DEBKAfile Exclusive Report August 10, 2006
Hassan Nasrallah's recorded statement over Hizballah's Al Manar television Wednesday night, August 9, at 20:15 local time, had a nail-biting audience: US secretary of state Condoleezza Rice in Washington, French president Jacques Chirac at the Elysee in Paris, prime minister Ehud Olmert in Jerusalem and his Lebanese counterpart Fouad Siniora in Beirut.
debkafile's military sources note that Nasrallah in throwing down the gauntlet is undertaking the biggest gamble of his life. A defeat at Israeli hands would finish him and his militia off for the foreseeable future. At the same time, he does not have to beat Israel to claim victory; it is enough for him to hold on for another month and keep up his rocket offensive against northern Israel to come out on top.
Nasrallah is not the only side throwing all his chips on the table; so too is Ehud Olmert. The Israeli army has had a bad month, culminating Wednesday in the highest death toll on the battlefield in 30 days - 15 dead and 34 injured - 7 seriously. Nine belonged to special operations units.
Olmert will be gambling on the IDF's ability to wrench the wheel round and start winning.
But if Hizballah forces in the south are not subdued and the rocket blitz continues, the war will intensify and Israeli forces will be in trouble. So too will Olmert.
DEBKAfile Exclusive Report August 8, 2006
Tuesday night, Aug. 8, the UN Security Council was to begin discussing a resolution drafted by the US and France calling for a full cessation of hostilities based on the immediate halt of all Hizballah's attacks and immediate end of all Israeli offensive military operations.
An Arab League delegation arrived at the UN in time to overshadow the deliberations with a strong representation of the Lebanese position, which insists on an Israel's withdrawal after a ceasefire starts.
France pushed for two changes in the original text to address the Arab-Lebanese demands: one, calling for the Israeli pullout before an international force is in place, the other, the handover of the tiny disputed Shebaa Farms enclave to UN. And France, as the Bush administration's conduit to Hizballah and Tehran, may be heeded.
Of course, Israel is still free to accept or reject these terms.
Until it is decided which way diplomacy is going, both Hizballah and Israel will intensify their effort to gain the upper hand on the battlefield.
DEBKAfile Exclusive Report August 5, 2006
In the middle of the fourth week of the Lebanon War, the tide began to turn in Israel's favor. debkafile's military sources report the battlefield finally responded to the effect of Israel's air might, its tank columns, the pounding by mobile artillery and naval craft and its repeated armored infantry assaults.
But as soon as Israeli ground forces shifted to the massive, long-distance firing mode which they knows best, the impact on the warfront was immediate. The battle went their way with a minimum of casualties. In places where Israeli troops adhered to the close combat tactics practiced in the first three weeks, they continued to suffer high casualties.
Hizballah soon showed signs of distress. Lacking the weapons and resources to stand up to IDF's precise-shooting juggernaut, their commanders quickly pulled their men out most combat sectors of South Lebanon and ordered them to regroup in five places.
Hizballah's shadowy leader, the long-wanted Imad Mughniyeh, was hurriedly appointed commander of the southern front as a last resort to save South Lebanon from falling to Israel.
As to the rocket barrage, as long as Iran`s airlift is not severed by bombing the Syrian stopover air facilities, Iran will continue to top up Hizballah's stockpile.
DEBKAfile Exclusive Report August 2, 2006
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Israel's audacious commando raid of a Hizballah stronghold near Baalbek more than 100 km north of the border recalled the old panache associated with Israeli military feats in the past. However the 22 days of the Lebanon war have shown an army hampered and slowed down by tactical and intelligence deficiencies which showed up in the costly Maroun er-Ras and Bin Jubeil operations in South Lebanon - and again this week in the Ayta a-Chaab battle.
The officers direct most of their criticism at the Northern Command's handling of the war, arguing that the IDF should have kicked off the entire campaign with a series of audacious assaults like Tuesday's Baalbek operation so as to catch Hizballah off-balance.
On July 28, DEBKA-Net-Weekly 263 cited its military analysts on the IDF's six principal failings in the Lebanon war.
DEBKAfile Exclusive Report August 1, 2006
When on Monday, July 31, Israeli PM Ehud Olmert told the city leaders of the rocket-blitzed north: "The war goes on. There will be no ceasefire in the coming days!" the script was ready for the next stage of the Israeli offensive to its push Hizballah back behind the Litani River. It was approved by the inner cabinet unopposed that night with no time scale.
debkafile's military analysts say it would be wrong to assume that that the Israeli advance to the Litani comes in the form of troops fanned out the full width of the southern Lebanese front. This is not so. The ground forces are in fact quite far from the river. They are driving forward in three spearheads in the western, central and eastern sectors, battling heavy Hizballah resistance in their path.
