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Last Updated: Tuesday, 7 November 2006, 12:27 GMT
Israelis count cost of conflict
By Paul Adams
BBC Diplomatic correspondent

An Israeli tank inside Lebanon in July 2006
Tense border: Many Israelis are anticipating the next confrontation
At Biranit, an Israeli military outpost, high on a hill overlooking a broad sweep of southern Lebanon, Lt Col Guy Hazoot, of the Galilee Division of the Israeli army, pointed to a heap of rubble not more than 50 yards away across no-man's land.

"This was a Hezbollah position," he told me. "And they're not here any more."

But when Oren, a young lieutenant, took me for a drive along the fence, he painted a slightly different picture.

He told me it was quiet now, but there are still Hezbollah fighters out there, collecting information, making sketches.

Getting ready for the next round?

"It's hard to tell," he said. "Everyone wants to be ready."

Another round. It's hard to find Israelis who don't fear a fresh outbreak of violence, perhaps soon.

Pessimism

Their pessimism is fuelled, in part, by the belief that Israel did not fight well enough in this summer's conflict in Lebanon.

In Haifa, at the scene of an explosion in August, I found Rami, brooding and resentful about a war he called a failure.

Israeli solder injured by rocket fired into northern Israel
We got in. We got killed. That's it. We didn't achieve anything
Boaz, Israeli reservist

"We didn't achieve anything because the kidnapped soldiers are not back. But I think in the next war you will see what our strength is."

His sentiments are echoed by soldiers who fought in Lebanon.

Boaz, a reservist, told me his engineering unit lacked proper equipment and adequate training.

He lost nine colleagues when Hezbollah fighters fired anti-tank missiles into a house where the unit was sleeping.

"We got in. We got killed. That's it. We didn't achieve anything."

Sense of failure

Whether it is soldiers who fought in Lebanon, or civilians in the north, the sense of failure and mistrust seems all pervasive.

Two and a half months after the war ended, the questions - and recriminations - haven't stopped.

Hardly a day goes by without further allegations of military incompetence and political bungling being aired in Israel's notoriously unruly press.

A perceived lack of effective leadership, political or military, is a question in the minds of many.

With the era of the commanding soldier-politician apparently behind them - at least for now - journalist Danny Ben-Simon says Israelis feel lost.

"Israelis feel... that the current leaders are a total failure," he says.

"You can see in the paper ironic ads: "If you have right qualities, we need a prime minister, a defence minister. We need all the ministers.""

Israel's military did a lot of damage to Hezbollah over the summer, but those who fought, and those on the receiving end of Hezbollah's rockets don't feel any sense of triumph.

The latest fighting in Gaza, and the spectre of a nuclear-armed Iran, serve to convince many that Israel's sixth Middle East war was simply the latest in a series without end.

Speaking in Tel Aviv on Monday, the British Ambassador to Israel, Tom Phillips, warned that the Lebanon war had "prompted Israelis to believe that Israel has no choice but to remain strong, and to be prepared to pay the heavy price of however many wars the future may bring".

Hear the full story on Radio 4: File on 4 Tue 7 Nov 2000GMT, repeated Sun 12 Nov 1700GMT or online at the File on 4 website


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