Recon By Fire
The hardest clashes Thursday took place at the outskirts of the village of Maroun Ras in the central sector of the border area, just north of Moshav Avivim. This is the second day of fighting in the same area where two IDF soldiers were killed Wednesday. At about 5 P.M., a unit from the Golani Brigade ran into a large force of Hezbollah militants. It appears that the initial attack began with mortars launched against the IDF soldiers. The ambush took place in an area where a few homes are surrounded by agricultural fields. A number of explosions occurred, and the soldiers and dozens of Hezbollah militants exchanged heavy fire.
The IDF force required reinforcements to extricate itself from the area, and further heavy exchanges of fire followed, with mortars and Katyusha rockets landing on Avivim and its areas. The battle raged for hours, and the soldiers managed to hit dozens of Hezbollah fighters who launched anti-tank weapons, both of Soviet and European origin, and used heavy machine guns. Hezbollah did not admit it suffered any casualties in the fighting. The IDF is still examining whether the initial blow by Hezbollah militants came from a Sagger anti-tank missile.
Elite IDF units have found on the ground in Lebanon a large number of the most up to date Russian man portable anti tank missles. The missle is the AT-14 Kornet and Hizbullah was taught how to use it by Iranian instructors. Second the 220mm rockets that hit Haifa today were of recent manufacture in Syria. Lastly and most import Syria has a a current on going operation to resupply Hizbullah with rockets and other equipment.
The AT-14 Kornet has "tandem shaped charge HEAT warheads to defeat tanks fitted with ERA or with high explosive/incendiary (thermobaric effect) warheads, for use against bunkers, fortifications and fire emplacements. Armour penetration for the HEAT warhead is stated to be 1,200mm. Range is 5km", according to Army Technology. In plain language, this means the warheads are designed to work against IDF tanks which have reactive armor (ERA) at distances which are ideal for use from the hill range which the Hezbollah occupy.
Roggio notes that the huge combat power now being demonstrated by Hezbollah implies that it would eventually engulf Lebanon. "The state-within-a-state will become the state." In some ironical sense the IDF reaction is a battle for the existence of a Lebanese state without which its absorption into Hezbollah would only be a matter of time.
In the meantime the Jerusalem Post reports another callup of Israeli reservists.
The IDF was gearing up for a large-scale ground incursion into Lebanon on Friday. Thousands of reservists were being mobilized to the North throughout Friday to beef up forces stationed in the area in preparation for a possible operation. In total, three to four ground divisions will be operating along the Lebanese front. ...
On Friday afternoon, the IAF dropped leaflets over southern Lebanon all the way up to the Litani River calling on residents to move northward to avoid being caught in clashes between IDF forces and Hizbullah cells. The move could signify a step in preparation for the ground incursion.
Haaretz reports that however deep the incursion into Lebanon might be, the IDF does not want to permanently occupy territory.
Israel Defense Forces Chief of Staff Dan Halutz told reporters in Tel Aviv on Friday that any military incursion into Lebanon will be limited in scope. "We will fight terror wherever it is because if we do not fight it, it will fight us. If we don't reach it, it will reach us," Halutz said in a nationally televised news conference. "We will also conduct limited ground operations as much as needed in order to harm the terror that harms us." When the army presented its plans for an operation in Lebanon, the timeframe that it provided was one of "weeks".
The callup of further reserves is being described as necessary to reduce the Hezbollah bunker complexes on the Lebanese side of the border. According to the Jerusalem Post:
The IDF sent out emergency calls for 5,000 reserve soldiers on Friday in addition to the reserves already called up. OC Northern Command Maj.-Gen. Udi Adam stated that the move was done in order to relieve some of the forces currently operating in northern Israel. He noted that ground forces were necessary to penetrate Hizbullah bunkers that could not be reached by the Air Force.
However, the same article describes very deep strikes into Lebanon concentrating on Hezbollah's logistical lifeline to Syria.
The IDF resumed attacks on Lebanon at daybreak on Friday, pounding the country's main road link to Syria with missiles and setting passenger buses on fire, Lebanese police said. Part of Lebanon's longest bridge collapsed, police said. The passenger buses were in the Bekaa valley about 15 kilometers from the Syrian border, on the road linking Beirut and the Syrian capital of Damascus. ...
Up in the mountains of central Lebanon on the Beirut-Damascus highway, IAF warplanes fired four missiles on a bridge linking two steep mountain peaks. Part of the bridge collapsed. The 1-mile-long (1.6-kilometer-long) structure has been hit several times since the fighting began.
The situation along the border as described by the press and bloggers consistently shows a Hezbollah force of tremendous sophistication and firepower, with state of the art weapons and high quality training. Recent events have shown the extent of the threat that has been ranged not only against Israel but the Lebanese state. It is also suggestive of the threat which may be building against the West from Iran. Bill Roggio put it well:
The successful Hezbollah raid on the Israeli outpost that started the conflict, followed by the firing of rockets into Haifa and beyond, anti-ship cruise missiles which disabled an Israeli warship and sunk a civilian freighter, and the construction and presence of a fortified bunker network along the border have caught the Israeli intelligence community (Aman and Mossad) flat footed. In the words of an American military officer, "If we didn't know this about Hezbollah's capabilities, just think of what we don't know about Iran's capabilities."
The "international community" relied upon UNIFIL to monitor the threat of Hezbollah. And as Meryl Yourish notes in her "Speak Kofi, Speak" post, the UN assured the world that things were well in hand. As Annan said in 2005:
But I think when it comes to 1559, let us be clear here: a large part of the mandate has been fulfilled. The key elements of the mandate were to ensure that Syrian military redeployed out of Lebanon; that has been done. That the security apparatus is withdrawn; and they have done that. And that free and fair elections were organized; and that has also happened. As to the issue of disarmament of the militia, this is something that we are discussing with the Lebanese, it is the Lebanese Government that will have to do it. We are discussing it with them and they will have to determine when and how to do it.
The Hezbollah threat, as it later turned out, was nothing like the UNIFIL had reported. We can only hope that the world is being better served by Mohammed el-Baradei and the IAEA. That and how deep the IDF will go into Lebanon are things we can only guess at, but whose resolution we will soon know -- not always to our satisfaction.