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Israel Delays Expansion of Lebanon Offensive

RENEE MONTAGNE, host:

Israel says it is delaying the expansion of its ground offensive in southern Lebanon to give the UN Security Council more time to come to an agreement on a cease-fire. For more on this, we're joined now by Isaac Herzog, a member of Israel's security cabinet in Jerusalem. Hello.

Mr. ISAAC HERZOG (Member, Israeli Security Cabinet): Good morning.

MONTAGNE: What exactly does that mean delaying the expansion? In terms of attacks in Lebanon, what will we be seeing?

Mr. HERZOG: We've instructed the military yesterday to expand operations in Lebanon in order to uproot this capability of the Hezbollah. However, as we all know, parallel to this, there is a process in the Security Council, and we had authorized the prime minister and the minister of defense to decide when to launch the ground larger-scale operation in the very near future if there is no other solution in the Security Council.

MONTAGNE: So an expansion looms but has not been put into effect as of today while you're waiting on what's going on.

Mr. HERZOG: We are operating in Lebanon in a massive way, and we have introduced new forces on the ground into Lebanon. But the wide range operation itself is still pending a very short while to see the outcome in the Security Council. The voices and the views we are quite pessimistic with regards to the possibility of a resolution in the Security Council. If there will be no resolution in the Security Council, it will be basically a failure of the international community to adhere to the basic rules that were already laid down with respect to the possible exit from the conflict about a month ago by the G8 leaders.

MONTAGNE: There have been disagreements in these past weeks within your government about whether a buffer zone should extend to the Litani River in Lebanon. That's about 18 miles north of the border. How useful would a buffer zone be if Hezbollah has proven that it can strike Israel from a longer range?

Mr. HERZOG: The issue is the following: Hezbollah longer-range missiles and short-range missiles. Most of the attacks on the northern part of Israel come from the short-range missiles. They have a stock of over 10,000 missiles. With respect to the long-range missiles, we managed to strike and hurt most of their capability. And, of course, they have residual capability. They're also aided by Syria and Iran.

But we must hit at the short-range capability, which is (unintelligible) of the Litani.

MONTAGNE: There has been grumbling - and a little bit of it has come out in public - at the length of this war with Hezbollah, that it's taking weeks, and that the amount of time it took to send in ground forces. How is Israel, at this point in time, measuring the success of its own military strikes? I mean is it targeting Hezbollah's leadership?

Mr. HERZOG: As opposed to some of the assumptions with respect to this operation, we've managed to hurt Hezbollah in a major way. They have suffered major setbacks. We've heard the leadership, we've heard the command and control posts. We haven't exposed it to the media, which is our mistake, but we will do it in the very near future.

Now, the issue is the real problem, is that we're dealing with a very staunch guerilla operation. Most of their infrastructure is based in civilian communities, and, therefore, we are trying to be cautious not to hurt civilians. In relative terms, they are great successes, and we know that we will suffer casualties, which is very unfortunate, very painful to us, but we must make sure Israel will not be attacked. This is our duty to our citizens.

MONTAGNE: Thank you for joining us.

Mr. HERZOG: Thank you indeed.

MONTAGNE: Isaac Herzog is a member of Israel's security cabinet and minister of tourism. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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