A year after the Israeli Army began to extricate itself from the quagmire of Lebanon, it is still making an introspective examination of what long-range damage may have been caused to standards of combat that in five wars had made the country's fighting forces almost legendary.

There are conflicting opinions in the senior ranks of the military about the cumulative effects of the war, with several general staff officers insisting that there has been no deterioration of morale or fighting spirit of the Israeli combat soldier in the wake of the only Arab-Israeli conflict in the last 38 years that was not supported by a national consensus.

The conflict in Lebanon was also the first war in which Israeli soldiers encountered in unfamiliar terrain the terrifying presence of radical Shiite Moslem suicide squads instead of conventional Arab army combat units.

However, other officers and a broad range of ordinary soldiers drawn from various ranks and walks of life portrayed, in interviews, an Army that has lost, at the operational level, some of the offensive initiative that has sustained it against lopsided odds in other wars.

Instead, they portrayed an Army that has become reactive and whose fighting men still caught up in the conflict in southern Lebanon sometimes display less aggressive combat behavior than they did three years ago.

The issue is central to a small, beleaguered country -- although larger than Lebanon in both area and population -- whose armed forces are such a large part of society. Virtually all men between the ages of 18 and 55 -- and many women -- serve as full-time or part-time soldiers.

The debate is particularly pertinent to active reserve soldiers, who make up a vital part of the defense of a country that of necessity has a relatively small standing Army and relies heavily on the rapid mobilization of civilians.

Recent clashes in southern Lebanon between Israeli troops and radical Shiite Moslem guerrillas have drawn attention to the sensitive issue of combat norms, sparking public debate over whether there has been a slackening of the operational codes governing a soldier's perseverance in his assigned mission, adherence to orders and behavior under fire.

Israeli reconnaissance patrols have been ambushed, suffering casualties, and the attacking guerrillas have escaped without any effective fire being returned, military sources have confirmed. In one case, they said, when an Israeli convoy came under fire on Feb. 17, two soldiers were captured while an officer hid in a ditch without firing a shot at the guerrillas. The officer is under investigation for dereliction of duty.

While such extreme cases appear to be isolated, veterans of duty in southern Lebanon say that basic operational procedures frequently are given short shrift by individual units in an effort to avoid direct contact with an enemy that usually is hidden and highly skilled in guerrilla ambush tactics.

"Reconnaissance by fire" -- the practice of indiscriminate firing of automatic weapons into foliage and other potential guerrilla cover -- still occurs in southern Lebanon, although not on the scale that it did during the Army's last, nervous withdrawals from Sidon and Tyre last spring.

Such preemptive firing, officially discouraged by the military command, may provide a measure of protection to a small, vulnerable reconnaissance patrol, but it not only negates any element of surprise but also endangers the civilian population, commanding officers say.

The origins of such deviations from accepted norms of combat behavior, Lebanon veterans say, can be traced to the three-year occupation of Lebanon, during which more than 600 Israeli soldiers died fighting a war that became unpopular at home.

"The main idea was to get out of that place alive. You could see the machos shrink as the situation became worse," said a reserve Army sergeant who fought in Lebanon in 1982 and 1984 with a jeep-mounted antitank missile unit. "We have an image of our Army, but I could see how quickly people can deteriorate," he added.

The sergeant, who fought in a parachute unit in the 1967 and 1973 wars and participated in the 1978 invasion of southern Lebanon, said that the fanaticism of Shiite guerrilla suicide squads had a profound effect on the men of his unit and, by extension, on their combat performance.

"We had patrols every day, but we didn't see any point in it. We used to have to walk through orchards, and the only order we got was not to walk the same route. Gradually, we began to cut back, from four hours to three hours to two hours," the sergeant said.

Other veterans of Lebanon told similar stories of cutting corners to avoid casualties to their units and, with the promise of anonymity, spoke about their fear.

"Everybody is afraid in combat, but Lebanon was something different. Your convoy could be stuck in a big civilian traffic jam in Tyre trying to get home to Israel, and you'd wonder whether that Mercedes in front of you was going to blow up and you'd never get home," said one enlisted reservist who served three tours in Lebanon.

