IDF enters Lebanon, a new buffer zone?
Range of Iranian built missiles possibily in Hezbollah's arsenal. Map & graphics courtesy of Kathryn Cramer. Click map to view.
After a weekend of repeated Hezbollah missile strikes into Israel, including hits in Afula and the surrounding communities, and Haifa, the Israeli Defense Force has launched a ground incursion into Lebanon. The IDF "briefly entered southern Lebanon to target Hizbullah bases along the border in order to push the terrorist group out of rocket-firing range," according to the Jerusalem Post.
This ground strike is limited in nature, and does not appear to be the start of a larger push into southern Lebanon or the Bekaa Valley. "IDF troops had leveled land inside Lebanese territory extending up to one kilometer from Israel's northern frontier," Haaretz reports, with the goal being to "prevent the reestablishment of Hezbollah guerrilla posts along Israel's border."
Israel is currently signaling it is interested in establishing a buffer zone on the Israeli border, and not planning a major ground invasion of Lebanon and a large scale advance into the Bekaa Valley. "One of the aims of the [military] operation is to establish a security area in Lebanon, without the presence of IDF soldiers," Defense Minister Amir Peretz said. "Chief of General Staff Lt.-Gen. Dan Halutz declared that the IDF currently had much better alternatives than to launch a major ground incursion into Lebanon," reports the Jerusalem Post.
A variant of the buffer zone solution was tried in the past, when Israel occupied southern Lebanon after the 1982 invasion and supported the South Lebanese Army. Israel maintained a force of several thousand troops in southern Lebanon, with the brunt of the security provided by the SLA. In May of 2000, Israel withdrew from Southern Lebanon without warning, and the SLA was overrun by Hezbollah. The Israeli withdrawal from south Lebanon handed Hezbollah its greatest victory to date, as it could claim it drove the "Israeli occupiers" from the country and promoted itself as a legitimate "resistance force".
Six years later, Hezbollah is a state within a state, with the ability to start a war and conduct missile strikes deep into Israeli territory. Hezbollah possesses an arsenal of over 11,500 missiles, supplied by Iran. Asharq Al-Awsat gives additional information of Hezbollah's capabilities and Iran's involvement in funding, arming and training Hezbollah to use advanced weaponry:
The source said more than 3,000 Hezbollah members have undergone training in Iran, which included guerrilla warfare, firing missiles and artillery, operating unmanned drones, marine warfare and conventional war operations. He said they have also trained 50 pilots for the past two years. According to the source, Hezbollah currently possesses four types of surface-to-surface missiles, some of which extend to a distance of 150 kilometers.
The recent statements by Minister Peretz and Lt.-Gen. Halutzis do not exclude the possibility of deeper strikes into Lebanon and the Bekaa Valley, but the statements indicate the Israeli government's military and political goals are not that ambitious at this time. The continual launch of longer range rockets into Israel may change the calculus. Today, the Israeli Air Force destroyed "at least one long-range Iranian missile capable of hitting Tel Aviv."