in Baalbek, in Hizbullah's Bekaa Valley heartland. "It was an attempt to re-create the days of Entebbe," said a senior Israeli security source who is not authorized to speak on the record.

How did Hizbullah morph from its terrorist roots 20 years ago to the formidably organized force of today? The short answer is: experience, leadership and Iran. The group was first pulled together in 1982 by members of Ayatollah Khomeini's Revolutionary Guards as a way to spread Tehran's influence while fighting against Israeli forces that had laid siege to Beirut. The following year the organization became infamous for the suicide bombing of the U.S. Marine Barracks in Beirut that cost 241 Americans their lives, and a simultaneous attack on French forces that killed 56. Soon, Hizbullah added airline hijackings and the taking of American and European hostages to its repertoire.

In 1992, Israeli helicopters blew up the then leader of Hizbullah, Abbas al-Musawi, along with his wife and son. His successor was Hassan Nasrallah, who set a new course for the organization. Under Nasrallah, the militia grew quickly into the single most disciplined and powerful political force in the country. It built schools, hospitals, provided social services and got its members elected to Parliament. At the same time, its soldiers honed their skills at guerrilla warfare battling against Israeli troops still occupying southern Lebanon, studying their tactics, learning their weak points.

All this cost money, but there was plenty to be had. By Israeli estimates Iran has underwritten Hizbullah with $100 million a year. But Hizbullah also gets contributions and "tax" payments from wealthy Shiites in Lebanon and abroad, and revenues from both legal and illegal businesses worldwide. According to a recent study by terrorism expert Magnus Ranstorp at the Swedish National Defense College, its shopping list included night-vision goggles, Global Positioning Systems, advanced software for aircraft design, stun guns, nitrogen cutters, naval equipment, laser range finders and even ultrasonic dog repellers.

Over the years, Nasrallah has dressed like a cleric, but talked like a clear-eyed politician, reciting facts that suited him, cracking jokes and vowing to keep his promises. Cool and charismatic, he broadcast his message not only to all of Lebanon, but to much of the Arab and Muslim world over Hizbullah's Al-Manar satellite television station. The organization's purpose, Nasrallah said, was to fight Israeli occupation. When that ended with an Israeli pullout from South Lebanon in 2000, he argued that Hizbullah must keep its arms and build up its arsenal. The reason: "deterrence."

The effects of Hizbullah's buildup were a dismaying surprise to the Israelis from almost the first day of fighting, when Israel launched a massive retaliation for a Hizbullah raid across the border that had cost them eight soldiers killed and two captured. "The Iranians invested far more than people thought," said the source, who had been briefed by Israel's most senior leaders. "The command and control centers were state of the art. They built a whole network of underground tunnels that enabled them to trap Israeli soldiers ... They were eavesdropping on Israeli military communications with the equipment they received."

Hizbullah's high-tech communications heighten its classic advantage as a guerrilla force fighting on home turf. "The plan was to go deep, but we didn't finish it," said 19-year-old Nahum Fowler, a corporal in Israel's Nahal Brigade who fought in South Lebanon last week. "They know what they're doing. They know their villages really well." His unit never saw the enemy, he said. "We mostly heard them."

A diplomatic end to the fighting may be just as hard to find as Hizbullah's rocket launchers. By last weekend the French and Americans finally agreed on a draft U.N. Security Council resolution calling for "a full cessation of hostilities." But diplomats cautioned this is the beginning of a process, not the end of it. Hizbullah quickly said it would keep fighting as long as Israeli troops were left on Lebanese territory. And Israeli Ambassador to Washington Daniel Ayalon told NEWSWEEK on Saturday that Israel expects Hizbullah to do more now than just hold its fire. "What is important to us is not just that Hizbullah's operations end but also the arms shipments from Iran and Syria. And first they must release the two abducted soldiers." In that case, countries like France and Italy would be reluctant to honor pledges to send peacekeeping troops. "An international force arriving in Lebanon without the war having been stopped ... would be exposed to Iraq-style risks," said Italian Foreign Minister Massimo D'Alema. Worse, they would be up against Hizbullah.

With Richard Wolffe, Michael Hirsh, Dan Ephron and John Barry in Washington and Matthew Kalman in Jerusalem

EDITOR'S NOTE: The death toll rose still further as this week began, with the deadliest Hizbullah attacks yet killing 15 people—nine of them reported to be Israeli military reservists—in northern Israel on Sunday. Israeli strikes killed at least 17 in southern Lebanon on the same day.

