Peres gambles on air strikes at Hizbollah - World - News - The Independent

Peres gambles on air strikes at Hizbollah

PATRICK COCKBURN

Jerusalem

The Israeli government delayed air strikes against Hizbollah, the Lebanese guerrilla movement, for so long because it has more to lose than gain by escalating the war in Lebanon. By yesterday morning it could wait no longer.

With an election due on 29 May, Shimon Peres, the prime minister, could not afford to look weak. His election slogan is: "Israel is strong with Peres."

Pressure to do something against Hizbollah had been building up in Israel during the Passover holiday. On Tuesday guerrillas fired seven Katyusha rockets into northern Galilee, injuring 36 people and damaging 200 homes in Kiryat Shmona, close to the Lebanese border. Mr Peres was advised not to visit the town for fear of hostile demonstrations.

The Israeli army offered the government three options: mass air attacks, a mixture of air and ground attacks, or an attack on targets in Beirut. Mr Peres appears to have opted for the first and third options. By launching the first air attack on Beirut since the 1982-84 Israeli invasion of Lebanon, he hopes to convince the Israeli electorate Hizbollah is being punished.

Government ministers in Jerusalem were yesterday sounding bellicose. Ori Orr, the defence minister, said: "Beirut itself must understand that it cannot be quiet there and less quiet in Kiryat Shmona." Major General Amiram Levine, in command of Israeli forces in Lebanon, said: "Residents in south Lebanon who are under the authority of Hizbollah will be hit harder and Hizbollah will be hit harder."

There was a more muted analysis from other members of the government. Yossi Beilin, a cabinet minister in Mr Peres's office, said there would be no drastic change in the situation at the border until Israel had a "comprehensive diplomatic agreement with Syria and Lebanon". The air attacks so far have been light, probably designed more as a warning than a serious military assault.

The danger for the government is that Hizbollah will strike back both against Israeli troops in their occupation zone in southern Lebanon and through Katyusha rocket attacks against northern Israel. The guerrillas have shown in recent months that they effective at evading Israeli patrols and staging complicated ambushes. The Israeli explanation for this is that Hizbollah has set up special units which have good intelligence and are highly trained.

There were several signs of this increased sophistication in recent weeks. In one instance a Hizbollah unit fired shots at a patrol on the Israeli side of the border and then killed four soldiers who pursued them with a mine; a senior Israeli officer was targeted by a suicide bomber; and a bomb was placed in the local office of the South Lebanon Army, the local Lebanese militia armed and trained by Israel.

All this is in sharp contrast to the military incompetence of the Palestine Liberation Army when it ruled south Lebanon before the 1982 invasion. Though its forces numbered about 6,000 - while Hizbollah forces are probably in the hundreds - it failed to mine the roads or bridges. Hizbollah has proved a much tougher antagonist and, as one Israeli observer put it, "Peres cannot afford another 20 military funerals."

Israel's opponents are far more skilled than they used to be, but Israeli tactics have remained much the same. Air attacks on Beirut and Baalbek and reported shelling by gunboats are an old recipe which has not proved very effective.

One possible innovation in Israeli tactics is to target villages from which Katyusha rockets are alleged to have been fired. Israel might announce that Hizbollah must leave certain villages by a certain date or Israel will feel free to fire at them.

If it does so this will mean the end of the understanding, brokered by the US in 1993, whereby Israel and Hizbollah pledge not to hit each other's civilians except by way of retaliation.

This would mean an escalation in Lebanon just when the Israeli government does not want it. In 50 days it will face a general election. It had hoped that Lebanon would not become an issue. It has enough troubles calming public anxiety over the four suicide bomb attacks which killed 62 people in February and March.

But an editorial in the daily newspaper Ha'aretz said a breaking point was close in northern Israel when "the population will move southward and, in politics, voters will shift to the right".

The air strikes yesterday were an attempt to achieve three aims: Show Israelis that firm action is being taken, send a warning to Hizbollah but, at the same time, not escalate the level of fighting. The extent of Hizbollah retaliation will decide if Mr Peres has achieved these contradictory objectives.

