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ANALYSIS: Israel-Hezbollah fighting yet to reach its zenith

Haaretz | July 17, 2006
By Ze'ev Schiff

The fighting between Israel and the Hezbollah, which is backed by Syria and Iran, has still not reached its zenith. The Israel Defense Forces' operational plans against the Shi'ite organizations have not yet been carried out. The next two days are the most critical and a lot depends on whether Tehran decides to take a chance and authorize Hezbollah to launch long-range missiles with more powerful warheads. This is a capability Hezbollah still retains, despite the heavy blows it has suffered in the IDF air strikes.

On Sunday, Israel bore witness to the use of more powerful rockets against Haifa, which killed eight people and injured dozens more. The Syrian-made 220 mm rocket has a warhead weighing more than 50 kilograms. Hezbollah was supplied with these rockets as the Syrian armed forces were receiving them off the production lines. The decision to give Hezbollah the rockets was made when it was concluded that the group would be considered part of the Syrian army's overall emergency preparedness.

The risk to Iran is not military, but rather that Hezbollah would suffer such damage that it would no longer be counted as the sole external element of Iran's Islamic Revolution. It is difficult to assess what the Iranian leadership will decide. If it does opt for aggravating the situation, it will certainly encourage the Syrians to become involved in the confrontation, but all indications suggest that Damascus is not eager to get dragged into war.

Israel is also not interested in a third front, so long as Syria does not intervene in the fighting on the side of Hezbollah.

Another option is that Iran will decide that it is not advantageous for Hezbollah to launch "one too many" rockets at Israel's civilians. In the past 24 hours, there has been a slowing in the air strikes against Lebanese national infrastructure. Now attention is focused on Hezbollah infrastructure, including rockets, positions and bunkers, in southern Lebanon, the Beka'a and Beirut.

From a military standpoint, the mobile Fajr rockets pose a special problem because they are more difficult to locate and destroy. On Sunday, the air force concentrated on attacks against regular Katyusha rockets whose range is shorter and many of which have already been launched against towns in the Galilee. But the presence of some 600 Hezbollah storage bunkers, a third of which were prepared for the longer range rockets, makes the task difficult.

Israel will also try to target the 12 most senior members of Hezbollah, who are hiding in bunkers deep in the Dahiya quarter in southern Beirut. These men are strategic targets and they include Secretary General Hassan Nasrallah, Ibrahim Akil, Imad Mughniye and others. These senior figures constitute the group's equivalent of a General Staff and its political-diplomatic cabinet.

One of the reasons for the repeated attacks against Dahiya is that the Hezbollah's top headquarters are situated there. The area is described by IDF as a "terrorist center" and although the aim is not to harm civilians, the IDF hopes that the permanent residents will leave their homes so that they will not be hurt. A total of 40 targets have been marked in Dahiya, some linked by underground tunnels; one of them is a subterranean factory for special types of ammunition.


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