Sunday 13 August 2006

Israelis not shy with opinions on cease-fire

Who benefits most from plan? Depends on whom you ask

Sunday, August 13, 2006
Page A-11

Matthew Kalman, Chronicle Foreign Service

Jerusalem -- When the Israeli Cabinet meets this morning, it is expected to endorse Friday's U.N. Security Council Resolution 1701, calling for a cease-fire in Lebanon.

Yet the news of a prospective end to the battling is being greeted in Israel with mixed feelings.

There was relief at the prospect of an end to the fighting and the return of about a million Israelis who sat out much of the war in uncomfortable bomb shelters or fled from their homes in the north of the country to escape the Hezbollah bombardments. But it was coupled with dismay at the poor performance of the government and the army, reflected in plunging support for Prime Minister Ehud Olmert and the army chief of staff.

The guns are supposed to fall silent at 8 a.m. Monday. In the meantime, Israeli forces stepped up their push northward in Lebanon toward the Litani River on Saturday, suffering their worst casualties in the monthlong war -- 14 soldiers killed, perhaps as many as 100 wounded -- in an attempt to destroy as much Hezbollah materiel as possible before the cease-fire takes effect.

Israeli military leaders said they would continue to attack Hezbollah positions, and estimated their troops could remain in Lebanon for up to two weeks before the 15,000-strong U.N. force, known as UNIFIL, is ready to take control of the territory they have seized in the fighting.

"We don't know how much time will pass between the U.N. decision and its implementation," said Lt. Gen. Dan Halutz, the Israeli military chief of staff. "We will continue to fight Hezbollah until a new force is established there."

Defense Minister Amir Peretz said Israeli troops would remain until the international force arrived, and they would defend themselves if attacked.

"If anyone dares to use force against Israeli defense forces, we will see this as a violation of the cease-fire agreement," he said on Israel television.

Shimon Peres, Israel's deputy prime minister, hailed the Security Council resolution, saying it granted Israel "maximum legitimacy."

"This resolution endorses Israel the whole way," said Peres. "It says it was Hezbollah who attacked and has to return the kidnapped soldiers, and establishes a demilitarized zone with 15,000 Lebanese soldiers and a UNIFIL with more soldiers from different forces. These are achievements of the first order. The fact that Hezbollah caved in and stood behind the Lebanese government is no small thing. It did that not because it was strengthened, but because it was weakened ... by the Israel defense forces."

But Avigdor Lieberman, leader of the right-wing National Union-Yisrael Beiteinu Party, described the Israeli diplomatic victory as "an illusion."

"The United Nations Security Council resolution essentially endorses Hezbollah as a legitimate force which will dominate the Lebanese army within a year," said Lieberman. "This is not a diplomatic solution, but a temporary cease-fire with all that implies."

Naomi Regan, a novelist who writes commentary for Israeli newspapers, described the leaders in Jerusalem as "the worst government in Israel's history." She charged they had "decided to accept a Security Council resolution which ensures that Israel's soldiers and her people have made their ultimate sacrifice for nothing: Our kidnapped soldiers will not be returned. Hezbollah will not be disarmed. And Israeli forces will be replaced by some U.N. force and a bunch of European anti-Semites who will allow Hezbollah to rearm."

Things looked little better for Olmert and his colleagues on the home front.

Eliezer Goldberg, a retired supreme court judge and state comptroller, said the government's treatment of the citizens in the north -- hundreds of thousands of whom were forced to wait out bombardments in cramped, unventilated and unsanitary bomb shelters for a month -- was "negligent and irresponsible."

Although Olmert's popularity soared in the early days of the war, the weekend opinion polls suggested the prime minister would have a hard time convincing Israelis he had handled his first major crisis successfully. Respondents to a survey for the Haaretz newspaper suggested 20 percent of Israelis believed Israel had "won" the war against Hezbollah, with 30 percent saying Israel was losing. The same poll saw Olmert's approval rating plunge to 48 percent, from 75 percent a month ago.

A survey for the Yedioth Ahronoth daily found 73 percent of Israelis considered the government's handling of the crisis facing the residents of the north to be "bad."

Friday 11 August 2006

Israeli Army officer mourns deaths of fellow reservists

Doctoral student was in Seattle

BOSTON GLOBE | August 11, 2006

By Matthew Kalman, Globe Correspondent

KFAR GILADI, Israel -- This time last week the Israeli Army officer was a doctoral student in electronic engineering enjoying a vacation in the United States after delivering a paper at an academic conference in Seattle.

