The Qana Trap
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.
Hizballah knows from long experience that maximizing Lebanese civilian casualties is the most effective way to disarm Israel and its military, using international opprobrium as its instrument. Embedding its combat operations among helpless civilians is an old and proven method.
The prime minister who first fell into that trap was Shimon Peres, deputy premier in the Olmert government in 1996. A world outcry forced him to bow to Hizballah’s terms for a ceasefire. The Shiite terrorists agreed to discontinue its attacks on Israeli civilians (which they never upheld), but assaults on Israeli soldiers were not deemed violations.
Ten years on, the Qana village tragedy confronts prime minister Ehud Olmert with the same kind of horrific weight to capitulate to an instant ceasefire, thereby granting Hassan Nasrallah and his rocket arsenal a free hand to continue to bludgeon two million Israeli civilians.
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 at first appalling – 57 civilians including 37 children, later Sunday the Red Cross reported the finding of 28 bodies.
The Qana disaster abruptly derailed the diplomatic initiatives to halt the hostilities put together in the last ten days through painstaking efforts in Washington, Paris, Jerusalem and Beirut, as well as the understandings the Israeli prime minister reached with US secretary of state Condoleezza Rice in their face to face conversation in Jerusalem the night before, Saturday, July 29. Olmert’s statement to the cabinet will go down as a misplaced, mistimed assertion by an inexperienced leader. By failing to understand the tempo of war, he was overtaken by the Qana disaster.
He also wasted precious time by relying on Israeli air might, its navy and artillery to defeat Hizballah. Even the ground forces sent in eventually were not correctly used. Instead of deploying small, rapid teams for lightening raids on Hizballah positions, bunkers and villages and moving on to the next, large contingents fought day after day against Hizballah strongholds in Maroun es Ras and Bint Jubeil supported by armored force and artillery fire. Hizballah made good use of the advantage it enjoyed of speed to regroup and return to the fray. A salutary shift in tactics was finally apparent Saturday night.
This error was the outcome of two shortcomings:
1. The slow responses of the IDF’s northern command and central military war room. debkafile‘s military sources report that towards the end of the week, general staff headquarters took over the management of the campaign from the northern command.
2. A shortage of tactical intelligence on Hizballah’s field operations and methods of warfare, which has turne out to be the Israeli military’s Achilles heel in the Lebanon war. In these circumstances – and in response to Hassan Nasrallah’s pose as the victor, which is far from the case – Olmert must start moving fast, else another unforeseen disaster like Qana will again catch him unawares and snatch the pace of events out of his hands.