IDF readies for possible post-swap violence

Officer at kidnapping site: "There is a feeling that we are on the verge of a collision with Hizbullah."

IDF North 224.88 (photo credit: AP)
IDF North 224.88
(photo credit: AP)
The IDF was on heightened alert Tuesday along the northern border ahead of Wednesday's prisoner swap with Hizbullah, under which abducted reservists Eldad Regev and Ehud Goldwasser were returned home after two years in captivity. The border with Lebanon was quiet on Tuesday, with few IDF patrols. One jeep with a group of soldiers from the Golani Brigade drove near Border Point 105 - the spot along the border where Regev and Goldwasser were kidnapped on July 12, 2006. "There is a feeling that we are on the verge of a collision with Hizbullah," one officer said when asked to describe the relative quiet along the border. "They are continuing to smuggle weapons from Syria and to build up positions in southern Lebanon." The feeling is shared by many in the IDF Northern Command, where senior commanders estimate that after two years of quiet, Hizbullah may use the period immediately following the swap to strike at Israel. While the possibility of another kidnapping attack against IDF soldiers is being taken into account, there is also a fear in the IDF that Hizbullah may try to infiltrate an Israeli town along the northern border. While Rosh Hanikra was taken over by the IDF Spokesman's Office on Tuesday, there were still a number of tourists who milled around, oblivious to Wednesday's swap, to take the cable car to the grottos below. The IDF expected 70 different media outlets to swarm into Rosh Hanikra on Wednesday to cover the long-anticipated prisoner swap, and set up a special media center to facilitate the coverage. Inside the base along the border, soldiers and officers from various units - including the rabbinate, the Medical Corps and others - made final preparations for the swap under the sweltering July sun. In addition to the IDF soldiers, Swiss and Irish officers from the United Nations Truce Supervision Organization (UNTSO) also waited outside the entrance to the base to cross into Lebanon. Asked about Israeli claims that Hizbullah had rebuilt its military infrastructure in southern Lebanon, the officers said that daily patrols UNTSO and UNIFIL conducted in the area had ruled out that possibility. "The border is quiet," one of the officers said. "We do not see militiamen or Hizbullah, and if we did we would report it." The concern in the IDF, however, was that Hizbullah will use the period following the swap as an opportunity to "change the rules" along the border and particularly inside towns located close to the border fence. Hizbullah named the prisoner swap after Imad Mughniyeh, the group's chief operations officer assassinated in February in Damascus, and Israel fears that Hizbullah is planning to launch a retaliatory strike against Israel after the deal is completed. Recent interviews of Hizbullah leaders, as well as articles by reporters associated with the terrorist group, have hinted that Hizbullah is planning such an attack. As a result, the IDF raised its level of vigilance along the northern border. Such vigilance was apparent at Rosh Hanikra on Tuesday, where soldiers at the border base were ordered to wear helmets while manning the main gate. "This is an unusual order," one soldier noted. "But under the circumstances, who knows what might happen?"