The IDF aim to carve out and control three enclaves along the Lebanese-Israel border in an area not yet cleansed of Hizballah fighters in nearly three weeks of combat. The operation to push Hizballah out of the south past the Litani River is proceeding very slowly and is still in its early stages.
are still very much up in the air. Until then, even after Israeli forces reach the Litani, they face more combat to defend the pockets they have occupied.
DEBKAfile Exclusive Report July 30, 2006
The unfortunate South Lebanese village of Qana has been rigged time and again as a trap to snatch Israel and its international reputation in its jaws. In 1996, a stray Israel shell aimed at Hizballah inadvertently killed 100 civilians, bringing a former Israeli counter-terror operation "The Grapes of Wrath" to a dismal, foreshortened end.
When, Sunday morning, July 30, Olmert told the cabinet: "We are not in a hurry to reach a ceasefire before our goals are achieved," he did not know about the Israeli chopper which two hours earlier had sent ordnance flying over a three-story building in Qana village, which housed civilians as well as a Hizballah site for shooting rockets against the Israeli towns of Haifa and Nahariya. The death toll was appalling - 51 civilians including more than 20 children, some of them disabled.
By failing to understand the tempo of war, he was overtaken by the Qana disaster.
DEBKAfile Exclusive Report July 26, 2006
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.
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.
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.
DEBKAfile Exclusive Report July 24, 2006
Israeli forces have pushed forward from the mountaintop village of Maroun er Ras captured Sunday to the fringes of Bint Jubeil, Hizballah's south Lebanese capital. Monday they suffered nine wounded in face to face combat. Whereas TV cameras showed much footage of the Maroun er Ras engagement, the IDF's other battle pockets are kept under wraps.
Hizballah chief Hassan Nasrallah, who has an overall view, warned Israel in an interview to the Lebanese A Safir Monday, July 24, that its ground incursions in Lebanon would not stop Hizballah rocket fire against its cities.
Notwithstanding the IDF's important battle gains at a number of focal South Lebanese points in the last 24 hours - including the latest raids on the outskirts of Bint Jubeil on the heels of the capture of Maroun er Ras - only one multiple firing rocket launcher (picture) and 6 single-barrel launchers have been destroyed.
Last week, Israel's army chiefs believed they had encountered Hizballah's primary war tactic - Viet Cong-style guerrilla warfare out of hundreds of small bunkers scattered across the country. This week had scarcely begun when a still more formidable impediment was discovered: Hizballah camouflage techniques borrowed from the Japanese in the 1945 Iwo Jima battle.
DEBKAfile Exclusive Report July 11, 2006
Maj.-Gen (Ret) Giora Eiland traced the breakdown which allowed a Hamas-led squad overrun an Israeli army post on the Israeli side of the southern Gaza border, kill two soldiers and snatch Corporal Gideon Shalit on June 25, to an "operational" breakdown. Most damningly, Eilat affirmed that the corporal's abduction could have been aborted.
At the same time, General Eiland omitted to asked the three searching questions that might have laid bare the root-causes of the fiasco at Kerem Shalom:
1. Was this a one-time slip-up or a part of a long-running string of lapses?
2. Was it the natural, preordained consequence of the operational directives coming down from the prime minister, the defense minister via IDF chiefs?
3. The Eiland probe should have examined the strategic concepts guiding Israel's top commanders before and after the fall of the Kerem Shalom post.
The scales have fallen from many Israeli eyes in the wake of the Gilead Shalit disaster. People have begun asking hard questions, such as how did Hamas come to take over Palestinian government in the first place. And why is Hamas being permitted to terrorize southern Israeli with Qassam missiles after the Gaza Strip was handed over lock, stock and barrel to full Palestinian control.
DEBKAfile Exclusive Report July 8, 2006
Operation Oaks of Bashan has done nothing to help bring Corporal Gilead Shalit home, 12 days after a Hamas-led assault team attacked an Israeli army post, killed two of his comrades and kidnapped him. The Israeli incursion has also not made enough headway in purging Palestinian gunmen or locating the tunnels favored by Palestinian terrorists for surprise attacks and smuggling.
However, Israeli forces have not limited their offensive to incursions above ground. Special forces are operating deep behind enemy lines.Tuesday, July 4, for instance, an Israeli ambush south of Gaza City targeted and killed Thayasar Roei, liaison officer between Palestinian national security forces and Hamas.
