Military Questions that need answers

How the Israeli Defence Forces (IDF) managed to hit a clearly marked United Nations base, killing 101 Lebanese refugees sheltering there, while allegedly aiming at rocket launchers hidden 300 metres away remained unclear last night. But intelligence sources now believe the Israelis responded too hastily to the launch of Hizbollah rockets before checking whether there was a sensitive installation nearby.

The conduct and procedures of the Israeli forces make it questionable whether they have been trying to excise Hizbollah rocket launchers with high-precision attacks. Doubts have also been raised about the IDF's much-vaunted professionalism.

The Israeli conduct of their air and artillery attacks has been in marked contrast to those by Nato on Bosnian Serb positions in September last year. In Bosnia, Nato and the UN drew up lists of potential targets, most of which were discarded because they were too close to civilian areas. When the Serbs fired into Sarajevo, Nato responded with accurate attacks that received worldwide support. If the Israelis hoped for the same when they responded to artillery and rocket attacks from Lebanon, they were mistaken.

Certainly, the Israelis' apparent inaccuracy remains almost incomprehensible. The Israelis use the US Firefinder radar system, which plots the launch site and path of artillery shells, mortars or rockets, and can pinpoint the launch site to within 10 metres. The site coordinates are then entered into the computer at the fire direction centre. The position of the individual guns is known from a global positioning system. The computer will also take account of air density, temperature and wind speed and direction. The first salvo should, therefore, land precisely on the target - certainly not 300 metres away, as appears to have happened on Thursday.

A Western army trying to carry out "surgical" attacks on elusive targets such as the Hizbollah rocket launchers would have sensitive sites - villages and UN bases - marked and surrounded by a designated safety area which would make it impossible to fire on them without due reflection. The Israelis clearly did not have such safeguards in place.

But even if they did fire too hastily, the chances of inaccurate rounds landing on a UN base nearby seem slim, and questions remain about what really happened.

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