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Monday, August 07, 2006

Wisdom from the soldiers

Interesting article from the Times of London (H/T The Thought Mill):
AT FIRST light they filtered from the undergrowth, camouflaged, laden with captured hunting rifles and crested Lebanese scimitars, and high-fiving with relief at still being alive.

After nearly a week of vicious ditch-to-ditch fighting with Hezbollah fighters in the village of Taibeh, hundreds of exhausted Israeli soldiers slipped back across the border early yesterday after the hardest fighting they had ever experienced.

As they trudged across the brow of a hill in broken single file they were indistinguishable in their battle fatigues and green face paint — some even black out their teeth in Hezbollahland — and all were drunk on adrenalin. “I was hoping to go in and kill Hezbollonim. I killed three,” one shouted as he embraced colleagues from the Nahal Brigade.

As soon as they reached the outskirts of an Israeli hilltop town, which cannot be named for security reasons, they stopped and cleared their M16 automatic rifles in unison — the last task before they could relax. Some then reached inside their huge battlepacks for their mobile phones to call families and girlfriends. Others collapsed with exhaustion, washing away their fear with bottles of cola and lungfuls of cigarette smoke. A few grabbed newspapers to find out how their war was going. “What is happening in other places? What is happening in Gaza?” one asked The Times.

Down a sidestreet a cluster of Israeli tourist buses waited with drinks and packed lunches. Slowly the soldiers began morphing from death-bringers to nice Jewish boys preparing for the Sabbath, peeling off clothes and cavorting halfnaked with each other beside the bougainvillea.

As they did so, all the rainbow shades of Israeli society began to re-emerge — secular, Orthodox, Ashkenazi, Mizrahi, Sabra, Ethiopian, Russian, Brooklyn. To their matted hair they pinned all types of skullcap — knitted, military-green, Braslav, settler or none at all. But on one thing they were unanimous: the prowess of their foe.

“It was hell. They are really well trained. They’re not suckers, they know how to fight,” said one, slumped on the pavement. “You’re scared the whole time over there. We didn’t get any sleep the whole week.” There was not a voice of dissent.

The soldiers told how they had worked their way through the dry, scrubby hillsides towards Taibeh, facing continual attacks from Hezbollah sniper and anti-tank missile positions concealed in houses, farms, underground bunkers and seemingly deserted streets.

To counter this they called in frequent support from 155mm artillery batteries on the Israeli side of the border, which pounded Taibeh sending huge plumes of smoke into the sky.

“We killed ten, and the artillery must have killed thirty or forty,” said a soldier who, like his colleagues, was not allowed to give his name. He had simply lost count of Hezbollah’s attacks. “Many, many, it was very bad because you don’t know where they are coming from. But we succeeded.”

Another soldier said that serving in the Palestinian militant stronghold of Jenin in the West Bank, as he had, was nothing compared with fighting Hezbollah’s guerrillas. “It was horrible,” he said. “You don’t know what it’s like, with every second a rocket- propelled grenade shooting over your head.”

A third soldier said: “All the time, they fired missiles at us. They never come face to face, just missiles. When we find them we kill them. It’s just not right, the way we are doing it. Our air force can just bomb villages and not risk our lives fighting over there.”

Another, slugging cola as his friends posed for photos, added: “It feels good to do the job. And come out alive.”

More than 40 Israeli soldiers have been killed in the 25 days of fighting.

Watched by bemused Thai immigrants, who, post-intifada, have replaced the cheap Palestinian labour upon which the Israeli economy once relied, one soldier shouted: “I love this country.”

Some of the returned fighters were optimistic. “We will defeat all the Arabs,” said one.

But others, chastened by their experiences north of the border, were less sure. “It’s a lose-lose situation,” said one. “They’re a bunch of terrorists. We are an army. We can never beat them completely because we have to obey certain rules. They operate from within civilian populations, and can do whatever they like. They don’t give a shit about these things.

“So it doesn’t matter if we are there for another couple of days or two weeks. But what is very important is that this is a just war on our part. Because they are a bunch of f***ing terrorists.”

A few facts to highlight just from this vignette:
  • Hezbollah's claims of minimal casualties on their side is complete garbage, yet the media continues to report it as true.
  • Even in the heat of the hardest battles these soldiers have ever seen, they remain committed to keeping the rules of war, at the risk of their own lives.
  • Hezbollah likes to pretend that it is doing so well at hand-to-hand fighting but they are avoiding engaging the IDF directly.
  • Hezbollah continues to use civilians as shields and the world does not hold them responsible.
  • Say what you want about internal divisions in Israeli society, but everyone knows that this is a just war and everyone is working together.