Thursday and Friday, several second-level Hamas operatives were taken from their homes. Hamas may not take its punishment without striking back, possibly by mounting more surprise attacks like the one that captured Gilead Shalit and took Israel unawares on June 25. Israel may also have surprises up its sleeve.
DEBKAfile Exclusive Report July 4, 2006
Israeli and Hamas leaders have been hurling shrill threats right and left since three Palestinian terrorist groups slapped down a deadline to meet their demands over the Israeli hostage, Corp. Gilead Shalit. But the loudest effect is generated by the Bush administration's silence.
In Moscow, Israeli foreign minister Tzipi Livni talked to Russian president Vladimir Putin, then warned that the Gilead Shalit hostage affair could lead to a regional war escalation. Egyptian president Hosni Mubarak, after his mediation bid collapsed, hurried over to Saudi Arabia for an appeal to King Abdullah to use his influence with Assad - not Hamas - to defuse the situation before it hurtles out of control.
But debkafile's Middle East and military sources calculate that none of the recipients of these appeals is much scared about the prospect of a general Middle East flare-up.
DEBKAfile Exclusive Report July 2, 2006
The ball landed squarely in the Israeli court Saturday night, July 1, after Cairo admitted its bid to negotiate an end to the Gideon Shalit hostage crisis had ended in fiasco six days after his capture. The IDF, whose armored forces are standing 3 km inside the southern Gaza Strip since Wednesday, June 28, and camped on the fringes of its northern sector, are awaiting their next orders. It is up to prime minister Ehud Olmert to tell the troops how to complete their incursion of the territory and approach their confrontation with Hamas.
He is holding emergency conferences with security and military chiefs Saturday night on whether to approach the inevitable clash at once, or in stages; incrementally, or by a blitz operation entailing the reoccupation of all or most of the Gaza Strip.
Casualties on both sides are unavoidable.
debkafile's sources disclose that Egyptian president Hosni Mubarak and his aides derailed their own mediation effort out of hubris, while Mahmoud Abbas is picking up the pieces in the hope of maneuvering Israel into doing his dirty work and toppling the Hamas regime.
DEBKAfile Exclusive Report June 27, 2006
Steely lines of hundreds of tanks, thousands of armored infantry and commandos menaced the Gaza Strip as of Monday night, June 26, from three jumping-off points: the Nahal Oz base opposite Gaza City, Kissufim opposite Deir al Balah and Khan Younes in the south and Sufa opposite Rafah. Made up of the Golani and Givaty armored brigades and special operations units including the elite Sayeret Matkal, they presented a picture of armored might not seen for many years on the world's television screens.
debkafile's military sources predict that an extensive military operation may be hours off rather than days. With every hour that goes by without the Israeli soldier's recovery, the heat mounts for military action. In the 48 hours since he was kidnapped, it looks increasingly as though his Palestinian captors do not intend letting him go in a hurry and are digging in to extort as much military, diplomatic and propaganda capital from the abduction as they can get.
DEBKAfile Exclusive Report June 23, 2006
Israeli Maj.-Gen (Res.) Yitzhak Ben-Israel, a member of the prime minister's Kadima party, said in a state radio interview on June 22: "This is not the finest hour of Israel's national security leadership." Pressed to elaborate on who in particular he meant, the general mentioned prime minister Ehud Olmert and defense minister Amir Peretz.
debkafile's military sources reveal here the five different constraints they have clamped down on counter-terror operations.
This ban appears to be as counter-productive as the others. Air force warplanes are not allowed to carry out raids over the Gaza Strip, only drones and helicopters. Every attempt was made to explain that high-altitude warplanes are armed with advanced electronic instruments and radar, which are tailored for high-precision bombardments - unlike the low-flying hit-or-miss drones and helicopters, which are far more prone to strike civilians by mistake.
DEBKAfile Exclusive Report June 21, 2006
After a week's silence, Israeli prime minister Ehud Olmert had only this to say Tuesday night, June 20, about the plunging security crisis provoked by the unending Palestinian missile offensive against Israeli civilians: "There is no way in the near future of solving the missile problem," he said, "And we (Israel) will reach all those committing terrorism against us."
After two weeks of relentless Palestinian missile and gunfire and attempts to kidnap Israelis, and Israeli targeted attacks on terrorist operatives, the Olmert government has no clue how to handle the crisis. Still worse, the IDF high command seems to be losing its grip on events.