But after seeing the deaths of 12 Israeli reservists in a Katyusha rocket strike in far northern Israel last weekend, he jumped on a plane and flew to join the reserve artillery unit he commands.

By yesterday, 31-year-old Major Eado -- army regulations prevent him from giving his full name -- stood overlooking the spot where those 12 men died on Sunday and directed a unit of 155mm howitzers firing shells at Hezbollah targets deep inside Lebanon.

``I saw it on CNN and I was heartbroken," he said as the cannons pounded. ``I told my wife, `See you later,' and came back here. I arrived two days ago. My wife is still there. I feel much better over here. I've been with these soldiers for the past 10 years. They train with me every year. They don't have to do that. If they come every year for 20 or 30 days, leave their families, I feel I owe it to them and to the country, but first to the people I serve with. It was the worst feeling you could imagine, being there while they were here."

The major and his men were among 30,000 reservists mobilized to join Israel's war against Hezbollah in southern Lebanon.

If the Israeli government goes ahead with its plan to extend the ground war deep inside Lebanon, a similar number can expect to receive the call-up orders in envelopes through their doors in the next few days.

The Israeli Army refuses to reveal the size of its manpower, but the conventional wisdom is that the standing army of conscripts and professional soldiers is around 170,000, with some 400,000 reservists who could be mobilized in time of war.

Reserve soldiers serve 20 to 40 days each year to keep them up to date with technology and the latest tactics.

Thousands of reservists waited this week in dozens of tanks, armored cars, and military support vehicles lining the roads near the Israel-Lebanon border.

Shai, a 24-year-old student from Ashdod, said he was called up more than a week ago and was waiting to be sent in to Lebanon.

In a briefing near the Israeli border village of Zarit, Major Avi Ortal, chief of operations for the reserve Alexandroni infantry brigade and a lawyer in civilian life, said his soldiers had no doubts about their duty despite losing three men last week in a battle with Hezbollah.

``I feel that the war is very moral. The fact that Hezbollah is sitting on our borders, kidnapping our soldiers, invading our sovereignty, threatening the civilian population on the borders is something that we had to stop," Ortal said as plumes of black and brown smoke billowed into the air behind him from Hezbollah villages where his men were fighting, supported by Israeli artillery.

``The morale and the motivation of the soldiers in our brigade is very high. It emanates from the legitimacy of the war. The people feel that they are fighting for the northern civilians. The motivation comes from the inner feeling that we are doing the right thing," he said.

Raviv is a 27-year-old commander of a reserve artillery unit on another hill near Kiryat Shemona .

``I was sitting with my year-old son in our house in Carmiel two weeks ago when a Hezbollah rocket hit a house 50 meters away. There was a huge boom. I felt it in my own house," he said.

His wife and son had to leave the danger zone to stay with her parents while Raviv reported for reserve duty.

He said he had no hesitation, but would be happy to resume his normal life as an engineering student and part-time security guard.

``I feel that when my country needs me I am ready to come and defend it," he said.

David, a 30-year-old graduate in political science and international relations, helped aim the shells.

``It was a good decision to withdraw in May 2000, but no one made sure that both sides lived up to their side of the bargain," he said. ``Israel didn't completely, and neither did the Lebanese. The international community did nothing to stop the rise of Hezbollah and now we have to dismantle them."

Weiner views Lebanon battle from front

August 11, 2006


KFAR GILADI, Israel - Rep. Anthony Weiner inspected a front-line Israeli artillery unit yesterday as sirens wailed, announcing an impending Hezbollah rocket attack.

Weiner (D-Queens, Brooklyn) is in Israel with a New York delegation that includes Rep. Jerrold Nadler (D-Manhattan, Brooklyn) and other New Yorkers.

The visit, organized by the Jewish Community Relations Council and UJA-Federation of New York, included meetings with Prime Minister Ehud Olmert and Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni and first-hand accounts of the suffering of Israelis fleeing their homes under Hezbollah rocket fire.

"There is no doubt that there are innocent victims in this conflict," said Weiner, citing the deaths of Lebanese children as well as Israelis hunkered down in bomb shelters. "But at the end of the day, this is Israel taking a defensive action that it didn't choose," he said.

As artillery batteries pounded Hezbollah targets up to 15 miles across the border, Weiner heard the Israeli reservists talk about their dedication to fighting for a cause they believe in.

