The new war in the Middle East is gaining momentum. Yesterday, the Israeli air force launched an attack on Lebanon. Missiles were set off near the homes of members of the Shiite movement Hezbollah, located in the Southern suburbs of Beirut. The runway of the Lebanese capital’s international airport was destroyed. All activity at the airport was stopped and planes were redirected to Larnaka city airport in Cyprus. Israel’s defense army (ZAHAL) explained to the Vremya Novostei newspaper: “Beirut airport was used to transport terrorists. And if its destruction inhibits the entry of tourists into Lebanon, that is the concern of their government, not ours.”
Israeli forces blocked not only Lebanon’s air space, but also their sea ports. This is the Jewish government’s answer to the abduction of two Israeli soldiers on Wednesday by terrorists from the Shiite group Hezbollah, based in Lebanon. Israel’s air force bombed several bridges in the South-Western part of Lebanon, as well as television company Al Manar. The total number of victims of the Israeli bombings in Lebanon exceeds 40. So it appears that Israel has entered into a new war, the eighth one since its formation in 1948.
During the 58 years of its existence, Israel has constantly been at war or on the verge of war with its Arab neighbours. The question now is how far Israel is prepared to go. “The aim of the new ZAHAL operation in Israel is to put an end to Hezbollah’s terrorist activity,” representative of the Israeli minister of foreign affairs, Eddie Shapiro said. “We view the terrorist attacks on Israeli soldiers as a declaration of war. Our reaction is adequate,” declared the diplomat.
The crisis began when two days ago, military subdivision Hezbollah carried out an attack on jeeps carrying frontier guards from the Israeli army and abducted two Israeli soldiers. During the attack, four soldiers were killed. It is known that the servicemen were able to inform their base of the attack. Immediately after this, communication with them was lost. ZAHAL has placed responsibility for the lives of the abducted soldiers on the Lebanese government. The Israeli army’s ground forces, supported by tanks and artillery, entered Lebanese territory in order to cut off the path of retreat for the terrorists. However, the first tank to enter Lebanese territory was blown up in an anti-tank mine. Another four Israeli servicemen were blown up in this incident.
According to information from the Israeli intelligence service, Hezbollah still has over ten thousand missiles of various types, including ones which are capable of reaching large cities in Israel.
There are no disagreements amongst the Israeli authorities in the evaluation of the crisis that has occurred. Left and right sides declare in unison the necessity of gaining revenge for the lives of soldiers and civilians who have perished at the hands of extremists. “The Israeli air force must strike shattering blows not only in Lebanon but in Syria and Iran, countries which support Hezbollah, financing it and directing its actions,” declared deputy of the Knesset and leader of the right-wing party, Israel Our Home, Avigdor Lieberman. ‘The government must keep acting until this issue is solved. So that terrorists become simply too afraid to attack Israeli territory,” said the politician. And with a degree of bravado he added that if he were given the opportunity to lead the ministry of defense right now, in a few months he would be able to completely resolve the problem of terrorism.
Experts are inclined to predict that the operation in Lebanon will not last long. “The Israeli army is not prepared for a long-term military operation,” explained Jonathan Fighel, leading member of the Israeli institute for the battle against terrorism in Gertsliya, to Vremya Novostei. In his words, “ZAHAL’s model of action is the model of the six day war”. Lets remember that in 1967, in six days, the Israeli army seized the whole of Jerusalem (until then divided), the northern shore of the river Jordan, previously under the control of Jordan, the Golan Heights, previously under the control of Syria and a section of Gaza and the Sinai Peninsula, controlled by Egypt. “It is logical to assume that the land operation on the territory of Lebanon will not last long. If we stay in the South of Lebanon for too long, we risk getting stuck there,” says Mr Fighel.
Ordinary Israelis do not want a new war as they know that it will inevitably bring with it more victims. But people support the decision of the government to destroy the terrorism infrastructure once and for all and to put an end to gunfire on the territory of the Jewish government, both from the side of the Gaza section and the Lebanese side.
The more aggressive Israelis live in the cities which have been subjected to attacks by Islamic extremists. Sarah Alevi, who lives in the North of Israel, told Vremya Novostei that those who live in constant fear of possible attacks from Lebanon are prepared to pay a high price to be able to sleep in peace in the future. “I have lived in the city of Nahariya for 51 years already and I believe that this time, the Israeli government should annihilate the entire terrorist network once and for all,” says Sarah Alevi.
To the question of whom Sarah has in mind when she speaks of “terrorist networks”, she confidently replied that one should start with the leader of Hezbollah, Sheikh Hassan Nasrallah. For the last few years, Israel has linked the provocation on the Israeli-Lebanese border to the name of the charismatic leader of Hezbollah. He is the prime target for precise liquidation.
Yesterday morning, ZAHAL ordered the Lebanese government to evacuate the inhabitants of one quarter of Beirut, Dahia, where, according to intelligence sources, Sheikh Nasrallah is currently located. Israel’s defense army refused to comment to Vremya Novostei on the possible precise liquidation of the leader of Hezbollah. Our interviewees did remark that not only is the Sheikh’s residence located in this region, but also the offices of other leaders of the terrorist group.
“Everything is simple: there are no longer any safe places in Lebanon,” announced Dan Halutz, head of the general headquarters of Israel, yesterday, confirming the words on the possible liquidation of Nasrallah. “It is advisable for the inhabitants of Dahia to try to understand the situation and draw the corresponding conclusions if their own safety is of interest to them,” warned the head of the general headquarters.
ZAHAL quite frequently carries out precise liquidations of members of Islamic groups whom Israel considers terrorists. In 2004, the leader of HAMAS in the Gaza sector Doctor Al Aziz al-Rantisi and the spiritual leader of this radical group Sheikh Ahmed Yassin were liquidated in the same month. Both operations were carried out in the Gaza Strip. Extremely precise information is necessary for the realization of such operations as the slightest inaccuracy may lead to the death of innocent civilians.
Israeli politicians and experts are trying to avoid the question of how far Israel will go in the war on the two fronts. They all agree where one thing is concerned: Israel will not stop at the liquidation of Sheikh Nasrallah this time. Nobody recalls the exchange of Palestinian prisoners for abducted soldiers, which the extremists demand. For the Prime Minister Ehud Olmert, the question of honour will drive this military operation to the end, without yielding to blackmail.
Israel’s defense army says that in the end everything is in the hands of Prime Minister Olmert. It is he who gives the final order for attack, precise liquidation and artillery gunfire.
For Olmert, this war has become a test in his post as Prime Minister, writes Israeli newspaper Haaretz. By means of continuous provocation, Islamic radicals are trying to find out what this new Prime Minister is capable of and whether it is possible to blackmail him. So far, this test has not gone very successfully for Olmert. Despite the fact that he has not given in to blackmail, Israel is being dragged into a full-scale war on two fronts, in the Gaza Strip and in Lebanon.
Already, three Israeli servicemen are in the hands of extremists and soldiers continue to die. And Kassam and Katyusha missiles fired by the terrorist groups continue to fall on Israeli territory.
Translated by Leila Wilmers
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