Nasrallah recalls ’97 Shayetet to 'deflect pressure'

Strife caused by tribunal allegations would undermine Iranian designs for regional war, says Israeli analyst.

Nasrallah 311 (photo credit: Bilal Hussein/AP)
Nasrallah 311
(photo credit: Bilal Hussein/AP)
Hizbullah chief Hassan Nasrallah revisited the 1997 navy commando disaster, in which 12 IDF soldiers were killed by explosives while on a mission in Lebanon, during a televised speech on Monday evening.
The commandos stepped on explosives planted by Hizbullah, leading to the high number of casualties in the early morning hours of September 5, 1997, in Ansariya.
During his speech, Nasrallah said his organization knew of the position of the commandos in advance thanks to the interception of unencrypted video footage broadcast by Israeli drones that were hovering over the area in the days before the mission.
“We knew in advance, and prepared the ambush... the spy planes hovered and sent live pictures to a control room in occupied Palestine. The brothers accessed this broadcast and the pictures arrived in a control room of the resistance [Hizbullah],” Nasrallah said, according to an Army Radio translation of his speech.
Nasrallah also presented additional footage during his address, which he claimed was intercepted from Israeli UAVs, and attempted to present them as evidence of Israeli preparations to kill former Lebanese prime minister Rafiq Hariri in 2005.
Claims that Hizbullah intercepted classified footage, leading to the deadly attack on the commandos, have appeared before. In 2003, Nasrallah’s deputy, Naim Qassem, made similar claims in a book he published.
“Clearly, he’s under pressure from the [UN’s] Special Tribunal for Lebanon,” said Ely Karmon, a senior scholar at the Herzliya Interdisciplinary Center’s Institute for Counter-Terrorism.
A Lebanese civil war caused by the tribunal would upset Iranian designs to use Hizbullah to provoke Israel and create a major regional conflict, thereby diverting attention away from Teheran’s nuclear program, Karmon told The Jerusalem Post.
“I believe Iran is planning a provocation that is designed to cause a regional war, without participating in it directly. A conflict sparked by the international tribunal would be based on an anti-Hizbullah development, and could undermine the whole region. This would upset Iran’s plans. If the Tribunal accuses Hizbullah of Hariri’s murder, and this leads to a civil war in Lebanon, this would not suit Iran and Hizbullah,” he said.
“Nasrallah is trying to build up a case and sell it to the Lebanese public.
This is a show for domestic consumption. He is scared of a civil war,” Karmon added.
Nasrallah’s comments also sparked a lively exchange on Army Radio on Monday morning. Amir Raparport, a senior military correspondent and a researcher for the Begin Sadat Center for Strategic Studies at Bar-Ilan University, told Army Radio that Nasrallah’s account of what took place during the mission was largely accurate, though some details were exaggerated.
“The technology for encrypting broadcasts already existed [in 1997], but UAVs that had those abilities were reserved for the Sayeret Matkal unit, which is part of the Army’s Military Intelligence Directorate,” he said.
“Encryption capabilities were not available to the navy commandos because of a lack of coordination...
Hizbullah was able to draw conclusions from the intercepted images... and plant explosives in the area,” Rapaport said.
Maj.-Gen. (res.) Yaakov Amidror, former head of the IDF’s Research and Assessment Division, who was military secretary to former defense minister Yitzhak Mordechai in 1997, disputed Rapaport’s comments, saying, “Every new capability enters the army in this way. It is invested where it is most needed. Then, it is made available to others.
“The State of Israel is not wealthy enough to give everything to everyone,” he said.
Addressing Hizbullah’s position in Lebanon, Amidror said, “Nasrallah’s problem is that he knows that his people killed Hariri. He knows that the tribunal knows. He gave the orders... Hence, he is worried... and now he has to lie.”