Analysis: Anti-tank rockets menace Israelis

By JOSHUA BRILLIANT, UPI Israel Correspondent

HAIFA, Israel, Aug. 14 (UPI) -- One can easily distinguish between soldiers and civilians lying in Haifa's Rambam Hospital.

The pajamas are the same and age is not necessarily an indication since the soldiers wounded in Lebanon include reservists. But while the civilians are often alone, the soldiers are surrounded by family, friends, and comrades who are sometimes in arms.


Those whose injuries are lighter might be out of bed visiting comrades hospitalized in other rooms.

Gray haired, pot-bellied men who had served in the Golani infantry brigade some 40 years ago this week made the rounds, giving wounded soldiers sweets, chocolates and t-shirts with an olive tree printed on them. The olive tree is Golani's emblem. One of the soldiers hung the brigade's yellow-green flag on a beam over his bed.

In another room, 35-year-old paratrooper in the reserves Gadi Waisman recalled how he was wounded Wednesday morning in Taibeh, in the eastern sector of southern Lebanon.


The interview was interrupted when sirens blared, warning of a rocket attack, but the visitors stayed in the room with Waisman and another soldier whose bed was near the window. No rocket fell within earshot and two minutes later it was clear the imminent danger was over.

Waisman said his unit had moved into a house at night, and posted a guard who was supposed to look out for enemy gunmen.

Hezbollah spotted them first and fired two anti-tank rockets through the windows, killing the guard and wounding seven soldiers in a nearby room.

"Maybe we made too much noise," Waisman suggested.

In the hospital's ground floor shopping area a family was with Michael, a 19-year-old tank gunner.

Michael, who declined to give his full name, had a bloodshot eye, bandages wrapped his left arm and leg and plaster covering his nose.

A rocket hit his tank en route to Bint Jbail and sent shrapnel flying inside. Michael recalled the blast, smoke, noise and flying shrapnel.

Fire, he was asked?

"I saw something yellow. I don't know what it was. We were busy getting out. We didn't pay attention," he said. "I knew they have people with RPGs (rocket propelled grenades) and missiles but... we didn't know the had RPG or anti-tank squads there. We thought they would come from another direction and when we stopped firing they suddenly emerged from the side."


Hezbollah guerrillas have been firing an array of anti tank rockets. One, two or three people can fire them from close ranges of a few dozen meters and up to five or six kilometers away, the head of the Armored Corps Brig. Gen. Halutz Yerudoi Friday told Israel's Channel 2 TV.

The missiles include the RPG-29 that Russia recently sold Syria. It has a tandem warhead. The first explosion is supposed to blow away the tank's protective shield and the second penetrates it.

Israeli intelligence knew the types of the anti-tank missiles sent to Hezbollah. "We were surprised by the quantity of missiles, not by their types," Yerudoi said.

Hezbollah seems to be in a unique position. It is "very much like an Iranian division," according to intelligence Brig. Gen. Yossi Kupperwasser. It has communications systems, logistics units, anti-tank units and close artillery support, he said.

Its weapons are in quantities befitting an army but it operates like a guerrilla force, noted reserve Col. Eitan Azani, a senior researcher at the International Policy Institute for Counter Terrorism in Herzliya.

They hide in well-camouflaged underground bunkers or in fields where they that have food, water, ammunition and, in the bunkers, electricity.


When the Israelis arrived, they waited for the area to calm down and then emerged to search for Israel's weak spots, fire at them, and slip again out of sight if they could do so before the Israelis, backed by air surveillance systems, targeted them. The Israelis hit them sometimes with light arms and other times with tank and air power.

The army provides no exact figures on the number of tanks Hezbollah has hit. Yerudoi said Israel has hundreds of locally-made Merkava tanks in Lebanon; a few "tens" were hit and fewer than 10 were damaged.

Haaretz newspaper said that rockets and explosive charges severely damaged "more than 20 tanks" and that several tanks were totally destroyed.

By Friday afternoon 84 soldiers had been killed and some 300 wounded, the army spokesman reported. According to the army's chief surgeon, Brig. Gen. Chezy Levy, many injuries are from missiles and explosive charges. Compared with the injuries in the 1973 war with Egypt and Syria, the 1982 war in Lebanon and the 2002 fighting in the West Bank, "we see new things, very intensive injuries." However, there are not many bullet wounds, he said.

The extensive and effective use of rockets and missiles, which Israel has failed to stop in a month of fighting, has made an impact on Israel's enemies.


"All the players here sit and watch the other side," Azani said. Hezbollah has been transferring know-how to Hamas and Islamic Jihad, who will also try to benefit from the weak spots the Lebanese militia have discovered.

Haaretz quoted a member of Fatah's al-Aksa brigades in Bethlehem, identified only as Muayen, who said: "The brothers in the Deheishe refugee camp are no longer interested in games with Kalashnikov (assault rifles); they want anti-tank rockets... When this technology arrives, how difficult would it be for one of the fighters to sit on the Palestinian side of the wall (the security barrier) at Abu Dis and fire a rocket at the King David Hotel (in Jewish west Jerusalem)? With less effort than a suicide bombing or shooting one can fire a missile and get the same results."

Azani told United Press International he anticipated a Palestinian attempt to emulate Hezbollah, although he did not believe the Palestinians would be as successful.

Hezbollah had six years to prepare for a conflict and received extensive help from Iran and Syria, while Lebanon provided the territory.

Hamas cannot produce missiles that are among the most advanced weapons modern armies have, Azani continued. Israel surrounds the West Bank, Egypt will not allow such weapons through its territory to the Palestinians, and the Israeli navy patrols Gaza's coast. The quantities that could be smuggled to the Palestinians would not be big enough to change the overall picture, he predicted.


In the meantime, Israeli infantrymen change the houses in which they stay. Officers analyze the battles so tank crews can amend their tactics. "We learn 10 times quicker than they," boasted Staff Sgt. Eran Blumberg, a tank commander in the reserves.

The army is likely to devote more time and money to training its reservists, something it has curtailed in recent years, as the main threat was coping with the Palestinian intifada. Scientists are developing new weapons to cope with anti-tank missiles. One project unveiled this year envisaged the release of very hot particles to melt a missile.

Yiftah Shapir, of the Jaffee Center for Strategic Studies, said solutions "are known technologically and the prototypes are beginning to appear." There will be anti-missile-missiles for tanks to fire, but it will take five to 10 years for the technology to be available.

The tanks' days are not over yet, he said.

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