Israel Fighting Free World's War on Terror, Defense Minister Says

Julie Stahl | Jerusalem Bureau Chief | Wednesday, August 9, 2006

Israel Fighting Free World's War on Terror, Defense Minister Says

Jerusalem ( - In its war against Hizballah, Israel is "fighting the war of the free world against terror," and it expects the international community to support its efforts, Defense Minister Amir Peretz said on Wednesday.

One month after Hizballah launched a cross-border raid into Israel, killing eight soldiers and abducting two others, the Israeli government was meeting Wednesday to decide on a long-awaited expansion of its ground incursion into Lebanon.

With lots of discussion -- but no agreement -- on a U.N. resolution intended to stop the fighting, Israel seems assured of the more time to finish the job it started.

Israel is now expected to push all the way to the Litani River -- 18 miles into Lebanon -- and in some places beyond that, to prevent Hizballah-fired rockets from landing in northern Israel.

Israeli Defense Minister Amir Peretz told visiting German Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier on Wednesday that Israel is "fighting against the Iranian commando, which is armed with sophisticated, modern weaponry."

Those weapons include Russian-made anti-tank missiles, Peretz said -- missiles that "it was promised would not fall into the hands of Hizballah." But Peretz noted that such weapons are indeed being used today against Israeli soldiers in Lebanon.

In another sign of reinvigoration, Israel's Army chief Lt.-Gen. Dan Halutz appointed his deputy, Maj.-Gen. Moshe Kaplinsky, to coordinate air, sea and land operations.

Kaplinsky's promotion is seen as a slap for Maj.-Gen. Udi Adam, the head of the northern command, who critics say is not moving fast enough or producing solid results on the ground in Lebanon. Kaplinsky is a veteran of earlier battles in Lebanon.

Before 9:00 a.m. local time on Wednesday, Katyusha rockets and mortars were falling again in northern Israel. By noon, 10 mortars and nine rockets had landed in Israel. Four of them were longer-range rockets that landed some 60 kilometers (36 miles) inside Israel. More than 160 rockets crashed into Israel on Tuesday.

More heavy fighting was reported in southern Lebanon on Wednesday. Five Israeli soldiers were killed in battle over the last 24 hours, the army said, bringing the total number of soldiers killed to 67. Thirty-eight civilians also have been killed in the past month of fighting.

Israel carried out some 100 aerial attacks on Hizballah targets overnight, the army said on Wednesday.

A member of Hizballah's policy-making office reportedly was killed in an Israeli Air Strike on his home, media reports said.

In Lebanon, where figures are unclear at best, the death toll is estimated at 650 to more than 900. Lebanese officials say most of those who have been killed are civilians, but Israel says it has killed more than 400 Hizballah fighters - who take cover among the civilian population. Hizballah doesn't reveal its casualties.

Israel also has abducted a number of Hizballah fighters, including one who said he was involved in the cross-border attack that launched the current war.

Hussein Ali Suleiman, 22, a Hizballah gunman, told Israeli interrogators that he had been recruited by Hizballah in 2000 and underwent a religious "brainwashing" seminar, then was sent to Iran for tactical warfare training.

Keep fighting, Israeli Jews say

Despite the continuing rocket barrages on northern Israel, the vast majority of Jewish Israelis believe that the Israeli military operation against Hizballah in Lebanon should continue, the results of a survey showed on Wednesday.

After three weeks of fighting in Lebanon, some 93 percent of Jewish Israelis believe that the campaign in Lebanon is justified, according to one poll. Five percent viewed the fighting as unjustified and the rest had no opinion.

Seventy-nine percent of the Jewish population favors continuing the fighting until Israel achieves the goals it has set for itself, while 16.5 percent believe there should be an immediate ceasefire and the beginning of an international process that would lead to political negotiations.

Even among those who have been penned up in bomb shelters for a month or who have had to flee their homes in the north, resolve remains high to push forward.

Despite media criticism, most Israelis believe their army is fighting well. Eighty-seven percent assessed the Israeli army's combat capability as good or very good, the survey said.

More than 80 percent of Israelis said they believe Hizballah opened the northern front to serve their own interests and the interests of those who support them - Syria and Iran. More than nine percent said Hizballah launched its campaign to help the Palestinians.

Arab Israelis took the opposite view, despite the fact that Hizballah rockets also have claimed Arab lives. Just 17 percent of Israeli Arabs said they viewed the Israeli campaign in Lebanon as justified while 68 percent said it was unjustified.

(The July 2006 Peace Index survey was conducted by the Evens Program in Mediation and Conflict Resolution and the Tami Steinmetz Center for Peace Research at Tel Aviv University and was released on Wednesday.)

Subscribe to the free daily E-Brief.

Send a Letter to the Editor about this article.