After Losing Bint Jubeil, Hizballah Avoids Frontal Encounters, Switches to Guerrilla Tactics
After overwhelming the Hizballah stronghold of Bin Jubeil in southern Lebanon Tuesday July 25, Israeli armed ground forces and tanks are preparing to sweep forward to sanitize the town’s satellites.
Israel lost two tank personnel: 1st Lieutenant Lotan Slavin, 21 from Moshav Hatzeva, and 1st Sgt Kobi Smileg, 20, from Rehovot.
Hizballah is reported by IDF sources to have lost 100-120 Hizballah fighters.
Israel’s immediate military mission now is to capture or subdue Bin Jubeil’s five satellite villages, where 300 Hizballah fighters are sheltering: Ain Ebel, Hannine, Deble, Yaroun and Rmaich, the latter two very close to the Lebanese-Israeli border.
These fighters know they are trapped in a tight noose; they cannot escape or hope for help, whether in the form of reinforcements or weapons. Monday night, Israeli forces dropped leaflets over these villages offering them the option of laying down their arms and saving their lives. The language was deliberately vague. It was not clear whether the men who surrendered would be allowed to go back to their families or, more likely, taken prisoner to be held against the release of Israel’s kidnapped soldiers. The Olmert government would thus hold a card for overruling the Hizballah condition for jailed terrorists to be freed as the price for the Israeli hostages, which with Israeli prime minister has rejected, and offer instead an exchange of war prisoners.
The Bint Jubeil operation taught Israeli war planners three lessons:
1. It did not help reduce the rocket fire against Israel. The number of launchers and rockets found in the small town was minimal. Any missile crewmen who may have been deployed there had moved to other locations ahead of the Israeli assault.
2. Bin Jubeil and its satellite villages are only one small center at the southern end of the central sector of the south. There are dozens such clusters across the region. they will have to be flushed out one by one, entailing prolonged military action and exposing the troops to more casualties.
3. The IDF found that certain local elements, which once cooperated with Israel forces during their 24-year occupation of South Lebanon until the May 2000 withdrawal, were still willing to be helpful. Their assistance shortened the Bint Jubeil operation and made its completion possible barring scattered gunfire early Tuesday, July 25.
Hizballah too had some lessons to draw:
While inflicting losses on Israel forces in the battles for towns and villages, Hizballah’s losses are many times greater. They cannot stand up to the superior firepower leveled against them by a combination of tanks, special operations units and air force. Therefore fighters in the south have been instructed to discontinue face-to-face combat with Israeli troops. Instead, they were told to withdraw from the bult-up areas and wage guerrilla warfare from woods, forests, dry river beds, and fruit orchards. Israeli forces are therefore braced for stealthy Hizballah strikes from ambush against tanks, infantry and command posts.
Once they have cleansed the five villages around Bin Jubeil, Israeli war commanders face a choice of one out of three options, given the limitation of the small number of troops on the ground:
First: The Western Sector running from the orchards and banana groves south of Tyre which includes the Palestinian Rashidiya refugee camp up to Mansoura, where Hizballah has concentrated a large force, and including Burj a-Shamali and Zabqine, southeast of Tyre. This large enclave of southwestern Lebanon is saturated with Hizballah rockets launchers of different types and fighting strength.
Second: The Central Sector, which would entail the Israeli Bin Jubeil force heading north to take over Tebnine and deepening its thrust into South Lebanon up to 20 km from the Israeli border.
Third: The Eastern Sector, where Israeli forces would home in on Khiam on the road between the Israeli border town of Metula to the Lebanese village of Marjayoun which commands the Hatzbani River. From there, they way would be open to the Nabatiya plain and Hizballah’s main South Lebanon command center near the village of Taibe. Monday, morning, Israeli warplanes struck Nabatiya. Lebanese sources report seven people were killed.
debkafile‘s military sources describe the Hizballah command center as housed in a fort called Beck House which belongs to the As’ad clan, for many years the feudal lords of all southern Lebanon.
Whichever direction Israel’s high command chooses for the next stage of the war will necessitate proceeding at a slow pace, whether because of an insufficiency of men on the ground, the risks of troop and civilian casualties or the complexity of their missions. The snail’s pace of the IDF’s advance means that Hizballah’s rocket offensive against northern Israel cannot be completely disabled in the near term, and that Hassan Nasrallah and his overlords in Tehran and Syria have enough time to come up with fresh initiatives while topping up Hizballah’s resources as they are depleted.