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Ralph Peters is a regular columnist with the New York Post. Register here for access to the Post's Online Edition.



PETERS Watching The War
by Ralph Peters [author, novelist] 8/10/06

Kibbutz Sasa, Israel. In the battle's lulls you hear the wind sweeping the hilltop. Scented with pine, it chases the heat, reminding the skin on your forearms that you're alive.

For a few silent minutes, the only hint of war is the smoke drifting across a pasture or rising from a valley behind a ridge.

Then the sounds come back. Howitzer rounds impacting to the north, the quivering of a giant metal sheet. A village across the border appears deserted, but bursts of automatic weapons fire signal combat in an alley.

Long bursts, heavier caliber now. The woodpecker taps of a machine gun. A self-propelled 155mm battery down in the valley snorts out two rounds - the Israelis shoot precisely, not in indiscriminate volleys. Seconds later, the shells strike near Bint Jbail.

Ralph Peters - Contributor
Ralph Peters is a retired Army officer and the author of 19 books, as well as of hundreds of essays and articles, written both under his own name and as Owen Parry. He is a frequent columnist for the New York Post and other publications. [go to Peters Index]

Brief scream of an incoming rocket. Close enough to snap my head around. Just in time to see it impact down the slope to my right, in an apple orchard. It explodes with the snap of an English Christmas cracker.

Much ado about nothing. Just Hezbollah saying hello.

More friendly rounds grump in the distance. A hamlet on a ridge begins to smoke. Another position near Bint Jbail gets a pounding.

Sirens. This side of the border. Ambulances evacuating the wounded. Fast. An enemy rocket misses the Israeli town it targeted and sets fire to a patch of scrub. Crows caw, a mean audience.

More and more small arms join in the firefight to the north. For 30 seconds, it's the most even firing I've ever heard, a drumbeat you could march to. Then it breaks down into the normal disorder of war.

Helicopters throb. Medivacs? Gunships? Can't see. They're flying low behind a ridge, wary of shoulder-fired missiles.

Excited by the over-pressure from the big guns, a rooster crows in a barnyard just below me. He's answered by a bird that sounds like a deranged whippoorwill.

A convoy of tracked vehicles grinds along the road that hugs the valley. Tanks, the pale horsemen of modern war.

You can follow the pattern of the wind by the battle smoke. Where the blow gets into a temper, it draws the smoke across the landscape, a gray curtain. Where the wind pauses, black smoke rises straight toward heaven - in this biblical landscape of groves and terraces, stones and death.

The quiet returns. The wind falls and the sun presses down on my shoulders. It's the strangest of wars. I just drove up to it in a rental car, with a loaf of Russian rye bread, a block of cheese and a few cans of beer in the back seat. I feel like the postmodern version of the spectators who rode their carriages out to watch the First Battle of Bull Run.

From my vantage point, the view runs for tens of miles, from the ridges above Tyre to Mount Hermon. Another rocket screams overhead, but it's traveling deeper into Israel. And I'm watching not only a war but a race against time as the Israeli Defense Forces gnaw into southern Lebanon - Hezbollah's fortress - while the "international community" does all it can to rescue the terrorists.

The high ground always matters. I can see the telltale signs of a dozen separate engagements that take turns providing the overall battle's soundtrack. And the oddest thing of all is that it's spectacular - not the sort of thing we're supposed to admit. It's a beautiful summer day in the Holy Land. Where there happens to be a war.

But it's only appealing because I'm not really "danger close." From the rooftop where I stand scribbling, I can't see the faces. And the faces make war real and terrible - the faces of the dead and wounded, the faces of men fighting each other to a bitter death.

I only hear the big, dramatic sounds, not the moaning of gut-shot boys or the urgent cries of their friends, the young officer's excited voice calling for fire support, or a last unintelligible whisper.

But I see what I do because the Israeli Defense Forces have made no effort to hide this war away. Although I'm bunking in a building full of soldiers, I have no minder telling me what message I'm supposed to carry away, what I'm "really" seeing. Despite the lies in all too much of the media, the Israelis are struggling to fight a moral war - against enemies who know no morality, fanatics who trot out the same dead baby repeatedly for sensation-hungry cameras.

So I'm alone with the war for a little while, counting the time to impact of outgoing rounds and ranging detonations by ticking off the seconds between the flash and the follow-on bang.

What's striking is that every Israeli round is aimed at a military target. Even though the intensity of the firing increased today, as the IDF intensify the offensive, there's no wanton destruction - just the ugly necessity of war.

But Hezbollah's rockets aren't aimed. They're merely pointed. In the general direction of Israeli cities and towns. Simply put, the Katyushas are terror weapons. That difference sums up this war for any decent human being. CRO

Ralph Peters' latest book is Never Quit The Fight.

This piece first appeared in the New York Post
copyright 2006 - NY Post

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