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Lt. Ohad Shamir was commanding a surveillance team hiding in Maroun a-Ras. Their mission was to locate Hizbullah fighters still operating near the village after it had been captured by Golani and Paratroopers units. Shamir's men felt pretty safe - during the 10 days they spent in the village, not a shot had been fired at their building. But then an antitank missile hit the structure and Shamir was lightly wounded.
On Wednesday, he was being treated at Safed's Ziv Hospital for fragments in his back.
"They are small teams, three of four people, hiding in the undergrowth, firing out of nowhere. They're the biggest danger," he said of the Hizbullah gunmen.
The same story repeats itself time and again in the hospital wards where wounded solders are recovering and comparing experiences. No one has yet begun analyzing the causes of casualties in this war, but the indisputable fact is that the great majority of wounds and deaths were a result of antitank missiles - more than from gunfire, grenades and other explosive devices together.
The term "antitank" is misleading; the missiles were originally designed to be used against tanks, but the IDF's Merkava tanks and upgraded armored fighting vehicles are capable of withstanding most missiles in Hizbullah's arsenal. But Hizbullah isn't using them only against tanks. The range of these missiles - up to three kilometers - and the force of their explosive charges make them ideal for attacking groups of soldiers and IDF positions from afar.
Hizbullah have been preparing for this war for six years, and the two main weapons they have been stockpiling have been the Katyushas and other rockets now being fired at Israeli towns and antitank missiles. The organization has thousands of Soviet-built Sagger, Cornet and Fagot antitank missiles, the French MILAN and the US-built TOW, all supplied by Iran and Syria. These missiles are usually fired by a two- or three-man team.
Over the last two weeks, the tactic used by many of the Hizbullah teams has been to avoid close-range combat, where IDF soldiers' high level of training gives them the upper hand. Instead, the Hizbullah men have been moving to positions high above villages and continuing to fire missiles at the IDF forces. Large stores of missiles were prepared in the hills in advance, for this eventuality.
IDF officers have voiced frustration at the fact that even in areas where the IDF has been operating for more than a week, the missile threat still exists. On Monday, tanks that had been fighting for two days in the villages opposite Metulla came under missile fire when they were returning through the border fence.
Col. Ofek Buchris, a former Golani battalion commander and the officer now in charge of offensive operations on the northern front, said this week, "Hizbullah aren't as good soldiers as people have been saying, they don't have good combat skills. In shooting battles, we beat them every time. What they do have is good antitank capabilities.
"They were trained for this especially by the Iranian Revolutionary Guards. For intents and purposes, Hizbullah is Iran's advance division here."
One of the first results of the IDF's experiences facing Hizbullah antitank missiles has been the quick adaptation of new training for reserve units that have just been called up. In addition to weapons and first aid refresher lessons, the men mobilized this week have all received special training on detecting and avoiding the missiles.
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