The unit commander, Maj. Eado, told Weiner he was at an academic conference in Seattle when his unit was called up. Eado said he jumped on a plane home when he hear about the 12 reservists killed on Sunday.

By Thursday, Eado - army regulations prevent him from giving his full name - stood overlooking the spot where those 12 men died while directing a different artillery battery.

"I feel much better over here. I've been with these soldiers for the past 10 years. I feel I owe it to them and to the country, but first to the people I serve with," he said.

Weiner said many of his constituents had family in Israel, and that, as an American, he shared Israel's commitment to the fight against terrorism and Hezbollah in particular.

"Every block has a family member who's here. There's also a feeling that there are two countries in the world fighting terrorism right now, the United States and Israel ... a sense that Israeli soldiers are fighting our battle as well," he said.

Wednesday 9 August 2006

S.F. surgeon volunteers his healing hands

Bill Schecter checks on a patient who was wounded by a Katyusha rocket at a hospital in Safed, near the Lebanon border. Photo by David Blumenfeld, special to the Chronicle

'He's not a doctor, he's an angel,' a patient's mother says

Wednesday, August 9, 2006
Page A - 1

Matthew Kalman, Chronicle Foreign Service

Safed, Israel -- Bill Schecter is sanguine about saving the lives of Israeli soldiers and civilians in the monthlong conflict with Hezbollah in Lebanon, but minutes after another Hezbollah rocket narrowly missed the Rebecca Sieff Hospital in Safed on Tuesday, he admitted that he wasn't used to operating under heavy bombardment.

"The kind of wounds I'm treating here are not very different from the gunshot wounds I would see on a busy night in San Francisco," said Schecter, who is chief of surgery at San Francisco General Hospital and vice chairman of surgery at UC San Francisco. "But I've never been fired upon. I now have extensive experience."

His closest encounter, aside from two rockets that fell within 100 feet of the hospital, came while visiting a friend on a nearby kibbutz. "I felt a big boom, but I wasn't really shaken," he said.

Schecter was a visiting instructor in a medical course for military doctors at an Israeli army base when the war broke out. He canceled his ticket home and asked where he might volunteer. The next day he was in Safed, a northern Israeli town 20 miles from the Lebanon border where rockets began falling, and civilians were dying, within two days of the start of hostilities.

One of Schecter's first patients was a Lebanese Shiite woman from the Hezbollah village stronghold of Maroun al-Ras. She had been shot by Israeli paratroop commandos when she was caught in the midst of a gunbattle they were waging with Hezbollah militants in a Lebanese village during the first days of the war. The Israeli soldiers in the field gave her first aid, and then arranged for her son to drive her across the border for treatment in Safed, the nearest hospital.

"Before she was transferred back to Lebanon through the Red Cross, she insisted on handing out candy to all the doctors here," said Schecter. "It was a bad wound, but fortunately the bullet didn't enter her chest. She'll have a scar, but she'll recover. Her attitude gave me an insight into how things could be between the people here if there were peace."

The hospital serves more than a million people, equally divided between Jews and Arabs, in northern Israel. One of Schecter's mementoes from this trip is a photograph of his surgical team -- a Druze, a Jew and a Muslim -- waiting arm in arm at 2 a.m. to receive wounded Israeli soldiers.

"The standard of medicine here is spectacular," said Schecter. "Israeli citizens and the mothers of the soldiers can rest assured they are getting outstanding medical treatment."

He said Israeli medicine has been honed to perfection by the demands of war and terrorism. "Israel has the greatest experience in the world with mass-casualty events," said Schecter. "We have a lot to learn from the Israeli experience. They have it down."

He said he has twice delayed his return home and will stay to volunteer his services until they are no longer required. He said his colleagues back in San Francisco have been "very supportive" of his decision to stay.

So have the families of his patients.

"He's not a doctor, he's an angel," said Dalia Golan. "If not for him, our son would be dead."

Golan's 27-year-old son, Shai, was declared clinically dead on arrival at the hospital Friday after a Hezbollah rocket exploded as he was parking his car outside his house in Shaar Yashuv, a village about 40 miles from Safed. The injured man had been given first aid by his mother, a trained nurse, then transferred to a forward emergency room in nearby Kiryat Shemona, where he lost consciousness.

He was airlifted by helicopter to Safed, where Schecter and his team were waiting. A huge piece of metal had punctured his rib cage, slicing across both lungs and causing extensive internal bleeding.