Other reserve soldiers spoke unashamedly of having considered becoming conscientious objectors to avoid duty in Lebanon, and some said that after the withdrawal last June they had invoked family or business reasons to avoid being called up for duty in the Israeli-declared "security zone" of southern Lebanon, where seven Israeli soldiers have died in ambushes in recent months.

Some senior Army commanders, acknowledging that the war in Lebanon was unique for Israel both in the lack of national consensus and in the nature of the enemy confronted, insisted that no permanent damage had been done to the norms of combat behavior.

Brig. Gen. Nehemiya Dagan, who as chief of the military's education branch is responsible for armed forces training, said that the subject is constantly discussed during the training of recruits and that he has been impressed by what he sees as renewed motivation of the young Israeli fighting man.

"In a situation like Lebanon, maybe they did behave differently sometimes, and you saw it and can understand why. But we are out of Lebanon, mostly, and a larger force of motivation begins to take over," Dagan said.

Recalling Israel's succession of conflicts from 1948 to 1973, Dagan said: "My son didn't fight in all those wars, but they are in his background nonetheless. I didn't fight in the Sinai in 1956, but it is in my background. Maybe 1948 is. Maybe the Holocaust is. An Israeli soldier carries the pressure of the Jewish people's experience, and that is enough motivation."

Dagan, who still flies Cobra helicopter gunship missions in Lebanon, sought to minimize what Zeev Schiff, military correspondent of the independent daily Haaretz, has called the "Lebanonization of the Israeli Army."

Asked whether a soldier critical of the Israeli presence in Lebanon could be expected to carry out orders there with the determination expected of him, Dagan replied, "I believe a soldier can draw a line between what he's thinking and what he has to do. I don't think there is any direct line between Lebanon and the behavior of the Israeli soldier today."

Dagan said his training branch tries to prepare the recruits for the possibility of another war fought without a national consensus. "We say, 'Maybe it will happen. But you have to do it, because this is a democracy and the alternative is, maybe, anarchy,' " he said.

Dagan said lapses in norms of combat behavior occasionally occur and the Army has taken steps to keep them to a minimum, including a recent decision to deploy only highly trained regular Army combat units in southern Lebanon for special operations.

He said that the training courses specifically had included discussions of such incidents during the war in Lebanon as the surrender of an entire Army sergeant who fought in Lebanon in 1982 and 1984 with a jeep-mounted antitank missile unit. "We have an image of our Army, but I could see how quickly people can deteriorate," he added.

The sergeant, who fought in a parachute unit in the 1967 and 1973 wars and participated in the 1978 invasion of southern Lebanon, said that the fanaticism of Shiite guerrilla suicide squads had a profound effect on the men of his unit and, by extension, on their combat performance.

"We had patrols every day, but we didn't see any point in it. We used to have to walk through orchards, and the only order we got was not to walk the same route. Gradually, we began to cut back, from four hours to three hours to two hours," the sergeant said.

Other veterans of Lebanon told similar stories of cutting corners to avoid casualties to their units and, with the promise of anonymity, spoke about their fear.

"Everybody is afraid in combat, but Lebanon was something different. Your convoy could be stuck in a big civilian traffic jam in Tyre trying to get home to Israel, and you'd wonder whether that Mercedes in front of you was going to blow up and you'd never get home," said one enlisted reservist who served three tours in Lebanon.

Other reserve soldiers spoke unashamedly of having considered becoming conscientious objectors to avoid duty in Lebanon, and some said that after the withdrawal last June they had invoked family or business reasons to avoid being called up for duty in the Israeli-declared "security zone" of southern Lebanon, where seven Israeli soldiers have died in ambushes in recent months.

Some senior Army commanders, acknowledging that the war in Lebanon was unique for Israel both in the lack of national consensus and in the nature of the enemy confronted, insisted that no permanent damage had been done to the norms of combat behavior.

Brig. Gen. Nehemiya Dagan, who as chief of the military's education branch is responsible for armed forces training, said that the subject is constantly discussed during the training of recruits and that he has been impressed by what he sees as renewed motivation of the young Israeli fighting man.

"In a situation like Lebanon, maybe they did behave differently sometimes, and you saw it and can understand why. But we are out of Lebanon, mostly, and a larger force of motivation begins to take over," Dagan said.

