Spitfire List Web site and blog of anti-fascist researcher and radio personality Dave Emory.

News & Supplemental  

Israel set war plan more than a year ago

Strat­e­gy was put in motion as Hezbol­lah began gain­ing mil­i­tary strength in Lebanon

Matthew Kalman

Jerusalem — Israel’s mil­i­tary response by air, land and sea to what it con­sid­ered a provo­ca­tion last week by Hezbol­lah mil­i­tants is unfold­ing accord­ing to a plan final­ized more than a year ago.

In the six years since Israel end­ed its mil­i­tary occu­pa­tion of south­ern Lebanon, it watched war­i­ly as Hezbol­lah built up its mil­i­tary pres­ence in the region. When Hezbol­lah mil­i­tants kid­napped two Israeli sol­diers last week, the Israeli mil­i­tary was ready to react almost instant­ly.

“Of all of Israel’s wars since 1948, this was the one for which Israel was most pre­pared,” said Ger­ald Stein­berg, pro­fes­sor of polit­i­cal sci­ence at Bar-Ilan Uni­ver­si­ty. “In a sense, the prepa­ra­tion began in May 2000, imme­di­ate­ly after the Israeli with­draw­al, when it became clear the inter­na­tion­al com­mu­ni­ty was not going to pre­vent Hezbol­lah from stock­pil­ing mis­siles and attack­ing Israel. By 2004, the mil­i­tary cam­paign sched­uled to last about three weeks that we’re see­ing now had already been blocked out and, in the last year or two, it’s been sim­u­lat­ed and rehearsed across the board.”

More than a year ago, a senior Israeli army offi­cer began giv­ing Pow­er­Point pre­sen­ta­tions, on an off-the-record basis, to U.S. and oth­er diplo­mats, jour­nal­ists and think tanks, set­ting out the plan for the cur­rent oper­a­tion in reveal­ing detail. Under the ground rules of the brief­in­gs, the offi­cer could not be iden­ti­fied.

In his talks, the offi­cer described a three-week cam­paign: The first week con­cen­trat­ed on destroy­ing Hezbol­lah’s heav­ier long-range mis­siles, bomb­ing its com­mand-and-con­trol cen­ters, and dis­rupt­ing trans­porta­tion and com­mu­ni­ca­tion arter­ies. In the sec­ond week, the focus shift­ed to attacks on indi­vid­ual sites of rock­et launch­ers or weapons stores. In the third week, ground forces in large num­bers would be intro­duced, but only in order to knock out tar­gets dis­cov­ered dur­ing recon­nais­sance mis­sions as the cam­paign unfold­ed. There was no plan, accord­ing to this sce­nario, to reoc­cu­py south­ern Lebanon on a long-term basis.

Israeli offi­cials say their pin­point com­man­do raids should not be con­fused with a ground inva­sion. Nor, they say, do they her­ald anoth­er occu­pa­tion of south­ern Lebanon, which Israel main­tained from 1982 to 2000 — in order, it said, to thwart Hezbol­lah attacks on Israel. Plan­ners antic­i­pat­ed the like­li­hood of civil­ian deaths on both sides. Israel says Hezbol­lah inten­tion­al­ly bases some of its oper­a­tions in res­i­den­tial areas. And Hezbol­lah’s leader, Has­san Nas­ral­lah, has bragged pub­licly that the group’s arse­nal includ­ed rock­ets capa­ble of bomb­ing Haifa, as occurred last week.

Like all plans, the one now unfold­ing also has been shaped by chang­ing cir­cum­stances, said Eran Ler­man, a for­mer colonel in Israeli mil­i­tary intel­li­gence who is now direc­tor of the Jerusalem office of the Amer­i­can Jew­ish Com­mit­tee.

“There are two rad­i­cal views of how to deal with this chal­lenge, a seri­ous pro­fes­sion­al debate with­in the mil­i­tary com­mu­ni­ty over which way to go,” said Ler­man. “One is the air pow­er school of thought, the oth­er is the land-borne option. They cre­ate dif­fer­ent dynam­ics and dif­fer­ent timeta­bles. The cru­cial fac­tor is that the air force con­cept is very method­i­cal and almost by def­i­n­i­tion is slow­er to get results. A ground inva­sion that sweeps Hezbol­lah in front of you is quick­er, but at a much high­er cost in human life and requir­ing the cre­ation of a pres­ence on the ground.”

The advance sce­nario is now in its sec­ond week, and its suc­cess or fail­ure is still unfold­ing. Whether Israel’s aer­i­al strikes will be enough to achieve the three­fold aim of the cam­paign — to remove the Hezbol­lah mil­i­tary threat; to evict Hezbol­lah from the bor­der area, allow­ing the deploy­ment of Lebanese gov­ern­ment troops; and to ensure the safe return of the two Israeli sol­diers abduct­ed last week — remains an open ques­tion. Israelis are opposed to the thought of reoc­cu­py­ing Lebanon.

