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Robert Fisk: Hiszbollah's Iron Discipline Is Match for Military Machine

Much bellowing and roaring comes from Israel about a mass military attack all the way to the Litani river. But today, much less bellowing and roaring about "rooting out" the "weed" of the Shia Muslim Hizbollah "terrorists" who are supposedly - in Israel's fantasies, at least - an ally of America's enemies in the War on Terror (a conflict which, of course, we all religiously support).

A column of Israeli armour, which crept into the Lebanese Christian town of Marjayoun - largely populated by the Lebanese collaborators of Israel's occupation from 1978 to 2000 - turned north yesterday towards Khiam, a village already largely depopulated, to find that the Hizbollah guerrillas there refused to surrender.

Israel's frustration - and its sense of loss since 15 of its soldiers were killed in just the fraction of the south Lebanese border area which it "controls" over the past 24 hours - was evident in a potentially criminal document which it dropped over Beirut yesterday. Signed "the State of Israel" - which at least makes its origins clear - the tracts announced that "the Israeli Defence Forces intend to expand their operations in Beirut".

Ouch, we all said when we read this, anticipating more civilian deaths. And we were not without proof. The Israeli decision, announced in this Israeli document - a square of paper that fluttered on to shoppers and office workers, and myself, in Riad Solh Square - had been taken because Hizbollah rockets had continued to fall on Israel and because of "their leader's statements" last night. On Tuesday evening, Sayed Hassan Nasrallah, the Hizbollah chairman, had boasted of the 350 missiles he claimed his members had fired on Israel over the previous 48 hours, and urged Israeli Arabs to leave Haifa.

And it should be said that the Israeli army are not winning their war in southern Lebanon. Within two kilometres of their own border, they lost their 15 soldiers on Wednesday. Many others were wounded. The furthest the Israelis could reach in an armoured column yesterday was the edge of Khiam, the site of their own notorious torture prison from 1978 to 2000. It is still only two miles from the border and they are fighting a far more determined and disciplined enemy than in 1982, when their "incursion" took them as far as Beirut.

The Israelis have crossed the same border to find that their enemies, Hizbollah, are prepared to die in battle - indeed, seek to die in battle - unlike the secular PLO over whom they proclaimed an easy victory in 1982. Hizbollah is a different enemy, one which turns the Israeli Prime Minister, Ehud Olmert's, claims that he is pursuing the same "war on terror" as George Bush into dust. The Hizbollah is officered by men who spent 18 years fighting Israeli occupiers, and who learned the hard way that improved weaponry and iron discipline are more important than nationalist rhetoric. Since the Israeli retreat in 2000, they have had six years to bury their arms caches underground amid extraordinary secrecy.

Amazingly, the Hizbollah television station, al-Manar, is still on air. Israel's anger at this amazing bit of technological initiative may have led to its preposterous attack on the old French mandate semaphore and radio station transmitter in west Beirut. The structure, built by the French in the 1930s, had been a repeater station for Radio France during and after the Vichy French regime but had lain derelict since 1946. Yet at 11.20am yesterday, the Israelis wasted two missiles on the tower, thus proving the "war on terror" - in which they insist they are "our" allies - goes back to an era before Israel existed.

Yesterday's air-dropped Israeli document ordered Shia MuslimsinBeirut's Hay al-Selloum, Bourj al-Barajneh and Shiyah districts to abandon their homes "immediately". In other words, the Israeli army wishes to "cleanse" every civilian out of the 12 square miles between Beirut airport and the old Christian civil war frontline at Galerie Semaan. This malicious document ends with a sinister threat - which breaks all the relevant rules of the Geneva Conventions - that "each expansion of Hizbollah terrorist operations will lead to a harsh and powerful response and its painful response will not be confined to Hassan's gang of criminals".

So what does "not be confined to" mean? That it is the civilians who will pay the price - this time in Beirut - as they have in the Israeli air force massacres of southern Lebanon over the past three weeks?

Well, stand by for more Hizbollah atrocities and more Israeli atrocities.

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