Israel Giving Up 'Element of Surprise' to Save Civilian Lives

Julie Stahl | Jerusalem Bureau Chief | Thursday, July 20, 2006

Israel Giving Up 'Element of Surprise' to Save Civilian Lives

Jerusalem ( ) - Israel has been willing to give up the element of surprise in its battle against Hizballah to warn civilians that they should flee areas where the Air Force is planning to attack, an army official said on Thursday.

Israel has been accused of using disproportionate force in its response to Hizballah attacks on Israel, and in some cases, of deliberately targeting civilians.

For the last eight days, residents of northern Israeli communities, including Israel's third largest city, Haifa, have stayed in bomb shelters and security rooms as more than 1,600 Hizballah rockets have crashed into the country. Twenty-nine Israelis have been killed and hundreds more wounded.

Israel has launched massive air strikes on what it calls Hizballah targets, including weapons caches, trucks that may be used to transport weapons, and other infrastructure that may be of use to Hizballah. Lebanese Prime Minister Fouad Siniora said on Wednesday that more than 300 Lebanese civilians have been killed in the last eight days.

But Israel said it is going to great lengths to prevent civilian casualties by warning civilians of impending attacks.

"We've taken numerous actions telling civilians to leave, [even] losing the element of surprise trying to not injure civilians," said Army Capt. Doron Spielman.

"[Hizballah] is imbedded within densely populated areas. We're losing [part of our] military might [by dropping fliers]," said Spielman in a telephone interview. "We're not always able to drop fliers," he added.

The Israeli army has dropped fliers in many areas where it intends to bomb Hizballah targets, warning residents -- sometimes hours in advance -- that they should leave the area because it will soon be attacked, said Spielman.

The same thing is going on in the Gaza Strip. On Thursday, the Israeli military began distributing flyers warning people with ammunition caches in or under their homes to leave ahead of IDF strikes in the area, the Jerusalem Post reported.

Spielman said the targets are picked "based on intelligence information... We have confirmation that targets are correct."

If, for instance, Israel learns that a civilian home is being used to store rockets, the army drops fliers. When the house is hit by the Air Force, "we see the rockets flying off," he said.

As for other targets -- such as highways, bridges and runways at Beirut's international airport -- Spielman said Israel is doing what is necessary to disrupt Hizballah resupply and transportation lines.

Hizballah's Al-Manar television station was hit on the first day because it was used for communicating with terrorist operatives, he said.

The Hizballah bunker targeted overnight with 23 tons of explosives in southern Beirut was "not in the middle of an open field," he noted.

Government Minister Isaac Herzog on Thursday said that Hizballah is hiding its missiles among the civilian population. The Shiite militants never say how many of their own people have been hit, he added.

The United Nations' emergency relief coordinator, Jan Egeland, has blamed both Israel and Hizballah for the civilian deaths.

"The Israeli military attacks are all over the country. There are aerial bombardments which are in hundreds of places really. I think it is a disproportionate response, really," Egeland told the BBC.

"But I also clearly see that Hezbollah is trying to blend into the civilian population in too many places and they bear also a heavy responsibility for this. They do not seem to care that they really inflict a lot of suffering on their own population," he added.

Subscribe to the free daily E-Brief.

Send a Letter to the Editor about this article.