"The army realizes they are either going to have to invest a lot more forces, or they will have to use a lot more firepower," says Ofer Shelach, a columnist for the Yediot Ahronoth newspaper who specializes in military affairs. "These are the two basic approaches. It's a little late for Israel now to say it won't use ground forces: That could've been the policy four or five days ago, but they're in now. We'll see whether they will take over south Lebanon up until the Litani River."
In many ways, Mr. Shelach estimates, the loss of another nine soldiers shakes Israel even more deeply than the loss of eight civilians last week in the Hizbullah rocket attack on a train station in Haifa. Israel's qualitative superiority over Hizbullah had raised expectations that the Israeli military could "clean out" Hizbullah strongholds.
"Unlike the resilience that people are showing on the civilian side, when it comes to military casualties, we're a lot more fragile," says Shelach. "It changes the perception of our invincibility. The fact is that we're still more powerful, but we're talking about perception, not about reality. It may affect the public, and that affects military decisions."
Brig. Gen. Shuki Shahar, of the Israeli Defense Forces Northern Command, told reporters Thursday that Israel has held back in the conflict when it was sure it would cause civilian casualties. "Many times, we have terrorists we were able to hit and kill, but because we consider ourselves a moral country and a moral army," certain missions have been called off, he said.