"I knew it was over," said his mother. But the army doctor on the helicopter had been trained by Schecter and knew that if anyone could save Golan, it was the Bay Area volunteer waiting in Safed.

"When he arrived, he had no pulse, but Dr. Schecter decided not to give up. He operated on him for more than four hours and told us, 'Your job now is to pray.' He's still in critical condition in intensive care, but he's alive," Golan said. "It's just our good fortune that my son fell into his hands."

Tuesday 8 August 2006

RESIDENTS COPE: For some, bomb-proof room is best option

BOSTON GLOBE | August 8, 2006
By Matthew Kalman, Globe Correspondent

MA'ALOT-TARSHIHA, ISRAEL -- The siren began wailing at about 6:30 last evening and Regine Cohen took cover again in her reinforced bomb-proof room. Explosions from incoming Hezbollah rockets landing nearby rattled the windows for the next two hours.

More than 160 rockets fell in northern Israel during the day, and one of them ignited a fire in fields not far from Cohen's home, quickly extinguished by local firefighters.

By now, four weeks into the daily rocket attacks on her home town from the unseen Hezbollah launchers beyond the mountains, Cohen no longer suffers from the panic attacks that gripped her at the start. But she's a prisoner in her picturesque house overlooking the spectacular Wadi Kziv and Montfort Crusader castle next to Israel's northern border with Lebanon.

``I haven't been out for four weeks, I feel like I've lost control of my own life," said Cohen, trying to relax between rocket barrages by playing Spanish guitar on her porch. ``It's like someone coming in and deciding to take over your home, the place where you should feel most secure. It's as if they are taking away your very energy."

Of more than 2,000 Hezbollah rockets fired at Israel in the past month, so many have fallen in and around Ma'alot-Tarshiha, a mostly Jewish hillside dormitory town and twin Arab village of some 22,000, that the residents have lost count. Several houses have been destroyed. Last Thursday, three Arab teenagers died when a rocket hit them as they tried to take cover in an open field.

Unlike most of their neighbors, Cohen and her husband, Paul, a retired interior designer, decided to stay in their home. This should be high season for their business -- they rent out a romantic summer cottage on the grounds of their house -- but the tourists have disappeared.

Their regular clients have besieged the Cohens with concerned phone calls and invitations to head south for the duration of the war, but they refuse to leave. They stay close to home, close to the bomb-proof room that doubles as their bedroom. They shop hastily, during the two hours the town's remaining supermarket is open each day. The other was hit by a rocket. Visiting friends bring vital supplies.

``We have six cats who are like our children," said Paul. ``We couldn't leave them. And who would water the garden?"

A neighbor, Marc Arenstein, decided to move out of Ma'alot-Tarshiha five days after the bombing started. For health reasons, he couldn't stay in the dank, musty, barely inhabitable 12-by-14-foot bomb shelter he was supposed to share with four other families, and his daughter couldn't stand being down there. So they moved into a relative's vacation home in Jerusalem.

Arenstein, manager of the information center and head of international relations for the Chamber of Commerce and Industry in Haifa, went back to work after a few days in Jerusalem -- a three-hour commute -- and spends one night a week in Ma'alot-Tarshiha.

``I come back once a week to take care of things like feeding the parakeet and watering the lawn and plants," he said. ``When we left I didn't plan on being away for a month. . . The bills are piling up. Last week the windows were blown out by a rocket. I have to make sure they're repaired so we don't come back to find animals in the house."

``I want this place to be like a home when we return, not like a barn that fell apart," he said.

Monday 7 August 2006


ANALYSIS: Damaged militarily, Hezbollah a formidable foe despite Israel's seeming edge

Monday, August 7, 2006
Matthew Kalman, Chronicle Foreign Service

Manara, Israel -- Nearly a month after the capture of two Israeli soldiers and the deaths of eight more in a border raid by Hezbollah on July 12, Israel's military response has failed to secure any of the war aims set out that day.

Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert promised "a new reality" in Lebanon, where the Iranian-backed Hezbollah militant group would be downgraded and its threat to Israel removed.

But nearly four weeks on, 2 million Israelis remain under daily Hezbollah rocket bombardment across northern Israel. Hezbollah fighters are putting up stiff resistance against advancing Israeli ground forces. The Shiite militia is gaining political support. And the implementation of U.N. Security Council Resolution 1559, which calls for the deployment of Lebanese government forces up to the international border and the disarming of nongovernment militias, appears as distant as ever.

