August 14, 2006
The real war in Lebanon begins today. The world may believe – and
Israel may believe – that the UN ceasefire due to come into effect
at 6am today will mark the beginning of the end of the latest dirty
war in Lebanon after up to 1,000 Lebanese civilians and more than 30
Israeli civilians have been killed. But the reality is quite
different and will suffer no such self-delusion: the Israeli army,
reeling under the Hizbollah’s onslaught of the past 24 hours, is now
facing the harshest guerrilla war in its history. And it is a war
they may well lose.
In all, at least 39 – possibly 43 – Israeli soldiers have been
killed in the past day as Hizbollah guerrillas, still launching
missiles into Israel itself, have fought back against Israel’s
massive land invasion into Lebanon.
Israeli military authorities talked of “cleaning” and “mopping up”
operations by their soldiers south of the Litani river but, to the
Lebanese, it seems as if it is the Hizbollah that have been doing
the “mopping up”. By last night, the Israelis had not even been able
to reach the dead crew of a helicopter – shot down on Saturday night
– which crashed into a Lebanese valley.
Officially, Israel has now accepted the UN ceasefire that calls for
an end to all Israeli offensive military operations and Hizbollah
attacks, and the Hizbollah have stated that they will abide by the
ceasefire – providing no Israeli troops remain inside Lebanon. But
10,000 Israeli soldiers – the Israelis even suggest 30,000, although
no one in Beirut takes that seriously – have now entered the country
and every one of them is a Hizbollah target.
From this morning, Hizbollah’s operations will be directed solely
against the invasion force. And the Israelis cannot afford to lose
40 men a day. Unable to shoot down the Israeli F-16 aircraft that
have laid waste to much of Lebanon, the Hizbollah have, for years,
prayed and longed and waited for the moment when they could attack
the Israeli army on the ground.
Now they are set to put their long-planned campaign into operation.
Thousands of their members remain alive and armed in the ruined hill
villages of southern Lebanon for just this moment and, only hours
after their leader, Sayed Hassan Nasrallah, warned Israel on
Saturday that his men were waiting for them on the banks of the
Litani river, the Hizbollah sprang their trap, killing more than 20
Israeli soldiers in less than three hours.
Israel itself, according to reports from Washington and New York,
had long planned its current campaign against Lebanon – provoked by
Hizbollah’s crossing of the Israeli frontier, its killing of three
soldiers and seizure of two others on 12 July – but the Israelis
appear to have taken no account of the guerrilla army’s most obvious
operational plan: that if they could endure days of air attacks,
they would eventually force Israel’s army to re-enter Lebanon on the
ground and fight them on equal terms.
Hizbollah’s laser-guided missiles – Iranian-made, just as most
Israeli arms are US-made – appear to have caused havoc among Israeli
troops on Saturday, and their downing of an Israeli helicopter was
without precedent in their long war against Israel.
In theory, aid convoys will be able to move south today to the
thousands of Lebanese Shia trapped in their villages but no one
knows whether the Hizbollah will wait for several days – they, like
the Israelis, are physically tired – to allow that help to reach the
Atrocities continue across Lebanon, the most recent being the attack
on a convoy of cars carrying 600 Christian families from the
southern town of Marjayoun. Led by soldiers of the Lebanese army,
they trailed north on Saturday up the Bekaa valley only to be
assaulted by Israeli aircraft. At least seven were killed, including
the wife of the mayor, a Christian woman who was decapitated by a
missile that hit her car.
In west Beirut yesterday, the Israeli air force destroyed eight
apartment blocks in which six families were living. Twelve civilians
were killed in southern Lebanon, including a mother, her children
and their housemaid.
An Israeli was killed by Hizballoh’s continued Katyusha fire across
the border. The guerrilla army – “terrorists” to the Israelis and
Americans but increasingly heroes across the Muslim world – have
many dead to avenge, although their leadership seems less interested
in exacting an eye for an eye and far more eager to strike at
At this fatal juncture in Middle East history – and no one should
underestimate this moment’s importance in the region – the Israeli
army appears as impotent to protect its country as the Hizbollah
clearly is to protect Lebanon.
But if the ceasefire collapses, as seems certain, neither the
Israelis nor the Americans appear to have any plans to escape the
consequences. The US saw this war as an opportunity to humble
Hizbollah’s Iranian and Syrian sponsors but already it seems as if
the tables have been turned. The Israeli military appears to be
efficient at destroying bridges, power stations, gas stations and
apartment blocks – but signally inefficient in crushing the
“terrorist” army they swore to liquidate.
“The Lebanese government is our address for every problem or
violation of the [ceasefire] agreement,” Israel’s Prime Minister,
Ehud Olmert, said yesterday, as if realising the truce would not
And that, of course, provides yet another excuse for Israel to
attack the civilian infrastructure of Lebanon.
Far more worrying, however, are the vague terms of the UN Security
Council’s resolution on the multinational force supposed to occupy
land between the Israeli border and the Litani river.
For if the Israelis and the Hizbollah are at war across the south
over the coming weeks, what country will dare send its troops into
the jungle that southern Lebanon will have become?
Tragically, and fatally for all involved, the real Lebanon war does
indeed begin today.