Recalling Israel's succession of conflicts from 1948 to 1973, Dagan said: "My son didn't fight in all those wars, but they are in his background nonetheless. I didn't fight in the Sinai in 1956, but it is in my background. Maybe 1948 is. Maybe the Holocaust is. An Israeli soldier carries the pressure of the Jewish people's experience, and that is enough motivation."

Dagan, who still flies Cobra helicopter gunship missions in Lebanon, sought to minimize what Zeev Schiff, military correspondent of the independent daily Haaretz, has called the "Lebanonization of the Israeli Army."

Asked whether a soldier critical of the Israeli presence in Lebanon could be expected to carry out orders there with the determination expected of him, Dagan replied, "I believe a soldier can draw a line between what he's thinking and what he has to do. I don't think there is any direct line between Lebanon and the behavior of the Israeli soldier today."

Dagan said his training branch tries to prepare the recruits for the possibility of another war fought without a national consensus. "We say, 'Maybe it will happen. But you have to do it, because this is a democracy and the alternative is, maybe, anarchy,' " he said.

Dagan said lapses in norms of combat behavior occasionally occur and the Army has taken steps to keep them to a minimum, including a recent decision to deploy only highly trained regular Army combat units in southern Lebanon for special operations.

He said that the training courses specifically had included discussions of such incidents during the war in Lebanon as the surrender of an entire eight-man unit to a smaller force without a fight. But some violations of standing combat orders, such as indiscriminate "reconnaissance by fire," are inevitable, he said.

"Look, this is a normal reaction of humans. I believe it happened in the jungles of Burma in 1943. We try to teach them to act differently, but it's not like a computer you can put a new program into. They are human," Dagan said.

Brig. Gen. Ephraim Lapid, the chief military spokesman, said that the difference between the soldier who serves in southern Lebanon today and the veterans of fighting from 1982 to 1985 can be traced to the difference of their lengths of stay there and also to their perceptions of public backing.

Most soldiers serving in southern Lebanon today were not involved in the three-year fighting, Lapid said, and, in contrast to the "mixed bag" of regulars and reservists who fought in the war, they generally come from elite conscript units such as the Golani and Givati brigades, highly trained for assault tactics.

Lapid said most of the soldiers are based on the Israeli side of the frontier and know that after a six- or 12-hour tour in the security zone on a narrowly defined mission they will return to their base. Noting that there is widespread public support for limited antiguerrilla operations in southern Lebanon, Lapid added, "Today they know when they leave the border they are leaving behind a line of solid consensus."

He and other senior Army command officers cited as an example a massive search last month for two Israeli soldiers captured in southern Lebanon.

"We conducted very thorough debriefings and there was not one incident of soldiers refusing orders or diverting from operational procedures. It was evident that here was something different. Here we have a mission based on the cardinal principle of trying to save comrades in arms," said one senior Army officer.

Yet in and out of the Army, the debate over Israel's long and arduous involvement in Lebanon continues -- a debate that Dagan said was inevitable given the openness of Israeli society and the increasingly questioning nature of Israeli youth.

One of the best known critics of Israel's policy in Lebanon, former Army colonel Eli Geva, rekindled the debate about conscientious objection to military orders earlier this month by asserting at a Hebrew University seminar that the war in Lebanon was a failure.

In 1982, Geva, then a 31-year-old combat brigade commander, caused a sensation by asking to be relieved of his command rather than lead his brigade in the planned assault on west Beirut.

At the seminar, Geva said the Army had failed in all its aims in Lebanon: forcing Palestinian guerrillas out, removing the Syrian Army and forming a Christian Lebanese government that would make peace with Israel. In response, former Army chief of staff Rafael Eitan charged that Geva had betrayed his command, adding, "If our whole Army were made up of people like Eli Geva, we'd have no Army and no state by now."

Another prominent Israeli critic of the Lebanon war said that a much broader principle is at stake.

Former Army colonel Yaacov Hizdai, now a professor of Jewish history at Hebrew University, contended in an interview that during the course of nearly four decades, the government's approach to national security has stagnated and that Israel's failure in Lebanon was a natural outgrowth of that stagnation.

Then-prime minister Menachem Begin sought to give the war in Lebanon moral legitimacy -- the historical defense of the Jewish state -- and Israeli society decided to debate the issue on moral grounds, Hizdai said. But, he said, there were more reasons for society to debate the war from a pragmatic perspective of its prospects of success.

