Ralph Peters is a regular columnist with the New
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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.
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.
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
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
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 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
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
latest book is Never
Quit The Fight.
piece first appeared in the New York Post
copyright 2006 - NY Post