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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Israeli Army's Image Battered in Mideast

BEIRUT, Lebanon -- Guerrillas fire rockets and Israeli soldiers weep. Hezbollah's television station tries to convince viewers that the Middle East's strongest army is far from invincible.

For many Arabs, the claim is more than propaganda. They see Israeli casualties in south Lebanon as evidence of weaknesses in an army long held in awe by its neighbors.

At least 116 Israeli soldiers have been killed in more than a month of fighting between Hezbollah and the Jewish state, which has poured thousands of troops into Lebanon to drive the guerrillas from the border and stop rocket fire into Israel.

Israel says its army has killed about 530 of their fighters. Hezbollah has said 80 have been killed.

Israeli forces for weeks faced fierce battles with Hezbollah fighters in the south, in some places just a few kilometers from the border, and could not stop the guerrillas' rocket fire.

"They have overcome fear of the Israelis, which is very common in the Middle East and is a part of the Israeli military doctrine," said Timur Goksel, former spokesman for the United Nations peacekeeping force in south Lebanon.

Israel's capture of the Sinai Peninsula, the Golan Heights, the Gaza Strip and the West Bank in six days in 1967 showed the Jewish state's military supremacy over its neighbors. The war is still known by Arabs as "The Naksa," or "The Setback."

Some Arab media have called the Lebanon conflict the sixth Arab-Israeli war, although it is different from previous conflicts because Israel is fighting a guerrilla group.

Although Israel could beat any Arab army in a conventional war, the Lebanon conflict has exposed weakness in a guerrilla war, analysts said.

"There's no doubt that the impression for the Arab public is that Israel is not a legendary power and it can be bled with time," said Kadry Said, a military analyst and retired Egyptian general.

Israeli army officers have said they were held back, while Haaretz columnist Ari Shavit has criticized Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert for producing a "humiliating defeat."

Hezbollah attacks helped drive Israel from south Lebanon in 2000 after 22 years of occupation. That withdrawal encouraged Palestinians to take up arms later that year in the West Bank and Gaza Strip, analysts said.

"2000 is seen as a Hezbollah campaign that succeeded, and this will be seen more as an Israeli campaign that failed," said Mouin Rabbani, a Middle East analyst with the International Crisis Group.

Hezbollah's strength this time will also give a morale boost to Palestinians. But more important could be its impact on the wider Arab world, especially in Egypt and Jordan, where some sections of public opinion oppose peace deals made by their governments with Israel, Rabbani said.

"People will look at this and say if this group, which is blacklisted on half the planet, is able to do this, then how come our own leaders, who possess actual states with real militaries, are not even prepared to do 1 percent of this," Rabbani said.

"It will show that it is possible to say 'no' to Israel and the U.S. and to emerge stronger rather weaker."