Israeli military planners had envisioned a swift victory without a large ground invasion. That strategy failed, and now about 10,000 Israeli troops are encamped across the border and appear set to stay in southern Lebanon, sparking for many fears of a return to the 18-year Israeli occupation that ended in May 2000.

Hezbollah has used the six years since the Israeli withdrawal to create what Lebanese Prime Minister Fuad Saniora, speaking on the first day of the fighting, called "a state within a state" in southern Lebanon. It comprises thousands of well-trained guerrillas, a huge stock of weapons, about 14,000 rockets supplied by Iran and Syria, and an intricate network of cells, bunkers, outposts and command centers secreted in local villages and united by a common ideological aim of wiping Israel off the map.

In the past four weeks, Hezbollah has been damaged militarily but not destroyed. Its Dahiya stronghold in the Lebanese capital is in ruins and under daily Israeli shelling. Many of its fighters near the Israeli border have been killed and their bunkers, command posts and weapons caches destroyed.

But over the weekend, Hezbollah militants proved that they retain the ability to launch dozens of rockets each day at northern Israel, killing, maiming and terrifying the population into shocked paralysis.

As the Israeli operation stretches toward a second month, the widespread killing of Lebanese civilians and the destruction of homes, roads, bridges, water and electricity supplies has galvanized political support for Hezbollah inside Lebanon and across the Arab world.

Israel military power is far superior to that of Hezbollah, but the Shiite guerrillas are far from defeated. What, from Israel's point of view, went wrong?

"There were those who thought air power would work, that three weeks of pounding from the air would force the Lebanese government to disarm Hezbollah, and Hezbollah would be ready to be disarmed. They got it wrong, because the use of air power against a well-entrenched terrorist group that's willing to sacrifice huge numbers of civilian lives by operating from their midst won't work," said Gerald Steinberg, a political science professor at Bar-Ilan University and an adviser to the Israeli government. "What worked in Serbia didn't work in Afghanistan or Baghdad or now in Lebanon."

There were also intelligence failures. Israel didn't know Hezbollah had the Iranian C802 surface-to-surface missile until it blew up one of Israel's gunboats. The Russian-made Cornet anti-tank rockets are destroying the Israeli Merkava tanks at a rate of one a day. Far from being a ragtag guerrilla band, Hezbollah has deployed highly trained and well-equipped commandos who fight and behave like disciplined soldiers.

Dan Halutz, the Israeli military chief of staff, defended the war planning in an interview broadcast on Israel's Channel 2 on Saturday. He said the fighting was "unfolding almost precisely according to the plans we laid out at the start."

Halutz said the aim of Israel's aggressive response to the Hezbollah raid on July 12 was threefold: "Significantly, to weaken Hezbollah so the price it can demand in every internal Lebanese debate will be as small as possible. Second, to create the conditions for the return of our soldiers. Third, to create the conditions so that U.N. Resolution 1559 can be enforced."

But, he said, "the solution does not rest solely on military power."

"We will continue to clear out the terrorist nests in the area, to push Hezbollah back as far as possible, and continue the air, sea and deep-penetration operations until the issue can be resolved diplomatically," he said.

The Israeli military campaign began with two weeks of artillery fire and aerial bombing raids focusing on Hezbollah's long-range rocket launchers and command posts. It largely succeeded, but Israeli planners were surprised by the havoc wreaked by Hezbollah's more primitive short-range rockets.

"It didn't have the consequences they expected," said Eran Lerman, a former Israeli military intelligence colonel who now heads the American Jewish Committee office in Jerusalem. "Three weeks later, Hezbollah are still lobbing 200 Katyusha rockets and killing eight civilians a day. But it had to be tested. There is a lot to be said for the 'air-force-first' strategy if it works. You don't know if it works until you try."

At a briefing in Tel Aviv last week, Brig. Gen. Amir Eshel, the Israeli air force commander, sought to explain the difficulties faced by the Israeli military.

"We concentrated first of all in dealing with the rockets that have large amounts of explosives ... and achieved no small success," he said. "The more problematic area, where we are less successful, is the short-range rockets with the smaller warheads. Action against these rockets is much more complex. They are spread out across a wide area. There are hundreds of launchers, some of them jeeps and small trucks. Some are simply pipes which are set up, put on a timer and fired at a specified time. ... The only way to deal with this problem is through the ground operation, which we are now putting in place and expanding."

A former security adviser to the Israeli government, speaking on condition of anonymity, said the first plan of aerial attack was justified.

