Tuesday, August 01, 2006

Exclusive Coverage of Israel Under Siege

(Note: this post will be continuously updated with comprehensive updates and commentary)

- IDF gets green light to expand ground war to the Litani river, will raze all Hizbollah border towns, Syria prepares for war
- Special Ops battle over: IDF has parachuted commandos into the Bekaa valley in the north to capture regional commander Muhammed Yazbek, IDF announced the safe return of the soldiers along with a few captured Hizbollah
- Two out of four of the Syria-Lebanon border crossings are closed due to damage from IAF strikes
- Heavy clashes reported along central and western parts of border, 20 Hizbollah killed, 3 IDF KIA's and 25 wounded in the battle for Aita
- Israeli soldiers are operating in southern Gaza to destroy tunnels
- Kassams strike the Negev, katyushas and mortars resume in the north, 5 soldiers injured by mortars

10:45 PM EST: Baalbek Update: Haaretz is reporting that the IDF has announced that the commandos returned to Israel safely with several Hizbollah terrorists captured. There were no IDF casualties. It seems that the operation was a success, although they declined to say if they caught Muhammed Yazbek, the initial target of the operation.

10:00 PM EST: The fighting in Baalbek between Israeli special forces and Hizbollah fighter ceased about an hour ago. The outcome of the battle is still unclear. Here are some more details about what has transpired the past three hours from Haaretz. Four hours into the operation the fighting continued, witnesses said. IAF warplanes staged more than 10 bombing runs at 2.20 A.M. (2320 GMT) Wednesday around the hospital as well as on hills in east and north Baalbek. The planes also dropped flares over the city while the heavy fighting was raging around the hospital. Shortly after the IAF raids began, electricity was cut off, plunging Baalbek and other neighboring villages in total darkness.

IAF helicopters also attacked a target 15 kilometers west of Baalbek, starting a huge fire, witnesses said. It was not immediately known if the target was controlled by Hezbollah or the Lebanese army. Hezbollah claimed that the IDF commandos were trapped inside the hospital and were engaged in fierce fighting with guerilla fighters who surrounded the facility. There was no independent confirmation. IAF fighter jets returned at 3:35 A.M. Wednesday and fired eight missiles on residential neighborhoods in eastern and northern Baalbek where Hezbollah's Shiite supporters live, witnesses said. There was no immediate word on casualties, fierce fighting around the hospital stopped shortly before 4 A.M. as precarious calm prevailed in Baalbek, residents said.

6:15 PM EST: Baalbek operation update: It appears at this point that there is enough credible information to confirm that there is some sort of Israeli commando operation underway near the town of Baalbek in the Bekaa valley, some 60 miles north of the Latani river. The IDF has still declined to comment on the operation. Lebanese officials are reporting that the operation began with 5 large airstrikes followed by several helicopters that inserted special forces soldiers. DEBKA is reporting that Hizbollah's Bekaa commander Muhammad Yazbek has converted the Dar al Hikmeh Hospital in the village into the headquarters for his staff. Israel troops who made for this target are engaged in heavy clashes around the building. Update: Lebanese army officials are saying that the IDF attempt to capture top Hizbollah regional commander Yazbek has failed and there are now gun battles raging between the two sides. Local witnesses are saying that the hopital is now burning from an Israeli air strike. This is still a developing story and non of this has been confirmed by the IDF.

In other war news: The JPost is reporting that in the west, Israeli warships offshore in the Mediterranean sent artillery into the villages of Mansouri, Shamaa and Teir Harfan around the port city of Tyre. Another strike at an area near the Syrian border, about 10 kilometers north of Hermel, targeted the Qaa-Homs road, one of four official crossing points between Lebanon and Syria. Lebanon's official news agency reported Israeli jets also hit early Tuesday near the Masnaa crossing into Syria, which was attacked several times in the last three days.
Tuesday's airstrikes meant that two of the four border crossings are now closed because of damage. Repeated airstrikes have made the main Beirut-Damascus highway impassable.

5:15 PM EST: There are unconfirmed reports coming from Lebanon that the IDF has dropped off soldiers in Baalbek in the Bekaa valley. This is in the eastern sector near the Syrian border. The IDF is neither confirming nor denying these reports. If this report is true, then this would be the farthest north any IDF unit has operated. There are more credible reports of major airstrikes in that region as well as 15 km to the west of Baalbek.

4:00 PM EST: There have been 3 KIA in the battle for Aita and 25 wounded. One of the KIA was an officer. Most of the casualties occurred in two separate Hizbollah attacks with anti tank missiles on local houses that the troop were operating from. These have been the most deadly weapons on the IDF so far. Meanwhile, the rocket fire has resumed in the north causing damage in Nahariya and other towns. An empty kindergarten sustained a direct hit. They have also been firing mortars over the border, injuring 5 soldiers, two of them moderately.

2:05 PM: Israel is now under the first major rocket attack in two days. Rockets hit a number of locations in Narayia, sparking widespread fires but no casualties. More katyushas fell in Ma'alot.

1:10 PM EST: It has now been released for publication that there were a number of IDF casualties in the major battle of Aita. The number is unknown at this point and it might include KIA's. It has been the policy of the IDF not to release this information before the end of the day's fighting.

12:15 PM EST: Several katyushas were fired in the north, destroying some tourist cable cars and sparking fires nearby. In Lebanon, the IAF struck several bunkers in the western sector near the heavy fighting in Aita. On the diplomatic front it is interesting to note that there appears to be a crack uo in Europe. The EU has called for an immediate cease fire (Israeli suicide) while Germany, Britian, and the Czech Rep. have rejected that idea. I'm wondering if Bush has anything to do with this?

