The suggestion that Israel's military is about to embark on a wider ground campaign in Lebanon raises the question - why has it taken so long? For a nation that laid low the armies of three neighbouring countries in six days in 1967, armies with hundreds of thousands of soldiers and large air forces, Israel's campaign has been puzzling. After three weeks of fighting against a militia numbering only a few thousand men, Israeli ground forces have moved no more than a few kilometres into Lebanon. Relatively small combat teams combed a few villages and engaged in two sharp local battles in which a score of Israeli soldiers were killed along with several times that number of Hezbollah fighters. In contrast, during the 1982 Lebanon war, Israeli divisions racing northwards from the border were at the gates of Beirut 100km away within a week. Yet it is precisely the spectre of this conflict that haunts any decision to increase troops on the ground. The initial push into Lebanon in 1982 was lightning fast but 18 year later, they were still there. It is for this reason that the burden of Israel's latest campaign against Hezbollah has been carried largely by the air force, which has flown thousands of sorties round-the-clock against arms caches, personnel and infrastructure. Israel's small navy has shelled shore targets and imposed a blockade on Lebanon's coast. But the ground campaign has been carried out in an almost laconic manner that bears little relationship to Israel's stated goal of significantly reducing Hezbollah's warmaking capacity. It was only last Thursday that the government mobilised three divisions - about 30,000 troops - to press home the attack and these will not be combat ready until next week, if the war is still on. The Israeli defence establishment has as yet offered no clear insight into its strategic thinking in this campaign but it can be presumed that a major factor is the desire not to get bogged down in Lebanon without an exit strategy. This is what happened in the 1982 war, which began with a campaign against Yasser Arafat's PLO that was supposed to last only a few days - and dragged on into the occupation of south Lebanon that ended six years ago. 'We are not going to conquer Lebanon anew,' said Lieutenant-General Dan Halutz, chief of staff of the Israel Defence Forces (IDF), last week. The only land Israel apparently intends to keep controlling is a border strip it says it will hand over to an international peacekeeping force as soon as it arrives. The Israeli campaign is aimed at degrading Hezbollah's military capacity, not at destroying the organisation itself. On the ground, it has shunned front-on assaults and made do with raids on strong points near the border, pulling out as soon as the attack is completed. Apart from concern for the soldiers, a large number of Israeli casualties would permit Hezbollah to claim victory despite its own casualties. General Halutz, a pilot who downed three enemy planes in the Yom Kippur war and later became commander of the Israeli Air Force, is the first airman to head the IDF. He chose another pilot from that war, Major-General Amos Yadlin, as head of Israeli military intelligence, likewise the first time an airman holds that sensitive post. The prominence of generals Halutz and Yadlin on the general staff, normally led by armour or infantry generals, may explain, at least in part, the big role given the air force in the current campaign.