"I don't think it was a mistake," he said. "It was legitimate to try a strategy which would save lives in the hope it would work out and, if it didn't, to adopt a different strategy.

"In a ground attack involving eyeball-to-eyeball fighting in built-up areas, where the defender has an obvious advantage, one should expect a pretty considerable loss of life in the attacking force. There was a hope that the major losses could be avoided. That's why whoever it was recommended ground attacks as a last resort and not a first choice," he said.

The first week of Israel's 1982 invasion of Lebanon killed up to 10,000 Lebanese and Palestinians, and 300 Israeli soldiers. The casualties in this conflict are a fraction of those numbers.

"Precisely because of that we are trying to use a different approach, without jumping straight in," said Halutz, the chief of staff.

But weeks in bomb shelters and growing casualties on both sides proved too much for Israeli leaders and strained the patience of the international community, which at first appeared willing to allow Israel some time to degrade Hezbollah.

Brig. Gen. Benny Gantz, commander of Israeli land forces, said Israel's decision to pour troops into Lebanon was taken as a last resort to stop the firing of Hezbollah rockets.

"We are bringing this destruction to Lebanon not because of any desire on our part, but because we have no choice," Gantz said. "When the people of south Lebanon wake up and see buildings which were used as bunkers, or weapons stores, or command posts or outposts of Hezbollah, and they see those buildings leveled, it's not because of Israel's destructive desires, but because of the strategic disaster which (Hezbollah leader Hassan) Nasrallah brought them."

But four weeks into the battle, few experts are betting on the outcome. Hezbollah remains intact, and it is hard to imagine the Lebanese government forcing them to disarm. The Israeli troops could be in Lebanon for some time yet.

Ephraim Halevy, former head of Israel's Mossad intelligence agency that spent years collecting information on Hezbollah, said he could not predict where this would end.

"I cannot say," Halevy said. "It's too early to know, much too early. The elements of doubt and areas of variables and uncertainty are greater than they ever were."

Saturday 5 August 2006


Arabs are among the dead and wounded in Hezbollah rocket attacks
Monsour Abbas peers at a hole in a roof created by the rocket that killed his cousin, Doua. Photo by David Blumenfeld, special to the Chronicle

Saturday, August 5, 2006 Page A - 1
Matthew Kalman, Chronicle Foreign Service

Maghar, Israel -- Fifteen-year-old Doua Abbas was sitting with her older sister, Hana, quietly reading a book at her home high on the hill in the picturesque village of Maghar when they heard the eerie wail of the air-raid siren.

The village of 18,000, a model of peaceful coexistence among Muslims, Christians and Druze in the Galilee region of northern Israel, had never been attacked. But seconds later, there was a deafening explosion as a Hezbollah rocket slammed into the hillside not far away.

Doua's mother was sitting in the next room. Shaking with fear, Imtiaz Abbas called her daughters to come to her. Seconds later, a Hezbollah rocket launched from southern Lebanon smashed through the roof of the one-story house, burst through the wall of the next room and sliced through Doua where she sat.

The Iranian-made Raad 2 rocket kept going, smashing through the window, sailing over the next house and landing 200 yards down the hill.

Doua's body was cut to pieces, her blood and flesh spattered across the walls and furniture. Hana escaped with minor injuries but suffered a trauma that will haunt her forever.

"Doua hated the war," her mother said. "Whenever she saw something about the war on the television, she said she was against it. She hated the killing. She would ask me, 'Why? Why are people being killed like this?' I told her that hopefully, with God's help, the war will soon end. But it was too late for her."

More than a week after the tragedy, Imtiaz Abbas doesn't know if she can ever go back to the home where the youngest of her six children died. It lies in ruins, a gaping hole in the roof and wall, the metal reinforcements in the concrete torn and twisted.

"She was such a clever girl, and she had so many dreams," she said, her eyes filled with sorrow. "She was an outstanding student at school and dreamed of going to university to study pharmacy or law. She could have done either."

The family are strict Muslims. Now they live with relatives a few yards away.

"My faith in Allah helps to sustain me," Imtiaz Abbas said. "My family and their support are helping us through this terrible time. It's very difficult. I pray every day to God to help all the mothers who have lost their children. I feel their sorrow. I pray for an end to the war and an end to our pain.

"I call on all the mothers around the world to rise up and tell their leaders to end this killing of children."

Doua's father, Hosni Abbas, an unemployed laborer, said their faith and close-knit family has sustained them through the tragedy, together with the support of the whole village, which turned out by the thousands to bury Doua in the tiny cemetery halfway up the hill.

