On the Record

Israeli Air and Ground Operations Continue in War Against Hezbollah

Martin S. Indyk

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KERRY O’BRIEN: Welcome to the program. As always in Middle East conflicts, there’s the real war between Israel and Hezbollah, still raging unabated, and there’s the propaganda war. Israel’s superior fire power has given it the edge in the real war, as a comparison of casualties and damage inflicted suggests. Although exactly what damage has been inflicted on Hezbollah itself is still a matter of guess work. But on the propaganda front, Israel’s protestations that it is doing everything to avoid civilian casualties in Lebanon, weren’t helped by reports today that four UN observers were killed in an Israeli air strike. An unusually outspoken UN secretary-general Kofi Annan said he was shocked at Israel’s apparently deliberate targeting of the UN post. Israel expressed deep regret, but denied the assertion that it was deliberate. The incident did nothing to help the tricky diplomatic talks today in Rome with US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice in attendance. Finding a real solution right now seems as far away as ever. To analyse what’s likely to happen next, I spoke early today with former Middle East adviser to President Bill Clinton and US Ambassador to Israel, now a Middle East specialist with Washington’s Brookings Institution. We spoke before the news broke of the UN deaths.

KERRY O’BRIEN: Martin Indyk, in the wake of the Condoleezza Rice visit to the Middle East, is the conflict in Lebanon any closer to resolution, do you think?

MARTIN INDYK, FORMER US AMBASSADOR TO ISRAEL: It’s possible, when she’s in Rome tomorrow, when she meets with what is called the Lebanon Core Group, to develop a basic consensus on the elements for a cease-fire package. But, how to actually implement that cease-fire package is going to be her big challenge and I don’t see that she has the basis upon which to do that yet.

KERRY O’BRIEN: In trying to guess how much longer this condition flight is likely to run, are you getting any sense of how much damage Israel is inflicting on Hezbollah, rather than Lebanese civilians?

MARTIN INDYK: It’s very hard to tell because the Israeli military doesn’t talk about its operations. You know, the American military, you will be familiar with this from the Iraq war, come out and brief every day and do all of their charts and pictures and so on. The Israeli military stays quiet and gives out very little information out, partly because they don’t want Hezbollah to know what they know and so it’s hard to tell. It looks certainly, from what the military analysts in Israel are saying – and they are talking to the general staff there – that it’s not going as well as they expected. Meaning that the air campaign may have had an impact on the missile force that Hezbollah has and the launches, but it clearly is not able to prevent the firing of rockets into northern Israel and that means that now, almost for two weeks, about 15 per cent of the population of Israel is in air raid shelters and Haifa, Israel’s third largest city, is really coming under heavy rocket attack day after day. Secondly in the ground operation, which they’re undertaking in a very cautious way. They are not – they could stream into Lebanon, re-invade the south, but they understand that’s exactly what Hezbollah is wanting them to do. So they are going in more of these pinpoint operations, which is taking time and costing them casualties and it’s not the kind of glorious six-day war defeat of Arab armies that people have come to expect of Israelis. So even here in Washington there’s this sense that it’s not going as well as expected. That’s why you have now a major effort under way by the United States and the United Nations to try to deal with the humanitarian situation and the Israelis are opening up humanitarian corridors and trying to find ways to ease that humanitarian situation.

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