ON THE ISRAEL-LEBANON BORDER – Israeli soldiers returning from the front in Lebanon talk of battling an intelligent, well-prepared and ruthless guerrilla army whose fighters don’t seem to fear death.
The troops describe Hezbollah guerrillas hiding among civilians and in underground bunkers two or three stories deep – evidence, they say, that Hezbollah has been planning this battle for many years.
“It’s hard to beat them,” one soldier said. “They’re not afraid of anything.”
The soldiers described exchanges of gunfire in between houses on village streets, with Hezbollah guerrillas sometimes popping out of bushes to fire Kalashnikovs, rocket-propelled grenades and anti-tank missiles.
Despite enormous firepower that Israel says has already killed about 100 Hezbollah fighters, some military analysts say the war isn’t going particularly well for the Jewish state, which is encountering tougher-than-expected resistance.
It has been unable to push the guerrillas back significantly or stop hundreds of their rockets from slamming into northern Israel.
“They’re not fighting like we thought they would,” one soldier said. “They’re fighting harder. They’re good on their own ground.”
One soldier said the guerrillas wore olive green army uniforms “to confuse us” because Israelis wear the same.
Others said Hezbollah hid underground in reinforced bunkers until they thought it safe to come out and attack. The Israelis prefer to stay away from those bunkers, the soldiers said, instead calling in coordinates so forces massed behind the border can hit them with guided missiles.
“They’re not normal soldiers, you know,” said Michael Sidorenko, 21, resting in the shade of a road sign with other combat troops. On the hills behind him, loud gunfire and the constant thud of explosions could be heard. “They’re guerrillas. They’re very smart.”
He said he saw Hezbollah fighters firing from behind Lebanese civilians. “That’s why our soldiers are getting killed,” Sidorenko said.
“It will take the summer to beat them.”