Tuesday, August 15, 2006

Hezbollah Will Likely Keep Its Weapons

By the Staff of the Jerusalem Post
August 15, 2006

Hizbullah will not hand over its weapons to the Lebanese government but rather refrain from exhibiting them publicly, according to a new compromise that is reportedly brewing between Lebanese Prime Minister Fuad Seniora and Hizbullah leader Hassan Nasrallah.

The UN cease-fire resolution specifically demands the demilitarization of the area south of the Litani river. The resolution was approved by the Lebanese cabinet.

In a televised address on Monday night, Nasrallah declared that now was not the time to debate the disarmament of his guerrilla fighters, saying the issue should be done in secret sessions of the government to avoid serving Israeli interests.

"This is immoral, incorrect and inappropriate," he said. "It is wrong timing on the psychological and moral level particularly before the cease-fire," he said in reference to calls from critics for the guerrillas to disarm.

According to Lebanon's defense minister, Elias Murr, "There will be no other weapons or military presence other than the army" after Lebanese troops move south of the Litani. However, he then contradicted himslef by saying the army would not ask Hizbullah to hand over its weapons.

Murr added that Lebanon's contribution of 15,000 soldiers could be on the north side of the Litani River by the end of the week.

He noted that international forces could begin arriving next week to bolster the current 2,000-member UN force in southern Lebanon, which watched helplessly as fighting raged over the past month.

In Europe, Italy and France have pledged troops. Malaysia, Turkey and Indonesia were among the mostly Muslim nations offering help.

French Commander:

"Disarming Hezbollah Not My Problem"

By the Staff of the Jerusalem Post
August 15, 2006

The French commander of UNIFIL, Maj.-Gen. Alain Pellegrini, said Tuesday that his peacekeeping force will not attempt to disarm Hizbullah.

Dealing with Hizbullah, Pellegrini said, was an internal Lebanese matter, and the 15,000 UN troops to be deployed under his command would not get involved. It was up to Lebanon, he said, to deploy its army in the south and deal with the Hizbullah presence.

Pellegrini said reinforcements for the UN personnel already in Lebanon were needed quickly, because even one "stray act" could sabotage the cease-fire between Israel and Hizbullah.

Israel, Hezbollah Remain Prepared

To Resume Fighting Despite Truce

By Guy Chazan and Neil King, Jr.
The Wall Street Journal
August 14, 2006

TEL AVIV -- Even as the cease-fire between Israel and Hezbollah appeared to be largely holding, leaders on both sides seemed to be preparing for the next round of fighting.

In a televised speech in which he hailed Hezbollah's "strategic, historic victory" against Israel, the group's leader, Sheikh Hassan Nasrallah, dismissed calls to disarm the group -- a key United Nations demand -- saying it had proved it was the only force capable of defending Lebanon from a future Israeli offensive.

"Can the Lebanese army, in its present situation and with its present capabilities, fight a war if such a war was forced on Lebanon?" he asked. "The international force... will it defend Lebanon against any Israeli aggression? This is out of the question."

For his part, Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert told his parliament Israel would have to learn the lessons of this war and "do better" next time, while promising to continue to pursue Hezbollah's leaders. Israel is still reeling from the realization that its army, the most powerful in the Middle East, was fought to a virtual standstill by a Shiite guerrilla force numbering only a few thousand.

On both sides, there are fears that a future round of fighting is almost inevitable. Israeli officials, specifically, worry that the next war may be fought in conditions less favorable to them, against a foe equipped with more-sophisticated weaponry -- even, in the worst-case scenario, one possibly backed by a nuclear-enabled Iran. President Bush addressed that fear Monday, saying one "can only imagine how much more dangerous this conflict would be if Iran had the nuclear weapon it seeks." He squarely blamed the fighting on Hezbollah and what he called "Iranian sponsorship" of the organization, which he said had been "emboldened" by its ties both to Tehran and Syria.

Monday, a few small skirmishes broke out along the Israel-Lebanon border, with Israel saying its soldiers killed six armed guerrillas approaching its positions. Still, with the cease-fire mostly holding, thousands of refugees crowded the bombed-out roads leading back to southern Lebanon, while in northern Israel, thousands of people emerged bleary-eyed from the bomb shelters they had been confined to for much of the last month.

Many remained skeptical the cease-fire would hold. Hezbollah has insisted Israeli soldiers are legitimate targets until they pull out of Lebanese territory. Israel has said it won't withdraw its troops until the Lebanese army moves in. With the two adversaries facing off, it is unclear whether the Lebanese army or the international peacekeeping force will consider it safe enough to deploy in the south.

In Washington, President Bush sought to counter growing criticism that his administration had fumbled the diplomacy to end the Israel-Hezbollah war and that his push to spread democracy in the Middle East had contributed to the region's growing instability and bloodshed. (See a transcript of Bush's remarks.)

Addressing Hezbollah's claims of victory, Mr. Bush said it was only natural that Hezbollah would assert that it had won the monthlong fight with Israel. "But how can you claim victory when at one time you were a state within a state, safe within southern Lebanon, and now you're going to be replaced by a Lebanese army and an international force?" he said.

