Will Lebanon Become Israel's Iraq?

An Israeli soldier, atop of an armored personnel carrier, waves a captured Hezbollah flag while crossing the border into Lebanon Thursday July 27, 2006. (AP Photo/David Guttenfelder)
AP Photo
Israel has made so little progress in destroying Hezbollah that some U.S. intelligence analysts now say the attempt to create a buffer zone in southern Lebanon has bogged down, reports CBS News national security correspondent David Martin.

"It doesn't appear they've been able to claim the territory they want to claim," one intelligence official told Martin. And despite a number of massive air strikes on suspected command bunkers, Israel has been unable to locate and eliminate Hezbollah's leadership: Not only does Sheik Hassan Nasrallah keep showing up on television, but Hezbollah fighters still appear to be following the orders of senior commanders.

Pentagon officials say both U.S. and Israeli intelligence have underestimated the strength, capabilities and resilience of Hezbollah, beginning with the missile attack on an Israeli warship in the opening days of the war. "They never saw it coming," one official said, and were lucky not to have lost the ship entirely.

According to an analysis by U.S. intelligence, the missile homed in on the ship from the rear and hit just as the stern was in the trough of a wave, exploding above deck. Had the stern been a few feet higher, the missile would have struck the hull and detonated below decks, possibly sinking the ship.

Israel's most clear-cut success so far has been in destroying the bridges that link Hezbollah to its sources of re-supply in Syria. But at the current rate of 50 to 100 rockets a day, Hezbollah still has enough to keep raining salvos on northern Israel for months to come, Martin reports.

In other developments:

  • The Israeli army said it killed 26 Hezbollah guerrillas in the fight for the southern town of Bint Jbail. The army had no comment on Israeli casualties, but Israel Radio reported six Israeli soldiers were wounded.
  • A Middle East policy analyst said that that he thinks the United Nations has a chance of producing a resolution that can lead to a cease fire. "There's been a surprising amount of agreement about the elements that would go into a cease-fire package," Martin Indyk, director of the Saban Center for Middle East Policy at the Brookings Institution and former U.S. ambassador to Israel told to CBS Evening News anchor Bob Schieffer.
  • The United Nations decided to remove 50 observers from the Israeli-Lebanon border, locating them instead at posts with 2,000 lightly armed U.N. peacekeepers. The move comes days after Israeli bombs hit a U.N. observer post, killing four people.
  • The United States evacuated about 500 more U.S. citizens from Beirut aboard a chartered cruise ship, believed to the last U.S.-organized departure for Americans. Some 15,000 U.S. citizens have now left Lebanon since fighting erupted.
  • The European Union said Friday it has completed evacuating most of its 20,000 citizens who wanted to leave Lebanon, and will now help with mass evacuations of nationals of poorer, non-EU countries.
  • Israeli police used stun grenades to disperse hundreds of Arab youths who were trying to gain access to the Al Aqsa Mosque in Jerusalem for Friday prayers, police said. No injuries were reported. Al Aqsa is built atop a compound that is a sacred site for both Muslims and Jews. When tensions are running high, Israeli authorities often limit entrance to the compound to Muslims who are 45 or older.
  • Iran's foreign ministry on Friday denied allegations that Tehran has provided military support to Hezbollah in its fight against Israel, a day after President Bush sharply criticized Iran's role in the bloody fighting. "Our support has been spiritual. If we had military support, we would announce it. ... We don't have any hidden business," ministry spokesman Hamid Reza Asefi said on state-run television.

    Meanwhile, President Bush said Friday that he and British Prime Minister Tony Blair agree that a multinational force must be dispatched quickly to the Mideast fighting, and said they will work for a U.N. resolution to support it.

    In an East Room news conference, Mr. Bush said any resolution should provide "a framework for the cessation of hostilities on an urgent basis and mandating the multinational force."

    Other countries, including France and the European Union, are calling for an immediate cease-fire without conditions.

    "The temptation is to say it's too tough, let's try to solve it quickly with something that won't last. Let's just get it off the TV screens, but that won't solve the problem," President Bush said.

    The president, after Oval Office meetings with Blair, also announced he is sending Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice back to the region this weekend to resume her onsite diplomacy.

    "This is a moment of intense conflict in the Middle East," the president said, Blair at his side. "Yet our aim is to turn it into a moment of opportunity and a chance for broader change in the region."

    The appearance allowed both men the chance to address the loss of public support of critically important moderate Arab leaders, reports CBS News chief White House correspondent Jim Axelrod.

    "Of course there's a sense of shock and frustration and anger at what is happening, and grief at the loss of innocent lives. But it is not a reason for walking away," Blair said at the conference.

    But after two weeks plus of images like these, Mr. Bush and Blair have been running the risk of isolating not Hezbollah, but themselves, Axelrod reports.

    On Friday, Hezbollah launched a new kind of rocket that made its deepest strike into Israel yet, while Israeli warplanes and artillery blasted apartment buildings and roads gunning for guerrillas.

    Lebanese officials said about 12 civilians died in the day's fighting; Israel said it killed 26 militants, raising to about 230 the total number killed in the campaign.

    Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice is scheduled to head back to the Middle East this weekend to make a second attempt to resolve the crisis, but diplomatic efforts were solidifying into two sharply divided camps. Most agree on the idea of bringing international forces into the south to end Hezbollah's decade-long free rein here — but still unresolved is how and when.

    Some Israelis are concerned there may be an attempt by Rice to force Israel to stop the military offensive before Israel feel it's ready, reports CBS News correspondent Dan Raviv. The Israeli military wants at least another week to keep damaging Hezbollah. The Israelis are concerned Hezbollah will look like a winner, because it managed to hit the Jewish state with over a thousand missiles and is fighting hard against Israel's elite troops.

    The deadlock allowed the offensive to persist with a new dimension of destruction emerging — the environment.

    Beaches in Beirut were black with oil spilled from a power station that was blasted by Israel two weeks ago and was still burning. In the south, rescue workers dug through the rubble of bombed houses, looking for bodies. Israel deployed a Patriot interceptor missile battery north of Tel Aviv, believing the area could be in range of Hezbollah's barrages.

    At least 445 people have been killed in Lebanon in the fighting, most of them civilians, according to a Health Ministry count Friday based on bodies taken to hospitals. But Lebanon's health minister estimated Thursday that as many as Lebanese 600 civilians have been killed, with other victims buried in rubble.

    On the Israeli side, 33 soldiers have died in fighting, and Hezbollah rocket attacks on northern Israel have killed 19 civilians, the Israeli army said.