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Hizballah Brings Iwo Jima Tactics to Baffle Israeli Forces in South Lebanon

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Hizballah Brings Iwo Jima Tactics to Baffle Israeli Forces in South Lebanon

DEBKAfile Exclusive Military Report

July 24, 2006, 12:46 PM (GMT+02:00)

Israeli forces have pushed forward from the mountaintop village of Maroun er Ras captured Sunday to the fringes of Bint Jubeil, Hizballah's south Lebanese capital. Monday they suffered nine wounded in face to face combat. Whereas TV cameras showed much footage of the Maroun er Ras engagement, the IDF's other battle pockets are kept under wraps.

Hizballah chief Hassan Nasrallah, who has an overall view, warned Israel in an interview to the Lebanese A Safir Monday, July 24, that its ground incursions in Lebanon would not stop Hizballah rocket fire against its cities.

He certainly meant this as a morale-depressant for Israel troops. At the same time, DEBKAfile's military experts say that what he says is correct and must be taken into account in any diplomatic formula sought to end the warfare.

1. He could go on firing his rockets even when a multinational force is posted on the Lebanese-Israeli border. The force currently contemplated by Israeli prime minister Ehud Olmert at this early stage of international diplomacy would consist of German, French and Czech units.

2. And even if multinational troops were deployed additionally on the Lebanese-Syrian border, they would not hamper Hizballah's rocket offensive. Therefore a buffer zone would offer no solution to a cessation of cross-border hostilities.

DEBKAfile's military analysts say that the way the Israel-Hizballah war has been prosecuted up until Monday, July 24, is more likely to bring Nassrallah closer to his war objectives than Olmert.

Notwithstanding the IDF's important battle gains at a number of focal South Lebanese points in the last 24 hours - including the latest raids on the outskirts of Bint Jubeil on the heels of the capture of Maroun er Ras - only one multiple firing rocket launcher (picture) and 6 single-barrel launchers have been destroyed.

This figure will certainly multiply substantially in the coming days. Yet it will not change the essential strategic picture or stop the rocket fire from holding northern Israel and more than a million inhabitants to siege.

Last week, Israel's army chiefs believed they had encountered Hizballah's primary war tactic - Viet Cong-style guerrilla warfare out of hundreds of small bunkers scattered across the country. This week had scarcely begun when a still more formidable impediment was discovered: Hizballah camouflage techniques borrowed from the Japanese in the 1945 Iwo Jima battle. To stop the rockets coming, Israeli special forces must continue to blow up the tunnels and also adopt the methods the US Army's methods for overcoming the Japanese dug in at Iwo Jima and other Pacific islands at the end of World War II. Without regard to losses, they stormed Japanese dug-in positions and camouflaged units. using flame throwers and gasoline to burn the foliage concealing the enemy.

DEBKAfile's military sources report that Israeli military chiefs have just begun studying Hizballah's arts of camouflage. A senior officer told DEBKAfile grimly: "Now we know that when a stand of five or six trees suddenly starts walking, we are seeing a 14-barreled Fajr 3 rocket launcher on the move; one or two trees in motion may conceal a couple of Hizballah fighters."

But the situation is more difficult when the trees or bushes stand still and blend in with the surrounding dense foliage. By the time IDF spotters report five suspicious trees or bushes to overhead aircraft, helicopters or the nearest ground units, the Hizballah launchers or the fighters have moved on and changed their camouflage outfits. The small Israeli special operations units called in to hunt and destroy the last-seen mobile vegetation face a mystifying task.

"This is a high-precision operation," said the officer. "It is time-consuming - could take weeks if not months - dangerous and calls for larger numbers of troops than we have available."

In the first ten days of the war, therefore, the Israeli air force bombed out empty Hizballah premises in South Beirut and Baalbek, but missed the moving woods and vegetation which concealed the rocket launchers - which explains why the blitz continued notwithstanding heavy Israeli air force assaults on Hizballah's centers and strongholds.

But Israel military strategists have got a handle on Hizballah's rocket-launching methods. Each rocket crew, carefully camouflaged, advances independently to its firing position and fires a volley, never a single rocket. If one crew chances on another, they all loose their rockets simultaneously.

DEBKAfile's military analysts assert that the rocket offensive against Israel will go on for the following reasons:

1. While the IDF has begun to understand Hizballah's tactics and methods of warfare, the Olmert government has decided to deny the operation sufficient ground troops to come to grips with the small knots of moving rocket crewmen.

Some of DEBKAfile's military experts fear the Israeli government may be falling into the Bush administration's disastrous error of allocating too few troops to the Iraq war for attaining its goals.

2. Iran is constantly pumping through Syria fresh rocket teams to replace those wiped out by Israeli forces.

3. Hizballah's leader wants no part in the diplomatic initiatives led by US secretary of state Condoleezza Rice in conjunction with the Europeans, Olmert, the Lebanese government and moderate Sunni Arab rulers. Nasrallah is playing his own game and will not be a party to a ceasefire at this point or stop firing his rockets - except on his terms.

4. He will show the same contempt for a multinational force, however effective, deployed on Lebanon's borders with Israel and Syria, and simply keep on shooting. He knows as well as anyone that German or French troops will never go chasing through Lebanon's woods and hay stacks to tackle his fighters in face-to-face combat. He may not stick to as many as 100 rockets a day - as at present, but he will keep his hand on the button and push it whenever it suits him. Nasrallah will only end the war when he can claim victory - or is finally eliminated.

Most Israeli generals agree that going for a multinational force, which appears to be the direction seriously contemplated by Ehud Olmert, would constitute a repeat of the blunder Ariel Sharon and Olmert himself perpetrated when, in their haste to evacuate the Gaza Strip last summer, they handed security over the Gazan-Egyptian Philadelphi border to Egyptian forces and the crossing to European monitors.

Nasrallah has already struck the pose of victor and is dictating terms. Monday, July 24, he handed the Lebanese government a list of the prisoners in Israeli jails whom he wants released as the price for returning the kidnapped Israeli soldiers, Ehud Goldwasser and Eldad Regev. He has not budged an inch from his initial demand for their release: indirect negotiations for a prisoner swap.

The Israeli prime minister, who has switched his war objectives several times, is heading for a course that may at best restore the three abducted Israeli solders, Gilead Shalit in Hamas' hands, as well as Goldwasser and Regev. But this course will not rescue northern Israel and a third of the country from the nightmare of rockets falling night and day and destroying their lives or the Palestinian Qassam missiles from Gaza making life intolerable for Israel's south.

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