“I have the feel­ing that the end is not clear here. I have no idea how this movie is going to end,” said Daniel Ben-Simon, a mil­i­tary ana­lyst for the dai­ly Haaretz news­pa­per.

Thurs­day’s clash­es in south­ern Lebanon occurred near an out­post aban­doned more than six years ago by the retreat­ing Israeli army. The place was iden­ti­fied using satel­lite pho­tographs of a Hezbol­lah bunker, but only from the ground was Israel able to dis­cov­er that it served as the entrance to a pre­vi­ous­ly unknown under­ground net­work of caves and bunkers stuffed with mis­siles aimed at north­ern Israel, said Israeli army spokesman Miri Regev.

“We knew about the net­work, but it was ful­ly revealed (Wednes­day) by the ground oper­a­tion of our forces,” said Regev. “This is one of the pur­pos­es of the pin­point ground oper­a­tions — to locate and try to destroy the ter­ror­ist infra­struc­ture from where they can fire at Israeli cit­i­zens.”

Israeli mil­i­tary offi­cials say as much as 50 per­cent of Hezbol­lah’s mis­sile capa­bil­i­ty has been destroyed, main­ly by aer­i­al attacks on tar­gets iden­ti­fied from intel­li­gence reports. But mis­siles con­tin­ue to be fired at towns and cities across north­ern Israel.

“We were not sur­prised that the fir­ing has con­tin­ued,” said Tzachi Haneg­bi, chair­man of the Knes­set For­eign Affairs and Defense Com­mit­tee. “Hezbol­lah sep­a­rat­ed its lead­er­ship com­mand-and-con­trol sys­tem from its field orga­ni­za­tion. It cre­at­ed a net­work of tiny cells in each vil­lage that had no oper­a­tional mis­sion except to wait for the moment when they should acti­vate the Katyusha rock­et launch­ers hid­den in local hous­es, using coor­di­nates pro­grammed long ago to hit Nahariya or Kiry­at She­mona, or the kib­butz­im and vil­lages.”

“From the start of this oper­a­tion, we have also been active on the ground across the width of Lebanon,” said Brig. Gen. Ron Fried­man, head of North­ern Com­mand head­quar­ters. “These mis­sions are designed to sup­port our cur­rent actions. Unfor­tu­nate­ly, one of the many mis­sions which we have car­ried out in recent days met with slight­ly fiercer resis­tance.”

Israel did­n’t need sophis­ti­cat­ed intel­li­gence to dis­cov­er the huge buildup of Iran­ian weapons sup­plies to Hezbol­lah by way of Syr­ia, because Hezbol­lah’s patrons boast­ed about it open­ly in the pages of the Ara­bic press. As recent­ly as June 16, less than four weeks before the Hezbol­lah bor­der raid that sparked the cur­rent cri­sis, the Syr­i­an defense min­is­ter pub­licly announced the exten­sion of exist­ing agree­ments allow­ing the pas­sage of trucks ship­ping Iran­ian weapons into Lebanon.

But to destroy them, Israel need­ed to map the loca­tion of each mis­sile.

“We need a lot of patience,” said Haneg­bi. “The (Israeli Defense Forces) action at the moment is inca­pable of find­ing the very last Katyusha, or the last rock­et launch­er primed for use hid­den inside a house in some vil­lage.”

Moshe Marzuk, a for­mer head of the Lebanon desk for Israeli Mil­i­tary Intel­li­gence who now is a researcher at the Insti­tute for Counter-Ter­ror­ism in Her­zliya, said Israel had learned from past con­flicts in Lebanon, the West Bank and Gaza — as well as the recent U.S. expe­ri­ences in Afghanistan and Iraq — that a tra­di­tion­al mil­i­tary cam­paign would be counter-effec­tive.

“A big inva­sion is not suit­able here,” said Marzuk. “We are not fight­ing an army, but guer­ril­las. It would be a mis­take to enter and expose our­selves to fight­ers who will hide, fire off a mis­sile and run away. If we are to be on the ground at all, we need to use com­man­dos and spe­cial forces.“
Since fight­ing start­ed

– Israeli air strikes on Lebanon have hit more than 1,255 tar­gets, includ­ing 200 rock­et-launch­ing sites.

– H
ezbol­lah launched more than 900 rock­ets and mis­siles into north­ern Israel.

– At least 330 Lebanese have been killed, includ­ing 20 sol­diers and three Hezbol­lah guer­ril­las. Lebanese Prime Min­is­ter Fuad San­io­ra says 1,100 have been wound­ed; the police put the num­ber at 657.

– 32 Israelis have been killed, among them 17 sol­diers, accord­ing to Israeli author­i­ties. At least 12 sol­diers and 344 civil­ians have been wound­ed.

– For­eign deaths include eight Cana­di­ans, two Kuwaiti nation­als, one Iraqi, one Sri Lankan and one Jor­dan­ian.


No comments for “Israel set war plan more than a year ago”

Post a comment