The Lowdown on Hezbollah’s Ambush in South Lebanon
By: Ibrahim al-Amin
Published Thursday, August 8, 2013
Near midnight on Tuesday, August 6, an Israeli commando unit began to move from the Palestinian side toward Lebanon’s northern frontier. The unit deployed to several points along the fence before starting to cross into Lebanon nearly 20 minutes later.
The unit followed a path that is in the line of sight of both Labbouna and Jall al-Alam, the two largest Israeli outposts in the western area near the southern Lebanese village of Alma al-Shaab. In the area, there is a narrow footpath that Israeli soldiers have been caught using before, carrying out activities of a security nature.
To cross further into Lebanese territory, the Israeli soldiers had almost no choice but to take a road that bypasses the UNIFIL outpost, while also allowing them to go undetected by the Lebanese army post nearby. This road is nearly 1 km. The soldiers took a few minutes to cross it, moving toward another area containing what resembles a ditch, which the soldiers crossed before arriving at slightly higher ground.
At 40 minutes past midnight, an explosive device containing four smaller devices filled with ball bearings exploded. Exactly 20 seconds later, a similar device was detonated. The two explosions had a blast radius of about 15 meters, enough to hit everything and everyone that moved within the blast zone.
The well-trained Israeli soldiers, as they appeared to be, had been deployed in formations that seemed to anticipate an ambush. They kept a certain distance from one another, while some took cover behind the hills of the same ditch mentioned earlier, and others moved to higher ground. Nevertheless, the intruding unit was dispersed in a matter of minutes.
A firefight ensued, but news of it was suppressed until yesterday evening. A rescue force intervened soon after, along with soldiers from the Labbouna and Jall al-Alam outposts, firing flares in the sky, while moving to evacuate the casualties.
Although the Israeli army needed quite some time to complete the evacuation, it is clear that the Israeli army was also keen to remove, as much as possible, all traces of events. However, the injuries of the soldiers and fear of new attacks, forced the Israelis to withdraw quickly, leaving traces of blood behind. After about four and a half hours, the site of the confrontation was completely deserted.
Meanwhile, and unsurprisingly, UNIFIL stood idly by, doing nothing to investigate the incident. According to a senior officer in the UN peacekeeping force, his soldiers made quick contacts with the Israeli side, which claimed that nothing significant had taken place, and that the two explosions were probably caused by fireworks.
When the Lebanese army detachment in the area received orders to go to the location of the incident, the UNIFIL soldiers tried to go with them. But the Lebanese army asked them to stand by, before asking them later to join the Lebanese soldiers at the site.
At any rate, no one was going to find anything there. Lebanese and international soldiers examined the scene of the confrontation, and all they saw were traces of ball bearings in the trees, and a blood trail marking the Israeli line of withdrawal. The distance by which the Israelis breached the border was determined by measuring the distance between the farthest blood spatter and the Blue Line, and was found to be around 400 meters into Lebanese territory.
It seems that the Israeli unit was tasked to carry out a military operation rather than reconnaissance and intelligence gathering. It is not yet known what exactly the soldiers intended to do during their incursion in one of the last nights of Ramadan, but informed observers believe it likely that the Israelis were preparing for some kind of a military-intelligence operation.
Details remain elusive, but it might be worthwhile to note that the incident took place around the same time as the last few days of the famous July war, when the Israeli army moved its armored divisions and infantry only to be dealt the harshest defeat in its history.
Israel announced that four of its soldiers were wounded in the incident, including three who suffered moderate wounds and a fourth who had minor injuries. Israeli military censors, however, prevented doctors, journalists, and mayors in the northern settlements from disclosing any further details.
Nevertheless, the statements made by Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Defense Minister Moshe Yaalon in the aftermath of the incident are sufficient to confirm that the Israeli army was about to carry out some kind of operation inside Lebanese territory. All hints made by the Israelis about “defending the border” practically mean that the Israeli side is admitting to committing the folly of violating the border with Lebanon, before encountering an ambush that only the Resistance could have set up, with explosive devices meant only for the Israelis.
The military analysis and the lessons of the 10-minute encounter have put the Israelis face to face with some embarrassing questions. These questions can also be addressed to those who continue to question the worth of the Resistance, its weapons, and its readiness.
First, after nearly 30 years of an open-ended confrontation between the Resistance and the enemy, the Israelis continue to encounter unpleasant surprises. Sixteen years after the famous ambush in Ansariyeh in September 1997 – when an elite Israeli unit was routed in a Hezbollah ambush – the Resistance can still demonstrate its ability to surprise the enemy. What will be told in detail later is that the Israeli force fell into an airtight ambush this time as well. Despite the many secrets that continue to engulf the incident near Alma al-Shaab, the Israelis face a difficult question: How did Hezbollah know they were coming?
For the enemy, the obvious conclusion will be that the Resistance remains ready and vigilant, fully prepared to face any Israeli incursion. This readiness means the Resistance still has the element of surprise.
Second, the ambush demonstrates a serious intelligence failure by the enemy. The ambush was planned in advance, which means that Hezbollah has an intelligence apparatus that allowed the party to learn the time of the Israeli patrol’s incursion, and to subsequently prepare an explosive trap within range from two of the largest Israeli border outposts.
As a result, Israel faces even more embarrassing questions: How did Hezbollah learn about the mission? How was it able – and how did it dare – to set up an ambush in this area without being noticed? How did the Resistance succeed in carrying out its operation and withdraw safely?
Third, Tuesday night’s incident has revealed not only the readiness of the Resistance along Lebanon’s southern border, but what could be more serious in the eyes of the enemy, namely, that Hezbollah has resolved to counter any Israeli incursion. In other words, Hezbollah has resolved not only to engage Israeli forces breaching the border, but is prepared for any confrontation, including a full-blown war.
Can Benny Gantz, the Israeli army chief of staff, invoke again today his theory of Nasrallah’s “cloak on fire,” which claims that Hezbollah has its hands tied because of its involvement in the Syrian conflict – where it is allegedly losing dozens of its elite fighters, and over which it is coming under immense pressure both at home and abroad?
Fourth, it appears that Israel has kept a tight lid on the details of the incident, gagging military officials, journalists, and medical staff, and allowing only political officials to speak about the explosion. This could only reflect Israel’s embarrassment and its attempt at damage control.
Indeed, Israel has shot itself in the foot with this incident. After expressing extreme joy for the European Union’s move to designate the Resistance – or what the European fools called the military wing of Hezbollah – as a terror group, what will Lieberman tell EU ambassadors? What will the Europeans themselves say about Israel’s violations? Or will they condemn the Resistance’s ambush because in their own classification Hezbollah is a terrorist organization?
March 14 and the People of South Lebanon
Naturally, none of March 14 leaders will condemn the Israeli violations. They will not go further than issuing meaningless statements that recycle their same old bromides. In fact, it is not far-fetched for those frenzied leaders to complain because entities in Lebanon had violated Resolution 1701, which prohibits the presence of weapons and fighters in UNIFIL’s area of operation.
Only people in the South, who climbed to the roofs of their homes that night to see what was happening, will, on the eve and morning of Eid al-Fitr, remember that while they were staying up after iftar, heroic men slipped silently from amongst them to ensure the integrity of their land and honor, and carry out their duties against an arrogant enemy that never learns from its mistakes. Those men did their job, and returned home before dawn to have the suhur meal with their families, and talk about the celebrations of victory.
Ibrahim al-Amin is editor-in-chief of Al-Akhbar.
This article is an edited translation from the Arabic Edition.