Months Of Planning
By Robert Fisk
16 July, 2006
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
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 propaganda.
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 country.
© 2006 Independent News
and Media Limited