"There is a terrible sadness, but we do not feel any anger," he said. "We do not blame anyone. We do not seek revenge. We find comfort in our faith, and we accept the will of Allah, but we pray that the killing will stop."

This week, the rockets returned to Maghar. Five landed in open fields around the village Wednesday, but no one was hurt. But Friday, Manal Azzam, a 27-year-old mother of two, was killed and two other residents were seriously wounded when a rocket hit an apartment building.

About one-third of the Israeli civilians killed in Hezbollah rocket attacks since July 12 have been Israeli Arabs, most of them children. Three teenagers died Thursday when a Hezbollah rocket hit a field near their village of Tarshiha on the northern border. Two Israeli Arab children were killed when a Hezbollah rocket landed in Nazareth on July 19.
Imtiaz Abbas, 48, lost her 15-year-old daughter when a rocket smashed into their living room in northern Israel. "My faith in Allah helps to sustain me," the devout Muslim said. Photo by David Blumenfeld, special to the Chronicle

Doua Abbas, 15, was killed in her living room by a rocket launched from southern Lebanon.

Thursday 3 August 2006

Hospital suffers wounds of war

Hezbollah rocket destroys entire floor housing eye ward

Dr. Uri Rehany, an ophthalmologist at the hospital in Nahariya, stands amid the rubble of his department after a rocket struck it. Photo by David Blumenfeld, special to the Chronicle

Thursday, August 3, 2006
Page A - 10

Matthew Kalman, Chronicle Foreign Service

Nahariya, Israel -- Dr. Uri Rehany picked his way through the wreckage of his hospital department and shook his head in sorrow.

"This is not a war with a country," he said. "It's a war with a terrorist organization."

A Hezbollah rocket smashed into the eye department on the fourth floor of the surgical wing of the Western Galilee Hospital, near Nahariya in northern Israel on Friday, destroying the entire floor and causing more than $200,000 worth of damage.

Rehany, the 59-year-old director of the eye department, was first on the scene.

"We heard an enormous explosion," he said. "We knew it hit the building somewhere. We waited for a few minutes to be sure the building was stable enough, then we started to climb one floor after the other to see where it hit. Unfortunately, it was my department."

A gaping hole that was once a window shows where the missile sent shards of shrapnel and explosives tearing through the ward. Rehany said the ruined equipment included sensitive ocular ultrasound and topography equipment worth more than $120,000.

"They destroyed eight rooms, about 20 beds, but it's not just the beds. It's all the systems -- the oxygen, the vacuum -- in the walls. It's not like the normal building of a house. There are many special facilities incorporated in the walls and the ceiling," he said.

The hospital's recently completed surgical wing was built to withstand attack. The rocket lodged in the reinforced floor of the surgery ward after traveling through the eye department, but apparently did no structural damage to the rest of the building. The security windows blew out and landed without splintering on the ground far below, as they had been designed to do.

The Hezbollah attack on the hospital, only 6 miles from the Lebanon border, was expected. On the first night of the war, the patients were moved underground into bomb-proof emergency facilities specially constructed for the purpose. No patients or hospital personnel were injured in Friday's attack.

Among the 400 patients in the underground rooms were two of Rehany's most recent transplant recipients. A few days before the rocket hit the hospital, he transplanted the corneas of a child killed by another Hezbollah rocket into two patients -- one Jewish, one Muslim.

Rehany, a corneal transplant surgeon who was born in Baghdad, trained at the Mount Sinai Medical Center in New York City and is a fellow of the American College of Surgeons.

"Before the year 2000, when Israel was still in (southern) Lebanon, about one-third of my patients in this department were Lebanese," he said. "They don't have any modern medicine in the area from the border up to Beirut. They relied on us. They had no facilities for eye surgery, which requires really modern medical care.

"When we left and Hezbollah took over, everything was destroyed," he said.

Dozens of rockets have landed near the hospital in the three weeks since warfare began, but Friday's was the first to hit the building.

"They target civilians -- hospitals, schools, whatever they can," Rehany said. "We are so sorry when we hear that something happened to a civilian by mistake, but they specifically aim at civilian targets. They're not even ashamed of it. They are doing it every single day.

"I hope that the end of this war will see a new beginning and an open border which will benefit all of us," he said.

Rubble in a hospital room at the Opthamology Department at Nahariya Hospital after it was hit by a rocket. Photo by David Blumenfeld, special to the Chronicle