News Analysis: Israeli army to continue operation in southern Lebanon despite cabinet decision against expanding

The Israel Defense Forces (IDF) would continue its operation to bomb Hezbollah in southern Lebanon despite a security cabinet decision against expanding the IDF offensive which entered its 16th day on Thursday.

Israeli security cabinet on Thursday decided against expanding the ongoing IDF operation in southern Lebanon, Israel Radio reported, adding the decision came one day after nine IDF soldiers were killed in fierce battles with Lebanese Hezbollah.

Olmert was quoted as saying that the goals of Israel's 16-day offensive are being met.

The ministers also decided to call up additional reserves to refresh troops in Lebanon, according to the radio.

From Wednesday night to Thursday morning, the security cabinet headed by Prime Minister Olmert was discussing the possibility of expanding the IDF operation in southern Lebanon, local newspaper Ha'aretz reported on its website.

Olmert and seven security cabinet ministers met to discuss options and exchange views about the continuation of the operation in view of the rising casualties in battles against Hezbollah and the continued Katyusha rocket attacks against northern Israel, said the report.

According to the report, Olmert expressed support for the continuation of the operation in Lebanon, and his stance received a boost Wednesday following the conclusion of the Rome conference on the Israel-Lebanon conflict, which dissolved without a call for an immediate cease-fire.

This means that Israel has been given additional time to carry on with its military operation in southern Lebanon, while continuing to enjoy American support.

US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice has recently toured the Middle East, which took her to Lebanon, Israel and the Palestinian territories.

Many had hoped that Rice's visit to the region would hasten a ceasefire in the violence, but the American diplomacy appeared far from halting the violence, and several political officials have argued that the United States has actually granted Israel more time to act.

During her two-hour meeting with Olmert, Rice did not place pressure on Israel to halt its operations in Lebanon, instead the U.S. official discussed the creation of a possible international force, which could move into southern Lebanon to help the Lebanese government implement UN Security Resolution 1559, which calls for removing Hezbollah from southern Lebanon.

During the visit, Rice repeatedly said that the United States was only interested in advancing a "sustainable" ceasefire, rather than brokering the immediate halt to violence that many Arab and European nations have been advocating.

For most Israel political officials, Rice's position came as a relief because they fear that an immediate ceasefire would give Hezbollah time to rebuild its forces and launch another rocket offensive on northern Israel.

"Israel must be given the time to act thoroughly in this matter, " said Ephriam Sneh, a parliament member from Labor Party and a close confidante of Defense Minister Amir Peretz.

Sneh, who also once served as a commander of Israeli Forces in Southern Lebanon, said that Israel had made a mistake in withdrawing unilaterally from the area and leaving a vacuum during which Hezbollah could set up a base of operations in the south.

When Israel ceases its current military activity in Lebanon, it must ensure that it does not leave the door open for Hezbollah to rebuild, said Sneh.

"By rebuffing calls for an immediate ceasefire, the United States is giving Israel more time to carry out its operation," said a source in the prime minister's office.

The Israel-Lebanon conflict erupted when Hezbollah guerillas captured two Israeli soldiers and killed eight others during a July 12 cross-border attack.

Israel has been bombing targets across Lebanon in the 16-day- old massive onslaught while Hezbollah guerillas have been showering the Jewish state with rockets.

Over 400 Lebanese and 51 Israelis have been killed in the violence, it was reported.

Nine Israeli soldiers and officers were killed and 27 have been wounded in the fierce fighting in Bint Jbeil on Wednesday, leading to the security cabinet's Thursday decision against expanding of the IDF operation in southern Lebanon.

Although it has already claimed one of the highest death tolls the IDF has seen in years, Prime Minister Olmert continued to urge "patience and time" with the Israeli military operations in Lebanon.

He told a closed-door meeting of the parliament's Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee on Wednesday that "I don't know when there will be a cease-fire."

"This is difficult, but we will stand up to this ... We want to end the violent operation as quickly as possible but we won't end it before we believe we can achieve results that justify the price we have paid," Olmert said.

Israel is not surprised by the extent of the Hezbollah's resistance in fierce battles in Bint Jbail near Israel's northern border, he said, adding that Israel intended to work toward disarming Hezbollah.

"I am unwilling to compromise and suffer the resumption of Katyusha attacks shortly after. This is the time to use full force, " he vowed.

Source: Xinhua



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