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Limits of Israel's high-tech power

Civilian deaths and suprisingly high troop casualties expose the drawbacks of Israel's technological advantage.

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When Israel started its offensive against Hizbullah militants in Lebanon more than two weeks ago, it hoped its high-tech military hardware would quickly decimate the Iranian-backed militiamen with their low-tech arms.

But what began as a bid to swiftly rout the guerrillas with sophisticated air strikes has become bogged down in the hamlets of southern Lebanon, where Israeli ground troops are suffering a surprising number of casualties and where the air force killed some 60 civilians Sunday. Recent infantry losses and mounting civilian deaths are a reminder of the limits of Israel's technological advantage.

More decisive results from Israel's battle technology "would have been considered a major success. It seems that it wasn't nearly as successful as hoped,'' says Gerald Steinberg, a political scientist at Bar Ilan University, outside Tel Aviv. "When you have an asymmetric war and when you have a terrorist group that uses human shields extensively, no technology is going to tell you that there are dozens of children in a basement of a building that is either used to store arms or next to missile launchers.''

How drones work

Outfitted with gadgets ranging from smart bombs to GPS equipment, Israel's army relies on no technology more heavily than the unmanned aerial vehicles in the Air Force's 200th Squadron.

Flown from a seaside air base just a few miles south of Tel Aviv, the drones scour the ravines and villages in southern Lebanon to take out rocket launchers before Hizbullah militants can launch Katyusha missiles into northern Israel.

Amid idyllic sunsets, three-man drone crews sit in windowless metal sheds outfitted with flat-screen computer panels, and a joystick that controls the camera.

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