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Israel Says It Destroyed Half of Hezbollah’s Power

More than 60 people died in the fighting between Israel and Hezbollah Wednesday, many of them civilians. Analysts discuss whether Israeli forces can eliminate Hezbollah's military capabilities.

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  • JUDY WOODRUFF, NewsHour Special Correspondent:

    What kind of damage can the high-tech Israeli armed forces inflict on a guerilla group armed with thousands of rockets, and before the United States and other big powers push hard for a cease-fire?

    Two views on that now from Michael Herzog, a brigadier general in the Israeli Defense Forces. He's in the United States as a visiting fellow at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy.

    And Augustus Richard Norton, he's on the faculty of Boston University, specializing in Lebanese and Arab issues. He's a retired U.S. Army colonel. He previously served on the faculty at West Point.

    Professor Norton, let me begin with you. Let's first establish what it is exactly that Hezbollah has in the way of manpower and an arsenal, weaponry. We're not talking about your ordinary guerilla group here, are we?

  • AUGUSTUS RICHARD NORTON, Retired U.S. Army Colonel:

    No, we're not, Judy. We're talking about a group that has a broad base in Lebanese society, particularly in the Shiite community, which makes up about 40 percent of Lebanon's population.

    It's instructive when you look back at the resistance campaign that Hezbollah fought against the Israeli occupation, which lasted from 1978 until the year 2000 when Israel finally gave up and withdrew. That campaign was fought by a relatively small cadre of about 450, 500 people.

    And it was supplemented by effectively a reserve system. People would close down their mechanical shop or their optometry clinic or whatever and go on missions. So this is an organization that can expand like an accordion, in terms of manpower.

  • JUDY WOODRUFF:

    So there's no hardcore number of fighters you could give us?

  • AUGUSTUS RICHARD NORTON:

    Well, there's one estimate that I've seen around that now talks about 800 to 1,000 really hardcore cadre. At the moment, of course, the number would be much larger, in terms of the numbers that are mobilized.

    But we're not talking here about something that resembles an army. It has a very different appearance. They do have a significant arsenal, as it's been widely reported, in terms of the Katyushas and other rockets. They've used very sophisticated remote-controlled devices for ambushes and that sort of thing against Israeli soldiers.

  • JUDY WOODRUFF:

    Let me ask General Herzog whether the description you just heard from Professor Norton matches your understanding of what Hezbollah has?

  • MICHAEL HERZOG, Brigadier General, Israeli Defense Forces:

    I would expand the description. I would say that what characterizes the military forces of Hezbollah is that they go far beyond that of a militia or a terror group.

    We are talking about an organization holding more than 13,000 rockets, including long-range rockets with a range of over 120 miles. These are Zilzal rockets provided by Iran, medium-range rockets.

    They have unmanned aerial vehicle drones. They've flown them over Israel in the past. They fired the other day a very sophisticated, radar-guided missile that hit one of our missile boats. I think very few militaries in the world have these capabilities.

    In addition, of course, Hezbollah wields a global terror reach. Let us not forget that they were behind the targeting of the Marines in Beirut in '83. They destroyed our embassy in Buenos Aires in '92. So it goes beyond just being a resistance, of course.