Robert Fisk: Hizbollah's response reveals months of planning
If Lebanese dislike Hizbollah, they hate Israelis
By Robert Fisk
07/16/06 "The Independent" -- -It will be called the massacre of Marwaheen. All the civilians killed by the Israelis had been ordered
to abandon their homes in the border village by the Israelis
themselves a few hours earlier. Leave, they were told by
loudspeaker; and leave they did, 20 of them in a convoy of civilian
cars. That's when the Israeli jets arrived to bomb them, killing 20
Lebanese, at least nine of them children. The local fire brigade
could not put out the fires as they all burned alive in the inferno.
Another "terrorist" target had been eliminated.
Yesterday, the Israelis even produced more "terrorist" targets -
petrol stations in the Bekaa Valley all the way up to the frontier
city of Hermel in northern Lebanon and another series of bridges on
one of the few escape routes to Damascus, this time between Chtaura
and the border village of Masnaa. Lebanon, as usual, was paying the
price for the Hizbollah-Israeli conflict - as Hizbollah no doubt
calculated they would when they crossed the Israeli frontier on
Wednesday and captured two Israeli soldiers close to Marwaheen.
But who is really winning the war? Not Lebanon, you may say, with
its more than 90 civilian dead and its infrastructure steadily
destroyed in hundreds of Israeli air raids. But is Israel winning?
Friday night's missile attack on an Israeli warship off the coast of
Lebanon suggests otherwise. Four Israeli sailors were killed, two of
them hurled into the sea when a tele-guided Iranian-made missile
smashed into their Hetz-class gunboat just off Beirut at dusk. Those
Lebanese who had endured the fire of Israeli gunboats on the coastal
highway over many years were elated. They may not have liked
Hizbollah - but they hated the Israelis.
Only now, however, is a truer picture emerging of the battle for
southern Lebanon and it is a fascinating, frightening tale. The
original border crossing, the capture of the two soldiers and the
killing of three others was planned, according to Hassan Nasrallah,
the Hizbollah leader who escaped assassination by the Israelis on
Friday evening, more than five months ago. And Friday's missile
attack on the Israeli gunboat was not the last-minute inspiration of
a Hizbollah member who just happened to see the warship.
It now appears clear that the Hizbollah leadership - Nasrallah used
to be the organisation's military commander in southern Lebanon -
thought carefully through the effects of their border crossing,
relying on the cruelty of Israel's response to quell any criticism
of their action within Lebanon. They were right in their planning.
The Israeli retaliation was even crueller than some Hizbollah
leaders imagined, and the Lebanese quickly silenced all criticism of
the guerrilla movement.
Hizbollah had presumed the Israelis would cross into Lebanon after
the capture of the two soldiers and they blew up the first Israeli
Merkava tank when it was only 35 feet inside the country. All four
Israeli crewmen were killed and the Israeli army moved no further
forward. The long-range Iranian-made missiles which later exploded
on Haifa had been preceded only a few weeks ago by a pilotless
Hizbollah drone aircraft which surveyed northern Israel and then
returned to land in eastern Lebanon after taking photographs during
its flight. These pictures not only suggested a flight path for
Hizbollah's rockets to Haifa; they also identified Israel's
top-secret military air traffic control centre in Miron.
The next attack - concealed by Israel's censors - was directed at
this facility. Codenamed "Apollo", Israeli military scientists work
deep inside mountain caves and bunkers at Miron, guarded by
watchtowers, guard-dogs and barbed wire, watching all air traffic
moving in and out of Beirut, Damascus, Amman and other Arab cities.
The mountain is surmounted by clusters of antennae which Hizbollah
quickly identified as a military tracking centre. Before they fired
rockets at Haifa, they therefore sent a cluster of missiles towards
Miron. The caves are untouchable but the targeting of such a secret
location by Hizbollah deeply shocked Israel's military planners. The
"centre of world terror" - or whatever they imagine Lebanon to be -
could not only breach their frontier and capture their soldiers but
attack the nerve-centre of the Israeli northern military command.
Then came the Haifa missiles and the attack on the gunboat. It is
now clear that this successful military operation - so contemptuous
of their enemy were the Israelis that although their warship was
equipped with cannon and a Vulcan machine gun, they didn't even
provide the vessel with an anti-missile capability - was also
planned months ago. Once the Hetz-class boats appeared, Hizbollah
positioned a missile crew on the coast of west Beirut not far from
Jnah, a crew trained over many weeks for just such an attack. It
took less than 30 seconds for the Iranian-made missile to leave
Beirut and hit the vessel square amidships, setting it on fire and
killing the sailors.
Ironically, the Israelis themselves had invited journalists on an
"embedded" trip with their navy only hours earlier - they were
allowed to film the ships' guns firing on Lebanon - and the moment
Hizbollah hit the warship on Friday, Hizbollah's television station,
Al-Manar, began showing the "embedded" film. It was a slick piece of
The Israelis were yesterday trumpeting the fact that the missile was
made in Iran as proof of Iran's involvement in the Lebanon war. This
was odd reasoning. Since almost all the missiles used to kill the
civilians of Lebanon over the past four days were made in Seattle,
Duluth and Miami in the United States, their use already suggests to
millions of Lebanese that America is behind the bombardment of their
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