Israel hits hard to restore fear factor

PUBLISHED : Friday, 14 July, 2006, 12:00am
UPDATED : Friday, 14 July, 2006, 12:00am

Israel's hawkish military and politicians are fond lately of talking about restoring the nation's 'deterrent capability'.

By deterrent capability they mean a fear among the enemy of a response so devastating that launching an attack is not worthwhile. Many Israelis believe it is this fear that has historically enabled Israel to survive among 200 million hostile Arabs.

The calls are growing stronger following the capture of Israeli soldiers by Palestinian militants and Hezbollah, which has laid bare that the Israeli army is vulnerable.

To use another favourite army phrase, it is essential 'to exact a high price' in order to restore the 'deterrent capability'. This attitude goes towards explaining the apparent heavy-handedness of the past week's actions, culminating in yesterday's attack on Beirut airport.

'The attack in the north [by Hezbollah] was a big operational gain for Hezbollah and a resounding failure for Israel Defence Forces,' wrote Amos Harel, military analyst for Haaretz newspaper.

From this perspective, Israel's response is a long-overdue flexing of its muscles.

'There will be very heavy pressure on Lebanon, possibly with targeting of infrastructure,' said political analyst Eran Lerman, a former senior intelligence officer in the Israeli army, speaking ahead of the airport attack.

'But an all out re-occupation of southern Lebanon is considered unlikely, given Israel's painful experience of being ousted from there by Hezbollah guerillas.'

Joseph Alpher, former director of the Jaffee Centre for Strategic Studies, said: 'Lebanon is much more complicated and there is less freedom of manoeuvre militarily compared with Gaza. It has much more strategic depth. Israel cannot conquer it and doesn't want to.'

In Gaza, meanwhile, Israeli troops have taken up positions in the central part of the Strip, cutting it into two.

Another factor weighing in favour of a continued forceful posture is the lack of experience in security matters of both Prime Minister Ehud Olmert and Defence Minister Amir Peretz.

A former mayor of Jerusalem and a trade union leader, respectively, they are vulnerable to charges of being security novices compared with, for example, former prime minister Ariel Sharon.