Israeli's security crisis under an inexperienced government is compounded by the breakdown of the chief of staff, Lt-Gen. Dan Halutz's strategic doctrine for fighting terror. In some respects, this failure may be likened to the collapse of Israel's Bar-Lev line of Suez fortifications in the face of Egypt's shock offensive in the 1973 Yom Kippur War.
DEBKAfile Exclusive Report June 12, 2006
As it turned out, the first leg of the Israeli prime minister's tour was mostly a waste of time; British prime minister Tony Blair declined to hear of his realignment plan for the West Bank, even though Olmert pledged 90% of the West Bank for a Palestinian state and a major effort to achieve a negotiated agreement with the Palestinians. He also omitted to endorse Olmert's ringing declaration that Israel will not tolerate a nuclear-armed Iran.
After he returns home, Ehud Olmert will no longer be able to escape a decision to cut the Gordian knot and choose, after more than five years of neglect by one government after another, between saving Sderot by adopting the army's recommendations - at the risk of casualties on both sides - or losing Sderot to a triumphant Hamas. The latter decision would bring about the most significant Israeli withdrawal from sovereign territory since 1948 and give the terrorists who rule the Palestinians a free bite of the Israeli Negev.
DEBKAfile Exclusive Report May 19, 2006
The Israeli prime minister Ehud Olmert will be meeting defense minister Amir Peretz to attempt a meeting of minds before he is due in Washington for his first White House talks on May 23. He can't afford to throw his weight about too much, because it is in Peretz's power to bring the government down by walking out with his Labor party. The prime minister cannot blind himself to the dissonances in the Labor leader first essay in government as head of the national defense establishment. Too many complaints are coming in. And a war on terror is in progress, after all
DEBKAfile Exclusive Report May 17, 2006
The Israeli prime minister Ehud Olmert himself laid the ground for his talks with American leaders through a group of friends, mainly from Texas. That group, our sources learn, was asked to pass on to White House officials what the prime minister expects to gain from his first meeting with President Bush. These expectations fall into three main categories:
1. Public presidential acknowledgement of his status as heir to the Ariel Sharon legacy as the administration's trusted ally in Jerusalem.
2. Endorsement for his policy to shun Mahmoud Abbas as negotiating partner as long as he heads the Hamas-led Palestinian Authority.
This will be complicated by President Bush's insistence on his statement after the meeting stressing the need for preliminary dialogue with the Palestinians to precede every Israeli step - whenever this is possible.
3. The American leader also intends inserting a sentence warning Israel against unilaterally establishing facts with regard to permanent frontiers, except in negotiation with the Palestinians.
At the Black Sea resort of Sochi, Russian President Vladimir Putin and his visitor Mahmoud Abbas put their heads together on a joint Russian-Palestinian diplomatic-economic-military initiative.
DEBKAfile Exclusive Report May 6, 2006
Two days before chairing his first cabinet meeting Sunday, May 7 in Jerusalem, the incoming prime minister put up the price of bread by seven percent. This was a slap in the face for his three new coalition partners and, in particular, the new industry, trade and labor minister, Eli Yishai, head of the ultra-religious Shas.
The Sharon government's most notable action was the controversial evacuation of the Gaza Strip in 2005. Ehud Olmert proposes a follow-up on the West Bank to "set Israel's final borders" on the East.
His detractors remark that the removal 8,500 Israelis from the Gaza Strip was a wrenching, near-impossible feat and a daunting test of national leadership. They question whether the new prime minister is up to this test which, according to the concept he has outlined, potentially involves removing ten times that number from their West Bank homes and expanding the large settlement blocs. Few credit him with the clout to force his will on a reluctant Knesset (in which his coalition commands 66 out of 120 seats, barring further expansions) - as did Sharon.
DEBKAfile Exclusive Report April 18, 2006
For Israelis, Tuesday, the eve of the last day of Passover, was a day of funerals, mourning for 9 Israelis, foreign workers and tourists who lost their lives when a Palestinian suicide bomber blew up a busy shopping corner in Tel Aviv on Monday, April 17.
It was the most murderous outrage committed by Palestinian terrorists in 20 months, the first since the Hamas terrorist group took office and a test of the mettle of the incoming prime minister Ehud Olmert.
However, Olmert, foreign minister Tzipi Livni and defense minister Shaul Mofaz decided to abstain from military action, rejecting the advice of military leaders to declare the Hamas government an enemy authority. The generals and security chiefs explained that without this declaration, their hands were tied in fighting off terror, because of the developing situation whereby the terrorist entity ruling the Palestinian Authority was in the process of taking over its official security organs.