Air Force Is Not Enough

Hezbollah adopted a murderous tactic yesterday. On Wednesday, when a barrage of 230 rockets hit Israel, most people remained in shelters. So yesterday, Hezbollah sent a drizzle of rockets throughout the day. Then, at 4 P.M., as people emerged from the shelters for air, a heavy volley arrived, killing eight.

It was the worst strike since the rocket landed in a railway garage in Haifa on July 16. By evening, Nasrallah was already threatening to fire Zelzal missiles at Tel Aviv should Israel resume its bombardment of Shiite neighborhoods in Beirut.

The strikes on the home front are becoming worse as the IDF sends more and more brigades into Lebanon. Launchings from areas in which the army is operating have been reduced by half, but Hezbollah combatants simply relocate to the next range of hills and fire from there.

The Israel Air Force strikes on Tyre have stopped the fire on Haifa, which has had a rocket-free week, but they have not done Acre any good. IAF commanders admit that Hezbollah still has thousands of Katyushas and hundreds of launchers, and the air force alone cannot deal with it.

This is indeed a change of tone on the part of those who, just a few weeks ago, referred to Lebanon as an updated edition of the successful NATO aerial operation in Kosovo in 1999. They merely forgot to mention that during the months of pounding Kosovo, the citizens of NATO states did not sit in shelters.

Will the ground operation do the trick? Defense Minister Amir Peretz announced yesterday that he instructed the Israel Defense Forces to prepare for "a swift takeover of the entire area south of the Litani [River]" and to operate in all the rocket-launching areas.

An examination of the ground forces' achievements to date shows that they have not hit more than ten launchers. The immediate goal of the fighting is not stopping the rockets, but eliminating Hezbollah's southern unit, the Nasser, on the assumption that this will crack the organization's fortitude. Hezbollah's losses are already estimated at some 380 combatants. Prime Minister Ehud Olmert is convinced that Hezbollah's breaking point is near. The army is more skeptical.

Peretz's aides say the rockets can be destroyed after the territorial takeover, but it is important to reach the river before a cease-fire is announced, perhaps as soon as Monday.

As for the long-range missiles, Peretz admits that Hezbollah will still be able to fire them from north of the Litani, but says that the IAF has had more success in dealing with them.

The rush to reach the Litani is controversial. Some officers fear that inadequately trained reserve units will sustain heavy losses. The death of fathers and husbands could undermine the home front's support for the war.

In any case, Israel intends to hold the security zone as a bargaining chip until a multinational force arrives. The bargaining chip, however, could become a burden if the troops remain in Lebanon for any length of time. Over time, troops on the ground develop a routine, and guerrillas know only too well how to take advantage of this.