11:20 AM EST: There is a major battle underway in the village of Aita. There are many terrorists holed up there, shooting out of houses and civilian areas. At least 6 Hizbollah fighters were killed and there were no IDF casualties. There were many anti tank missiles fired at Israeli tanks throughout the day. Aita is only one km away from the border, close to the Israeli town of Metula. This means that Hizbollah still has many fighters right up to the border, confirming earlier predictions that it might take many days just to reach the Latani. It also makes you wonder how many terrorists are still hiding in bunkers that might still be unidentified and can possibly reach into Israeli soil.

Column Update: Here is the latest Daniel Pipes piece on "Holding Damascus accountable". Also, Bret Stephens wrote an op-ed in today's WSJ titled, "Israel is losing the war", in which he lashes out at the leftist government's lack of decisive action. Also, Dennis Prager obliterates the idea of "world opinion" in his latest column. On the other side of the aisle, the Washington Compost continued their daily anti Israel columns by publishing an op-ed by the Jew hating scumbag, Jimmey Carter.

9:50 AM EST: There are now reports that there are negotiations underway to free the captured Israeli soldier in a prisoner exchange for 700 terrorists. While this is totally unconfirmed, it is still very disturbing because Israel has done these 1/700 swaps in the past. While every life is important, no country can allow 700 terrorists to run free. In the past, many of the freed terrorists have come back to attack Israel again and kill civilians.

8:00 AM EST: DEBKAfile is out with their latest military report. They say that the IDF is currently working on cleaning out Hizbollah enclaves in all three sectors; west, central, and south. They confirm our observation that all of the operations are taking place within 4 km of the border. They therefore asses that at this pace it will take much longer to reach the Latani river than what is being reported. This could take several weeks. It is also unclear as to what the IDF plans to do with large cities such as Tyre.

There is also the problem of the unknown. Hizbollah has sharply reduced their rocket attacks over the past two days to a trickle and it is unclear what they are planning. Although, Israeli officials say that they severely degraded their capabilities, it is clear that they still have a lot of rockets left. A record 150 rockets were launched on Sunday and the IAF hasn't struck any more launchers since then due to the 48 hour suspension of the air campaign. It is therefore clear that they still have the recourses and might be planning some surprises. Furthermore, the extent of their bunker networks are still unknown. This could potentially become a dangerous problem for Israeli border towns if they are not completely discovered and destroyed during the war.

6:15 AM EST: There has been heavy fighting on the ground throughout the morning in southern Lebanon along the central and western parts of the border. 1 Israeli soldier was wounded in the fighting and 20 terrorists were killed. Hizbollah is confirming the death of 4 so far. At this point it appears that all of the battles are taking place only several kilometers inside of Lebanon, unless there are special forces in other locations that they are not publicizing. Nasarallah claimed that this will not stop the rockets. However, although several rockets and mortars were fired today, it has seriously declined since Sunday. Either this is indicative of Hizbollaha's depletion, or they have some planned surprise that they are waiting for.

12:30 AM EST: While there is an eerie silence from the Hizbollah rockets, Hamas has been stepping up their efforts in the south. 5 Kassams were just launched into the Negev from Gaza, resulting in damage to a house but no casualties.

Column Update: Caroline Glick has an amazing piece in today's JPost ripping into Olmert's agreement to an international force headed by France that will not protect Israel from Hizbollah but will stop Israel from destroying them. She also ridicules the notion that the Lebanese army will take control of the border after they have expressed themselves on numerous occasions that they are working together with Hizbollah. Read the whole article here.

12:15 AM EST: On the ground in Lebanon, the big news is the approval of the Israeli government for an expanded invasion of south Lebanon that is designed to destroy Hizbollah targets south of the Litani River. The IDF also plans to set up a 2 km security buffer zone on the border and will raze any Hizbollah village in that perimeter. This is a good start, but the must destroy every last Hizbollah target even north of the river. Keep in mind that Hizbollah has occupied Lebanon for 25 years and was preparing for war with Israel for almost as long. There is no doubt that they are spread out all across the north, including the remote, rugged northeast panhandle on the Syrian border. For a full report on the current ground war and Syrian involvement please view the previous post.
On the aerial front: the IAF has struck targets in the Bekaa valley town of Hermal, which is some 75 miles into Lebanon. They also struck a target near the Syrian border that was even farther north. Again, I feel that they will eventually have to send ground troops, at least special ops, to root out Hizbollah in the north. They cannot give into these ridiculous timetables.

On the Southern front: the IDF is now operating in southern Gaza to destroy the Hamas tunnel infrastructure. This is long overdue as the rockets continue to fly from the south.

In America: We reported yesterday about the anti Israel comments expressed by the liberal Senator Hagel. Well, he now has company. Ultra liberal Congressman John Dingell of Michigan told a Detroit TV station that he is not against Hizbollah and is not taking sides in the conflict. This is no surprise as Dingell was one of the 8 Democrats to vote against the resolution of support for Israel. Meanwhile, it appears that the Democrats are really feeling the heat on the Israel issue and plan to play it safe with John Bolton. Chuck Schumer has announced that he will not filibuster Bolton's nomination and will decide whether to vote for him or not. Suha Arafat kissing Hillary is leaning towards opposing Bolton, even while feigning a pro Israel posture.

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