From a DEBKAfile Exclusive Military Report, July 26, 2006, 4:42 PM (GMT+02:00) ...
The Israeli military campaign against Hizballah, launched July 12 when two soldiers were kidnapped, started out in the Central Sector of South Lebanon with the conquest of Maroun er Ras, and moved on to Bin Jubeil and its five satellite villages. Wednesday, July 25, the IDF suffered a major reverse at Bin Jubeil where Hizballlah fighters regrouped and counter-attacked, inflicting heavy casualties on the Israel mopping-up force.
But other IDF contingents had meanwhile embarked on the next stage of the campaign in the Eastern Sector of South Lebanon. This came to light when a series of Israeli air strikes against Hizballah positions and installations around Khiam hit a Unifil post and killed four observers Tuesday night, July 25
Israel deeply regretted the deaths and promised a full investigation, after UN Secretary Kofi Annan accused Israel of apparently targeting the observer post. However, DEBKAfile’s Middle East sources add: The holier-than-thou tone of outrage taken by Annan is surprising when it generally known that many UN missions are exploited as the cover for foreign agents, often hostile, to carry out spying operations in war zones. The inadvertent Israeli air strike revealed the fact that the UN force in Lebanon includes Chinese observers. One was killed along with an Austrian, a Canadian and a Finn. The presence of Chinese observers keeping an eye on the combat in South Lebanon has never before been reported. Our intelligence experts compare the incident to the inadvertent US bombardment which destroyed the Chinese embassy in Belgrade in 1998, killing a number of Chinese “diplomats.” It was discovered that from that building the Chinese had operated sophisticated surveillance to track the performance of American warplanes, missiles and smart bombs.
On the night of July 26, Day 15 of the Lebanon War, an Israeli force pushed towards Khiam on its way to the approaches of the large Druze village of Hatzbaya. This route has taken Israeli troops north and east for the objective of controlling a stretch of south Lebanon known as Fatahland (before the 1982 war cleansed it of Yasser Arafat’s terrorists.) This would bring them close up to Syrian positions on Mt. Hermon and for the first time in 35 years afford the Israeli outposts at the disputed Shebaa Farms strategic depth.
Monday, July 24, Damascus warned that Israeli artillery coming within range of Damascus would not be tolerated. The statement was issued with a view to deterring Israel from entering the Eastern Sector. So far the Syrians have made no response to Israel’s advance.
Perhaps the most important gain from the crisis is Israel’s recovery of control over its main sources of water, the Wazani springs in the divided Ghajar village. This was achieved in the early hours of the IDF push in the east. Israel will not cede this asset in a hurry. Worth citing in this regard is defense minister Amir Peretz’s statement Tuesday, 25, after US secretary of state Condoleezza Rice left the Middle East, that Israel would retain control of a security belt in southern Lebanon until a multinational force takes over.
The main battle in this sector is now centering on the Majidya base in Khiam, source of Hizballah rocket attacks on Kiryat Shemona and the Galilee panhandle communities Majidya was once a Lebanese army training facility for new recruits under Israeli military instructors. It was demolished when Israel pulled out of south Lebanon in May 2000. Aside from the Hizballah concentration in Majidya, its men are fairly thin on the ground in the Eastern Sector.
The mixed village population on the Israeli units path of advance, Druzes, Shiites, Sunnis and Christians, provides a useful shield for Hizballah fighters. They take full advantage of the directives to Israeli ground forces not to touch Druze and Christian villages. By long Lebanese tradition, the Druzes shut their village doors to Shiites, while the Christians accommodate them because they don’t know how long Israeli forces will be around to protect them against the Hizballah.
As the Israelis advance through the region, they are discovering the depth and breadth of Hizballah’s war preparations. South Lebanon was divided into 176 combat squares controlled from 40 scattered command bunkers. Their latest directive orders them to fight Israeli troops from the shelter of wooded areas and bunkers using guerrilla tactics of surprise and ambush instead of hand-to-hand combat in built-up areas in which they have taken heavy casualties.
DEBKAfile’s military sources: The huge explosions that struck South Beirut Tuesday evening were caused by 20 Israeli airborne missiles dropping on large, newly-discovered Hizballah subterranean arms caches, part of this tunnel network. The force of the secondary blasts attested to their contents and the accuracy of the Israeli intelligence pinpointing of previously unknown weapons bunkers in S. Beirut.
Buried alongside the command bunkers are vast arsenals of Katyusha rockets and launchers, and food and water for a long stay. Hizballah was itself caught napping by the extent and fierceness of Israel’s riposte to their July 12 cross-border attack. Therefore, not all the bunker posts were completely built. The night before the Israeli advance into the Eastern Sector, Hizballah personnel were seen putting finishing touches on the fortifications of the command bunkers and sowing the routes with anti-tank mines and roadside bombs. Israel guns shelled the Hizballah teams to disrupt their work on the bunkers and the roads.