Soldier killed as Israeli morale slips

FROM PATRICK COCKBURN

in Jerusalem

An Israeli soldier was killed and three others wounded in south Lebanon yesterday amid signs that the morale of some Israeli units is becoming strained in the long war with the guerrillas who are trying to expel Israeli forces from Lebanon.

Staff Sergeant Amir Kra, 22, was killed when the attackers, reported to be either from the pro-Iranian Hizbollah party or the radical Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine - General Command, fired Sagger rockets and machine-guns at an Israeli post at Dabshe outside the town of Nabatiyeh. A member of the Israeli-backed South Lebanon Army (SLA) was wounded in a simultaneous attack near by at Ali Taher.

Kra was the fifth Israeli soldier to be killed this year in the nine- mile-wide zone Israel occupies in the south of Lebanon. Guerrillas, mostly belonging to Hizbollah, have wounded a further 25 Israelis, 11 of them in a suicide bomb attack. Last year 21 Israeli soldiers died in south Lebanon.

In a sign that continuing attacks may be damaging the morale of some Israeli troops, a paratrooper unit has been disbanded after several of its members went to their commander on learning that they were to be sent to Lebanon for one last tour of duty before the end of their compulsory service. According to Israeli press reports they asked him for an alternative assignment. The unit had apparently lost its commanding officer and three soldiers in previous tours in Lebanon.

The new commanding officer shouted at the soldiers that they were "nothings, garbage" and "not worth the spit on a dead monkey". He removed four men who complained from the combat ranks, sending two to guard the gates of a base inside Israel and putting the two others on administrative duties.

The incident, which happened two months ago, was only revealed when the parents of the soldiers heard what had happened and complained about the commanding officer's actions. The father of one man said the commander went berserk: "He swore to my son and his colleague that he would plague them until the end of their service. He placed my son - a first sergeant in the paratroopers - on guard duty at a deserted base for eight weeks. He dispersed the unit just to teach them a lesson."

The army says the commander's outburst was "unfortunate" and the troops are being returned to active duty. Neverthless, the fact that paratroopers should have tried to avoid a further tour in Lebanon, shows that some soldiers find it difficult to keep going in the face of continuing mortar, missile, machine-gun and bomb attacks, the number of which has doubled over the past year. Casualties, though not large compared with the size of the Israeli forces, are heavily publicised and have a serious political effect because everybody has relatives in the army or subject to reserve duty.

Another sign of discontent is a new song by the Israeli pop star Aviv Gefen which contains the line: "Your son is dead but we haven't found a name for the war." Two lawyers have applied to a Tel Aviv court for an injunction to prevent Israeli radio from broadcasting the song, called "Shunakom" ("Nowhere"). Other parts of the song to which they object include the sentiment that God is apathetic to the fate of animals and the sorrow of bereaved families, and the line: "Who is going drunk there? It's the Prime Minister."

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