Crushing Hizbollah ‘will take time’

“Crushing Hizbollah is not like ordering a pizza,” Yossi Kuperwasser, an Israeli army intelligence expert, said on Monday. “It takes time.”

Brig Gen Kuperwasser, a reserve officer at army HQ and its former head of intelligence analysis, was reflecting on the fact that Hizbollah rockets were still striking northern Israel with undiminished intensity four weeks after Israel launched its war in Lebanon.

It is a question many Israelis are asking, particularly after 15 people died on Sunday in the worst single day of the rocket offensive.

Public doubts centre on why the military limited itself to air power at the start of the war and why the army did not go in with greater force once it moved to a ground war.

Representing the army at a joint briefing with the foreign ministry, Gen Kuperwasser said Lebanon was a conflict in which diplomatic efforts were just as important as military pressure, a reference to a possible United Nations resolution that Israel says must include the disarming of Hizbollah.

The military was fulfilling the tasks set for it and was ready to deepen the ground offensive if the order came to advance north to Lebanon’s Litani river or beyond, he said. The Israeli government yesterday appeared to be holding off giving that order until it saw the outcome of moves towards a UN resolution.

Gen Kuperwasser said Israel could impose a military solution. “But what is the cost? We could take over the whole of Lebanon, but whether we want to do that is another matter. We would all prefer a diplomatic solution.”

He would not put a time-table on the war to end the rocket threat. “In order to know the time, you have to know the speed and distance. That, the government has to decide.”

Despite continuing clashes near the border, the army said it controlled a security zone about 7km into Lebanon where it was in the process of eliminating resistance.

“Every day, their operational capacity is diminished,” Gen Kuperwasser said.

“We have to convince Hizbollah there is no point in going on with this destruction of Lebanon and of themselves.”

If the war is going as well for Israel as the army suggests, the benefits have yet to be felt by the 1m or so Israelis directly threatened by rocket fire. In an attack on Haifa on Sunday in which three people died. Hizbollah appeared to have fired one of its heavier long-range missiles from well north of the border zone.

Defence analysts believed both sides would escalate the fighting to maximise their gains ahead of aUN resolution to end the conflict.

Amir Peretz, Israeli defence minister, was yesterday quoted as telling the Knesset defence and foreign affairs committee that he had instructed the armed forces to take control of Hizbollah launching sites wherever they were “to minimise the fire of Katyusha rockets and take the Israeli people out of the shelters.”

Mr Peretz said Israel was determined to stop the rocket fire, either through political or military means, but denied it was restrained by current diplomatic efforts. “The two paths are going on in parallel, and I hope the goals will be reached. If the political process can stop the firing, Israel can say its operation changed the equation of the situation in the north,” he said.

Ehud Olmert, prime minister, has ordered ministers and officials to refrain from commenting on a draft of a UN resolution to end the conflict until its terms are agreed. Lebanon, Hizbollah and its ally, Syria, rejected a Franco-American draft published at the weekend.

Gideon Meir, deputy director-general at the foreign ministry, told yesterday's briefing that any international proposal on ending the fighting must include disarming Hizbollah and preventing it returning to its former military positions in south Lebanon, the return of two Israeli soldiers held by the Shia group, and implementation of the UN’s existing resolution 1559.

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