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This could be the best news of the war.
The IDF is carrying out some kind of ground operation with heavy air support in the Bekaa Valley, more than 60 miles north and east of the Litani River (almost 75 miles from the Israeli-Lebanon border). Troops are engaged in heavy fighting with Hizbullah’s best troops near – and get this – the ancient city of Baalbek.
Lebanese army and security officials said a major Israel Defense Forces operation was underway against suspected Hezbollah positions near Baalbek in eastern Lebanon’s Bekaa Valley late Tuesday. IDF troops thrust deep into the area, landing troops by helicopter in the Hezbollah heartland.
Lebanese security sources said IDF soldiers had landed by helicopter near Baalbek as aircraft launched several strikes in the region.
One Lebanese officer saying the Israel Air Force presence in the air above the ancient city was “unprecedented.”
Lebanese army and security officials said a major IDF operation was under way against suspected Hezbollah positions near Baalbek.
Baalbek just happens to be where the Syrians maintained their headquarters during the occupation of Lebanon. It is also the place where Iranian Revolutionary Guards were quartered during their announced stay in Lebanon during the 80’s.
The Lebanese have accused the Syrians of never entirely leaving Lebanon, maintaining an outpost in the Bekaa Valley and being given cover by Hizbullah. It is also thought that the Iranians never left Lebanon either, handling logistical support for the terrorists also in Bekaa.
Could the Israelis be going after the Syrian and Iranian personnel stationed in the Bekaa?
The bulk of Hizbullah’s best fighters are stationed in the Bekaa Valley, being too valuable to risk in any stand-up fight with the IDF. The small sized operations carried out by the IDF prior to today netted only several hundred of the estimated 3,000 of these crack troops. Most analysts believed that in order for the IDF to really hurt Hizbullah, some kind of Bekaa operation was an absolute necessity.
Is this a raid? Or are these troops the vanguard of a major thrust aimed at the heart of Hizbullah? And what about any stray Syrians or Iranians? What would be the consequences of the IDF busting up any kind of logistical and/or intel operations being carried out by the terrorist’s patrons?
The next 48 hours will be the most crucial in this war. They will probably answer the questions above as well as decide the question of how serious the Israelis are about winning through to a decisive victory.
At the moment, this strike appears to be a Special Forces operation aimed at a hospital in Baalbek:
Hezbollah’s chief spokesman, Hussein Rahal, told The Associated Press that Israeli troops landed near Dar al-Hikma Hospital and that fierce fighting continued to rage for more than one hour.
“A group of Israeli commandos was brought to the hospital by a helicopter. They entered the hospital and are trapped inside as our fighters opened fire on them and fierce fighting is still raging,” Rahal said.
Rahal said Hezbollah guerrillas were using automatic rifles and rocket-propelled grenades. He dismissed as “untrue” reports that the Israeli commandos managed to snatch some patients from the hospital and spirit them away in helicopters. He said Israel jets were attacking the surrounding guerrilla force with rockets.
The IDF snatching patients from a hospital? Could it be that those “patients” were none other than the two IDF soldiers kidnapped by Hizbullah on July 12?
Jumping to conclusions is an occupational hazard for a blogger. Patience in this case, will reveal all.
YNet News is reporting additional strikes against Hemel as well as the bombing of several key border crossings between Syria and Lebanon:
Just hours after the conclusion of the meeting, witnesses reported that Israeli warplanes targeted the Hizbullah stronghold of Hermel deep inside Lebanon early Tuesday, despite Israel’s 48 hours suspension of air strikes. Warplanes fired at least five air-to-surface missiles on the town, witnesses said. Another strike targeted an area near the Syrian border.
The J-Post offers more details:
Earlier, fighter-bombers struck deep inside the country, hitting the Hizbullah stronghold of Hermel, some 120 km. north of the border in the Bekaa Valley, witnesses said. Planes also hit Hizbullah fighters battling with soldiers near the border, as the gunmen fired mortars into Israel.
About six hours later, jets returned to attack Hermel again, hitting a pickup truck loaded with cooking gas canisters, security officials said. The canisters exploded, sending flames shooting up from the vehicle for nearly an hour. The driver had pulled over and exited the vehicle before the attack, and was not hurt, they said.
Another strike at an area near the Syrian border, about 10 km. north of Hermel, targeted the Qaa-Homs road, one of four official crossing points between Lebanon and Syria. Lebanon’s official news agency reported IAF jets also hit early Tuesday near the Masnaa crossing into Syria, which was attacked several times in the last three days.
Tuesday’s air strikes meant that two of the four border crossings are now closed because of damage. Repeated air strikes have made the main Beirut-Damascus highway impassable.
Sure is a lot of air activity for a raid. The IDF has still only committed a fraction of its force of more than 10,000 crack troops along the border with Lebanon, no more than regiment-sized engagements.
Could they be preparing for a lightening quick thrust into Bekaa, bypassing Hez strong points in the south and racing north in an effort to engage the bulk of Nasrallah’s men in the Bekaa Valley?
More rank speculation from an amatuer to be sure. But the IDF clearly needs to do something spectacular in order to turn the tide of perceptions about this war from an Israeli defeat into a smashing victory.
UPDATE III 8/2
Bill Roggio reports that the IDF Special Forces captured several low-level Hizbullah officials – including one with an interesting name:
The commandos were extracted from the scene after a fierce gun battle which included air strikes and strafing runs on Hezbollah positions outside the hospital, The commandos did not leave empty handed, and â€œtook a number of Hizbullah officials captive.â€ Haaretz reports 3 to 5 â€œjunior Hezbollah militantsâ€ were captured, and several more were killed during the raid. â€œ[Lebanese sources] identified the men as Hussein Nasrallah, Hussein al-Burji and Ahmed al-Ghotah and described them as low ranking members of the group,â€ according to Haaretz, and â€œThe captured Hussein Nasrallah has the same name as a Hezbollah leader, Hassan Nasrallah.â€
Also, check out the excellent map at CTB showing exactly where in the Bekaa Israel hit. It appears the IAF is trying to choke off any Syrian attempt at resupplying their friends in Hizbullah. They could also be trying to forestall any attempt by Syria to assist Hizbullah if the IDF decides to make a major thrust into the Valley.