HAIFA, Israel (Reuters) – The death of nine Israeli troops in southern Lebanon, Israel’s deadliest day of the war so far, left ordinary citizens all the more determined on Thursday that the army should forge ahead with its 15-day offensive.
While doubts had been raised in recent days about the effectiveness of the campaign against Hizbollah, and the quality of the intelligence Israel has on the guerrilla group, there was the sense of a hardening commitment to the fight on Thursday.
“It may not be going very well, but that should make us all the more determined to fight on,” said David Shavit, a real estate broker in Haifa, a city in the north that has been hit almost daily by Hizbollah rockets over the past two weeks.
“We can’t quit for a moment, otherwise we’re in deep water,” said the 62-year-old, who served with the army in the early 1980s, when Israeli troops were occupying southern Lebanon. “We’ve got to push on and clean out the whole thing.”
Rather than being impressed by Hizbollah’s strength — it was a well-laid ambush that trapped the soldiers killed on Wednesday, raising to 32 the number who have died since the conflict began — Shavit was surprised by Israel’s weakness.
“It just shows that we need to be harder. The air force needs to bomb more. We can’t leave troops on the ground in hand-to-hand combat,” he said, standing on Haifa’s Ben Gurion Avenue, a main street deserted since rockets began landing.
So marked was the sense of defiance that an Israeli activist planning an anti-war rally in Haifa was keeping a low profile on Thursday for fear of being denounced, and played down earlier expectations for the size of the demonstration.
“It’s just going to be a small thing, perhaps a couple of dozen people,” said Aneet, who would only give his first name. “We’re almost certainly going to be arrested. People aren’t going to be happy.” Â
DEFEAT AND DETERRENCE
While an anti-war rally in Tel Aviv last week did draw around 2,500 people, opposition to the conflict has generally been scant, with opinion polls showing overwhelming support for the government. Even left-wing groups have largely supported it.
Military correspondents for the major Israeli newspapers have questioned the tactics employed by the army and queried some of the intelligence that led to the quick-fire assault. But they still fully back the intent of the operation.
“While we analyze the individual battles and the stages of this campaign, we must not forget the most important aspect of this war,” Ze’ev Schiff, Israel’s foremost military journalist, wrote in the left-of-centre Ha’aretz paper on Thursday.
“Hizbollah and what this terrorist organization symbolises must be destroyed at any price … If Hizbollah does not experience defeat in this war, this will spell the end of Israeli deterrence against its enemies.”
Hizbollah is backed by Israel’s arch-foes Syria and Iran and advocates the destruction of the Jewish state.
Even among Arab residents of Haifa, Israel’s third-largest city and one of its most mixed, there was little sympathy for Hizbollah or Lebanon, where more than 400 people, most of them civilians, have been killed by Israeli air strikes and shelling.
“I am an Arab but I am also an Israeli,” an electrician, who gave his name as Nabil, said as he helped friends clean up a restaurant that has been closed since the fighting began on July 12.
“Hizbollah are sending over missiles that apparently they think are aimed only at Jews, but they kill Arabs as well. We are in the same boat as the Jewish people. I don’t like war, but we have to fight back.”