July 31, 2006

Israel-Hizballah: What's Next?

August 1, 2006

The self-declared 48-hour Israeli hiatus on airstrikes is half over. After a relatively quiet day in northern Israel, Hizballah resumed its rocket attacks on Metulla and Qiryat Shemona. Israeli ground forces are engaged in Taybah and Kafr Kila, west of those two Israeli towns.

These ground operations are being supported by limited Israeli airpower, but the strategic air campaign against Hizballah targets remains on hold. The only exceptions were strikes on supply routes from Syria and an attack on a suspected Hizballah leader traveling on the road near Tyre. Syrian resupply efforts have continued throughout the conflict, despite Israeli efforts to shut down the airports, seaports, bridges and roads connecting Lebanon to the outside world.

According to senior Israeli officials speaking privately, Israel believes they have dealt Hizballah a severe blow during the past three weeks. The official, who is in a position to know, claimed that Israeli air and artillery had destroyed 70 percent of Hizballah's launchers for the long-range (120-mile range ) Zelzal rockets, 70-80 percent of the launchers for the medium range (25-45 miles) Fajr 3, Fajr 5 and 302mm Syrian rockets, virtually all of the launchers for the Syrian 220 ball-bearing filled rockets (25-35 mile range) that were responsible for most of the casualties, particularly in Haifa, but only a small number of the ubiquitous 122mm short range (12-15 miles) Katyushas that continue to strike northern Israel. The official noted that they were willing to absorb the smaller rockets in order to concentrate on the launchers for the longer range rockets.

The ground incursions, primarily the effort in Marun Al-Ra's and Bint Jubayl were costly, but succeeded in destroying all Hizballah facilities in the towns. He further said that Israeli air strikes had hit every known Hizballah facility in Lebanon, destroying command and control centers in Beirut (the Muraba Al-Amn, "Security Square") and the Biqa' Valley, two of the six sectors along the border with Israel, estimating that in all 1000 buildings were destroyed.

Currently, the Israelis are clearing a zone about one mile inside the Lebanese border, destroying all Hizballah observation posts and fortifications, using three brigades and 70 bulldozers. Three divisions have been mobilized and are preparing to move into southern Lebanon and move as far north as the Litani River (approximately 20 miles).

Early on August 1, in a late evening session, the Israeli security cabinet voted to expand the ground war. It appears that the three divisions will be committed to the battle, even as early as when the hiatus on air operation expires late tonight.