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Katyusha Rain: Civilians Bloodied as Nasrallah Threatens

As Hizballah rains rockets onto Israeli cities at an unprecedented clip, Israel’s Defense Minister Amir Peretz has ordered the IDF to push deeper into southern Lebanon in order to clear southern Lebanon of rocket and missile threats the only way it can be thoroughly done: With boots on the ground.

A Hizballah strategy of timed attacks made Thursday the bloodiest day yet for Israeli civilians (8 killed), with an additional 3 deaths thus far today. In some cities, the rocket barrages came in waves designed for maximum civilian casualties and an increased psychological effect of terror. After an initial Katyusha attack, another aimed barrage would follow some minutes later, timed to kill and maim civilians on the street tending to victims of the first wave. This is, in part, Hizballah’s stated strategy of attrition.

Hassan Nasrallah threatened to rain missies down upon Tel Aviv if Israel bombed central Beirut. Shortly afterwards, the IAF proceeded to strike bridges in the Christian areas north of Beirut, a mission most certainly unaffected by Nasrallah’s threats. Nasrallah said, “If you bomb our capital Beirut, we will bomb the capital of your usurping entity …We will bomb Tel Aviv.”

Nasrallah, in the same videotaped message, made an appeal for negotiations, likely sensing world opinion in his favor when he said, “Any time you decide to stop your campaign against our cities, villages, civilians, and infrastructure, we will not fire rockets on any Israeli settlement or city…The only choice before you is to stop your aggression and turn to negotiations to end this folly.”

This could be viewed as potentially confirmation that Hizballah seeks a ceasefire in order to survive as intact as possible. But without doubt, one of the aims is to continue to paint Israel as the aggressors. And, while the record numbers of Hizballah rocket attacks in the past 48 hours is seen as a sign of Hizballah’s still formidable capabilities, it does not mean that the Israeli strikes on Hizballah to-date have been of little effect.

Only once the southern area of Lebanon is largely cleared of Katyushas by and Israeli push northward to the Litani River, and the onslaught of the smaller Katyushas is neutralized, will the full effect of Israel’s relentless bombardment of Hizballah’s deep infrastructure be revealed. For now, Hizballah’s capabilities are still judged by the visible display of smaller and elusive Katyusha rockets and their stores.

In the push northward into Lebanon, Israel’s aim is to create an expanded buffer zone of 5 miles into Lebanon, up from 1.5 miles recently stated, as the IDF seeks to rid the area of rocket threats in preparation for an International Force.

Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice changed direction and voiced support for an immediate ceasefire, an option that would leave Hizballah largely intact and place security responsibilities on a fresh international force unfamiliar with terrain, targets and Hizballah tactics, to say nothing of such a force’s willingness to root out Hizballah and its weapons. Israel is not willing to cede that responsibility to an as-yet determined international force that very well may lack the will to engage Hizballah and neutralize the rocket threat. Historical precedence likely guides Israeli thinking on this point.