Hizbullah still at half its strength

Killing Nasrallah would be significant but not deemed critical; war costs NIS 50m.-100m. per day

david horovitz 224.88 (photo credit: )
david horovitz 224.88
(photo credit: )
Hizbullah is still operating at between 50 and 60 percent of its military capability, The Jerusalem Post has been told, and the IDF believes it needs at least another week or two to reach the declared goal of dramatically weakening it. As of Tuesday, it is understood, the IDF had not been given any time limit for its operations by Israel's political leadership. Unfolding diplomatic efforts to resolve the conflict are regarded by the IDF as being complementary to its military action, rather than threatening to curtail it at this stage. In all, the war is costing the IDF an estimated NIS 50 million to NIS 100m. per day. The Israeli government's decision to approve the aggressive response to last Wednesday's cross-border attack at Moshav Zar'it, and the continued government backing for the offensive, it is understood, reflect the adoption of "a totally different policy" by Israel to fighting terrorism than that which was followed over the past six years. Among the basic principles are that Israel will not be extorted via the kidnappings of its soldiers, and it will not refrain from harsh military action in the aftermath of any such kidnappings. The policy relates not only to the Lebanon border but also to Gaza, as was exemplified by the IAF's attempt to kill Hamas terror chief Muhammad Deif in the aftermath of the Kerem Shalom incursion and the kidnapping of Gilad Shalit. The policy was adopted, in part, because of a recognition by the political leadership that Israel's deterrent capability was being eroded. It is understood that IDF Chief of General Staff Lt.-Gen. Dan Halutz believes that Israel should have launched the kind of anti-Hizbullah offensive now being carried out in late 2000, when three Israeli soldiers were captured and killed by Hizbullah (their bodies to be returned in a prisoner exchange in 2004), and that the failure to act then was a central inspiration for emboldening Palestinian terrorists at the start of the second intifada. Although Defense Minister Amir Peretz has spoken of the need to "break" Hizbullah, Halutz is said to tend to the view that an ideological organization such as Hizbullah cannot be completely destroyed but can certainly be drastically weakened - the goal of the current offensive. It is not anticipated that Hizbullah will be forced into any kind of public surrender, but rather that it will be battered sufficiently to enable its demise as a military force to be formalized by the diplomats. The ultimate resolution of the conflict will be around a table, the IDF believes, and Hizbullah won't have a seat. To that end, the IDF is targeting Hizbullah's leadership and military capability, aiming to reduce public support in Lebanon for Hizbullah, as well as undermining Hizbullah's economic base. Killing the Hizbullah leader, Sheikh Nasrallah, would be a significant achievement but is not deemed critical. When the IAF first attacked the Hizbullah command neighborhood of Dahiya in southern Beirut on Sunday, it fired on areas where it was believed Nasrallah might be, but it had no concrete information on his specific whereabouts. At present, Nasrallah is known only to be somewhere in the Beirut area. That first attack on Dahiya - where the Hizbullah leadership has maintained its offices, where roadside bombs have been manufactured in underground factories, where ammunition has been stored, and where bunkers have been built to withstand bombing raids - saw the destruction of much, but not all, of the above-ground and underground facilities. Most of the IAF's focus at present is on thwarting Hizbullah's long-range missile capabilities. Unlike any other terror group, including al-Qaida, Hizbullah has a strategic capability in the shape of Iranian-made missiles with a range of 150 kilometers - and even variants with a range of up to 200 kilometers. It is believed in the IDF that these Zelzal missiles - members of the Scud "family" with warheads of up to half a ton - could not be fired without Iranian assent and participation, and that they have not been fired because of Iranian awareness of the potential repercussions. Also uniquely for a terror group, Nasrallah had amassed hundreds of rockets with a 50-70 kilometer range - many, but by no means all, of which were destroyed in the IAF's initial sorties. He also had some 11,500 shorter range Katyushas and variants. The overall assessment as of Tuesday night was that 50-60 percent of that military capacity remained intact, with the percentage gradually falling. In the previous 48 hours, for instance, the IAF had hit 10 long-range rocket launchers in the south Beirut area. As of Tuesday, the IDF had fired some 6,000 artillery shells from positions on the border. Its planes had flown some 1,500 sorties, and its assault helicopters hundreds more. It was clocking 400 hours a day of time in the air with unmanned drones - and would have used them more, except that every reservist capable of operating them was already pressed into service. To date, the IDF has not taken out Lebanon's electricity supply nor focused on other major infrastructure targets or on the Lebanese army. Were Hizbullah to strike at an Israeli infrastructure target such as the Haifa Bay petrochemical facilities, however, that policy could change. Notwithstanding the call-ups of reservists, the IDF is determined to avoid a major ground offensive at almost all cost, assessing that the casualties of such an offensive would be extremely high, in part as a consequence of the vast amounts of explosive devices planted by Hizbullah in the northern border area. Instead, the IDF is continuing to rely overwhelmingly on air power, with the aim to clear by Saturday all vestiges of Hizbullah infrastructure from a buffer zone one kilometer deep along the entire border. Anyone who entered that zone would be doing so at risk of his life.