"The reasons we attacked Lebanon exist again today," Hizdai said, noting that Palestinian guerrillas not only have returned but have been overshadowed by the more formidable Shiite Moslem guerrillas, and that rocket attacks on northern Israeli eight-man unit to a smaller force without a fight. But some violations of standing combat orders, such as indiscriminate "reconnaissance by fire," are inevitable, he said.

"Look, this is a normal reaction of humans. I believe it happened in the jungles of Burma in 1943. We try to teach them to act differently, but it's not like a computer you can put a new program into. They are human," Dagan said.

Brig. Gen. Ephraim Lapid, the chief military spokesman, said that the difference between the soldier who serves in southern Lebanon today and the veterans of fighting from 1982 to 1985 can be traced to the difference of their lengths of stay there and also to their perceptions of public backing.

Most soldiers serving in southern Lebanon today were not involved in the three-year fighting, Lapid said, and, in contrast to the "mixed bag" of regulars and reservists who fought in the war, they generally come from elite conscript units such as the Golani and Givati brigades, highly trained for assault tactics.

Lapid said most of the soldiers are based on the Israeli side of the frontier and know that after a six- or 12-hour tour in the security zone on a narrowly defined mission they will return to their base. Noting that there is widespread public support for limited antiguerrilla operations in southern Lebanon, Lapid added, "Today they know when they leave the border they are leaving behind a line of solid consensus."

He and other senior Army command officers cited as an example a massive search last month for two Israeli soldiers captured in southern Lebanon.

"We conducted very thorough debriefings and there was not one incident of soldiers refusing orders or diverting from operational procedures. It was evident that here was something different. Here we have a mission based on the cardinal principle of trying to save comrades in arms," said one senior Army officer.

Yet in and out of the Army, the debate over Israel's long and arduous involvement in Lebanon continues -- a debate that Dagan said was inevitable given the openness of Israeli society and the increasingly questioning nature of Israeli youth.

One of the best known critics of Israel's policy in Lebanon, former Army colonel Eli Geva, rekindled the debate about conscientious objection to military orders earlier this month by asserting at a Hebrew University seminar that the war in Lebanon was a failure.

In 1982, Geva, then a 31-year-old combat brigade commander, caused a sensation by asking to be relieved of his command rather than lead his brigade in the planned assault on west Beirut.

At the seminar, Geva said the Army had failed in all its aims in Lebanon: forcing Palestinian guerrillas out, removing the Syrian Army and forming a Christian Lebanese government that would make peace with Israel. In response, former Army chief of staff Rafael Eitan charged that Geva had betrayed his command, adding, "If our whole Army were made up of people like Eli Geva, we'd have no Army and no state by now."

Another prominent Israeli critic of the Lebanon war said that a much broader principle is at stake.

Former Army colonel Yaacov Hizdai, now a professor of Jewish history at Hebrew University, contended in an interview that during the course of nearly four decades, the government's approach to national security has stagnated and that Israel's failure in Lebanon was a natural outgrowth of that stagnation.

Then-prime minister Menachem Begin sought to give the war in Lebanon moral legitimacy -- the historical defense of the Jewish state -- and Israeli society decided to debate the issue on moral grounds, Hizdai said. But, he said, there were more reasons for society to debate the war from a pragmatic perspective of its prospects of success.

"The reasons we attacked Lebanon exist again today," Hizdai said, noting that Palestinian guerrillas not only have returned but have been overshadowed by the more formidable Shiite Moslem guerrillas, and that rocket attacks on northern Israeli settlements continue.

Using national security concepts that were effective in the 1950s and 1960s, Hizdai said, the Begin government launched the invasion of Lebanon without realizing that "you can't lead an army to war in the same style and with the same explanations 30 years later. They no longer work."

He added, "One of the problems we had to learn in the 1980s is that there are problems you have to live with -- problems that can't be solved by massive military operations." Among these problems, he said, are the deeply ingrained hatred of Israel by fighting-age Palestinians and hostility among Arab nations that regard the creation of the Jewish state as "the national failure" of pan-Arabism.

The lesson that those problems cannot be solved by the same military tactics that yielded dramatic successes in the past may have been lost on the generation that founded and still leads Israel, Hizdai said, but it may not have been lost on the generation that will be called to take up arms in the next war.