Suggested Topics
News
Paper trail: the wedding photograph found in the rubble after 9/11 – it took Elizabeth Keefe 13 years to find the people in it
newsWho are the people in this photo? It took Elizabeth Stringer Keefe 13 years to find out
Arts and Entertainment
Evil eye: Douglas Adams in 'mad genius' pose
booksNew biography sheds light on comic genius of Douglas Adams
Sport
FootballFull debuts don't come much more stylish than those on show here
News
i100
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
ebooksAn unforgettable anthology of contemporary reportage
Life and Style
Kim Kardashian drawn backlash over her sexy swimsuit selfie, called 'disgusting' and 'nasty'
fashionCritics say magazine only pays attention to fashion trends among rich, white women
Arts and Entertainment
TVShows like Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D are little more than marketing tools
Arts and Entertainment
Hit the roof: hot-tub cinema east London
architectureFrom pools to football pitches, rooftop living is looking up
Travel
travel
News
The ecological reconstruction of Ikrandraco avatar is shown in this illustration courtesy of Chuang Zhao. Scientists on September 11, 2014 announced the discovery of fossils in China of a type of flying reptile called a pterosaur that lived 120 millions years ago and so closely resembled those creatures from the 2009 film, Avatar that they named it after them.
SCIENCE
Life and Style
tech
Arts and Entertainment
Matisse: The Cut-Outs exhibition attracted 562,000 visitors to the Tate Modern from April to September
art
Life and Style
Models walk the runway at the Tom Ford show during London Fashion Week Spring Summer 2015
fashionLondon Fashion Week 2014
News
Kenny G
news
News
peopleThe black actress has claimed police mistook her for a prostitute when she kissed her white husband
Life and Style
techIndian model comes with cricket scores baked in
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Energy Markets Analyst

£400000 Per Annum: The Green Recruitment Company: Job Title: Energy Markets An...

Junior Web Analyst – West Sussex – Up to £35k DOE

£30000 - £35000 Per Annum Plus excellent benefits: Clearwater People Solutions...

Nursery Manager

£22000 - £23000 per annum: Randstad Education Bristol: We are currently recrui...

Web Analyst – Permanent – Up to £40k - London

£35000 - £40000 Per Annum: Clearwater People Solutions Ltd: We are currently r...

Day In a Page

Mystery of the Ground Zero wedding photo

A shot in the dark

Mystery of the wedding photo from Ground Zero
His life, the universe and everything

His life, the universe and everything

New biography sheds light on comic genius of Douglas Adams
Save us from small screen superheroes

Save us from small screen superheroes

Shows like Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D are little more than marketing tools
Reach for the skies

Reach for the skies

From pools to football pitches, rooftop living is looking up
These are the 12 best hotel spas in the UK

12 best hotel spas in the UK

Some hotels go all out on facilities; others stand out for the sheer quality of treatments
These Iranian-controlled Shia militias used to specialise in killing American soldiers. Now they are fighting Isis, backed up by US airstrikes

Widespread fear of Isis is producing strange bedfellows

Iranian-controlled Shia militias that used to kill American soldiers are now fighting Isis, helped by US airstrikes
Topshop goes part Athena poster, part last spring Prada

Topshop goes part Athena poster, part last spring Prada

Shoppers don't come to Topshop for the unique
How to make a Lego masterpiece

How to make a Lego masterpiece

Toy breaks out of the nursery and heads for the gallery
Meet the ‘Endies’ – city dwellers who are too poor to have fun

Meet the ‘Endies’ – city dwellers who are too poor to have fun

Urbanites are cursed with an acronym pointing to Employed but No Disposable Income or Savings
Paisley’s decision to make peace with IRA enemies might remind the Arabs of Sadat

Ian Paisley’s decision to make peace with his IRA enemies

His Save Ulster from Sodomy campaign would surely have been supported by many a Sunni imam
'She was a singer, a superstar, an addict, but to me, her mother, she is simply Amy'

'She was a singer, a superstar, an addict, but to me, her mother, she is simply Amy'

Exclusive extract from Janis Winehouse's poignant new memoir
Is this the role to win Cumberbatch an Oscar?

Is this the role to win Cumberbatch an Oscar?

The Imitation Game, film review
England and Roy Hodgson take a joint step towards redemption in Basel

England and Hodgson take a joint step towards redemption

Welbeck double puts England on the road to Euro 2016
Relatives fight over Vivian Maier’s rare photos

Relatives fight over Vivian Maier’s rare photos

Pictures removed from public view as courts decide ownership
‘Fashion has to be fun. It’s a big business, not a cure for cancer’

‘Fashion has to be fun. It’s a big business, not a cure for cancer’

Donatella Versace at New York Fashion Week