The Israeli Army command announced tonight that 214 soldiers were killed in the war in Lebanon, more than twice the number reported at the time the cease-fire on all fronts went into effect last Friday.
A total of 1,114 Israeli servicemen have been wounded since the invasion started June 6. Twenty-three are reported missing in action, and one is being held as a prisoner of war, the Army command said.
Military sources said that the wide disparity between the toll announced at the time of the cease-fire and now is a result of the Army's casualty reporting system.
"Don't presume that since the cease-fire more than 100 persons have been killed. The fact is we cannot release even the statistics of deaths--much less the names--until the families have been notified," the Army official said. At the time of the cease-fire, the Army listed 107 killed.
The military source explained that in some cases, particularly tank battles, there are "lots of problems identifying dead soldiers."
He denied suggestions made by some peace movement critics of the Lebanon invasion that casualty figures were being falsified to maintain the national consensus behind the objectives of the war.
The Army command has not released estimates of the number of Palestinian guerrillas and Lebanese and Palestinian civilians killed by invading armored columns and during the accompanying bombing raids by the Israeli Air Force and bombardments by artillery batteries and offshore gunboats.
Lebanese security officials and representatives of the International Red Cross have said the deaths run in the thousands, but Israeli authorities said the estimates are exaggerated and that the invading force has taken precautions to keep civilian casualties to a minimum.
The military official acknowledged that the Army command has adopted a new policy in the last few days of not announcing a daily casualty figures, but instead is releasing a cumulative total and, occasionally, casualty statistics for major battles or operations. The new policy, he said, was adopted "for national morale purposes" and for humanitarian reasons.
"It's a very touchy matter. You have to understand a large part of our regular Army is involved, and we have drafted many, many reserve soldiers. Israel is a small country. Everybody knows somebody, or has a relative or a friend who has been killed in this war. This problem has to be handled very delicately," the Army official said.
In the 1967 war, the Army command ordered the military censor to prohibit Israeli newspapers from publishing death notices submitted by families of war victims, because of the effect it would have on national morale. More than 650 Israeli servicemen were killed in the 1967 war.
The Army command source said that there had already been cases where notification caused unnecessary trauma to families of soldiers killed in battle.
Two soldiers with identical first and last names who were killed at about the same time had families living in Jerusalem about half a mile apart, he said. One family heard the name of a son listed among those killed, but was assured by Army officials that the son was not a casualty. The family of the other soldier then was notified of the death, and an hour later an Army command representative informed members of the first family that their son, also, had died in battle.
Because of Israel's size, and population of only 3.5 million, news of casualties travels fast.
Correspondents traveling in the war zone are constantly stopped by soldiers, who thrust into the car scribbled messages and telephone numbers of wives and parents, with a request to call.
"Because the war is so close to home, the specter of death is closer, and the bad news gets back faster than other places," an Army officer said.