In his speech to the Knesset, Mr. Olmert made the same point, saying Israel had achieved a key goal -- a commitment by the Lebanese government to extend its control to the south, Hezbollah's stronghold. He said Israel had succeeded in severely degrading the group's military capability and weapons arsenal and denting its confidence.

But the leader of the opposition, Benjamin Netanyahu, said Israel had failed to achieve some of the main objectives it set out when it launched the war last month: The two soldiers whose capture July 12 triggered the fighting hadn't been returned, Hezbollah hadn't been disarmed and it had retained its ability to daily fire hundreds of missiles into Israeli towns.

While trying to figure out how to make sure Hezbollah doesn't re-trench in southern Lebanon, Mr. Bush and his team also are turning their sights back to the ongoing diplomatic effort to rein in Tehran's nuclear program. Mr. Bush repeatedly pointed to Iran as a chief supplier of arms to Hezbollah and said the task of restraining Iran is "not just America's alone."

He spoke at length in defense of his "freedom agenda" for the Middle East, portraying the fighting in Lebanon and Iraq as "part of a broader struggle between freedom and terror that is unfolding across the region." "The way forward's going to be difficult," he said. "It will require more sacrifice. But we can be confident of the outcome because we know and understand the unstoppable power of freedom."

Write to Guy Chazan at guy.chazan@wsj.com and
Neil King Jr. at neil.king@wsj.com

Israel Humbled By

Arms from Iran

The London Telegraph
August 15, 2006

Abandoned Hizbollah positions in Lebanon yesterday revealed conclusive evidence that Syria - and almost certainly Iran - provided the anti-tank missiles that have blunted the power of Israel's once invincible armour.

After one of the fiercest confrontations of the war, Israeli forces took the small town of Ghandouriyeh, east of the southern city of Tyre, on Sunday evening, hours before a ceasefire brokered by the United Nations took effect.

At least 24 Israeli soldiers were killed in the advance on the strategic hilltop town as Hizbollah fighters were pushed back to its outskirts, abandoning many weapons.

The discovery helped to explain the slow progress made by Israeli ground forces in nearly five weeks of a war which Hizbollah last night claimed as "a historic victory." Israeli political and military leaders are facing mounting criticism over the conduct of the offensive, which was intended to smash the Iranian-backed Shia militia.

Outside one of the town's two mosques a van was found filled with green casings about 6ft long. The serial numbers identified them as AT-5 Spandrel anti-tank missiles. The wire-guided weapon was developed in Russia but Iran began making a copy in 2000.

Beyond no-man's land, in the east of the village, was evidence of Syrian-supplied hardware. In a garden next to a junction used as an outpost by Hizbollah lay eight Kornet anti-tank rockets, described by Brig Mickey Edelstein, the commander of the Nahal troops who took Ghandouriyeh, as "some of the best in the world".

Written underneath a contract number on each casing were the words: "Customer: Ministry of Defence of Syria. Supplier: KBP, Tula, Russia."

Brig Edelstein said: "If they tell you that Syria knew nothing about this, just look. This is the evidence. Proof, not just talk."

The discovery of the origin of the weapons proved to the Israelis that their enemy was not a ragged and lightly armed militia but a semi-professional army equipped by Syria and Iran to take on Israel. The weapons require serious training to operate and could be beyond the capabilities of some supposedly regular armies in the Middle East. The Kornet was unveiled by Russia in 1994. It is laser-guided, has a range of three miles and carries a double warhead capable of penetrating the reactive armour on Israeli Merkava tanks. Russia started supplying them to Syria in 1998.

Israeli forces were taken by surprise by the sophistication of the anti-tank weapons they faced.

They are believed to have accounted for many of the 116 deaths the army suffered. Dozens of tanks were hit and an unknown number destroyed.

The missiles were also used against infantry, in one case bringing down a house and killing nine soldiers. They played an important part in Hizbollah's tactics of using a network of concealed positions to set up ambushes for the Israelis as they inched in. Last night, Hassan Nasrallah, the Hizbollah leader, said his men had achieved "a strategic, historic victory" over "a confused, cowardly and defea-ted" enemy. He said the militia would not disarm, as Israel and the UN Security Council were demanding. It would be "immoral, incorrect and inappropriate," he said.

"It is the wrong timing on a pyschological and moral level."

As the militia leader was claiming victory, Ehud Olmert, the Israeli prime minister, defended his handling of the crisis and said that the massive air, ground and sea attack had changed the face of the Middle East. But he admitted that the military and political leadership was guilty of "shortcomings", not least in underestimating the threat from anti-tank weapons.

Critics say that he placed too much faith in the ability of the air force to break the back of Hizbollah and delayed launching a major ground offensive until it was too late.

Benjamin Netanyahu, the Likud Party leader and a rival, said: "There were many failures - failures on identifying the threat, failures in preparing to meet the threat, failures in the management of the war, failures in the management of the home front."

Last night, President George W. Bush blamed Iran and Syria for fomenting the conflict between Israel and Hizbollah. "We can only imagine how much more dangerous this conflict would be if Iran had the nuclear weapon it seeks," he said.