- The Washington Times - Thursday, July 20, 2006

JERUSALEM — Hezbollah has dug dozens of bunkers in the difficult hill country in Lebanon close to the Israeli border, some as much as 130 feet deep, from which fighters can emerge at night for forays against Israeli positions, according to Israeli military officers.

Numerous mines have been planted by Hezbollah against personnel and armor, and their mortar squads have the area zeroed in.

According to Israeli intelligence sources cited in newspaper reports, the bunkers were dug deep apparently to withstand the bunker-buster bombs such as the ones Israel dropped on suspected Hezbollah bunkers this week.

Hezbollah fighters can ride out the heavy artillery and air attacks in the bunkers, which are fitted with communications equipment to remain in touch with headquarters and adequate supplies for a long stay below ground.

“They’ve been preparing for this battle for six years, ever since Israel’s withdrawal from south Lebanon,” a senior Israeli officer said.

The Israeli political and military leadership is reluctant to undertake a massive ground incursion into Lebanon and hopes that air and artillery attacks and political pressures within Lebanon will bring Hezbollah to heel.

However, the unflinching battle Hezbollah is waging thus far has raised questions about whether such a strategy will work.

“I’m against going in on the ground,” said Tzahi Hanegbi, chairman of the Knesset Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee, yesterday. “At least at this time. The disadvantages are greater than the advantages.”

The disadvantages were demonstrated Wednesday when an elite Israeli unit that had penetrated a mile into south Lebanon at night in search of Hezbollah rocket teams was ambushed by a well-hidden guerrilla force. Two soldiers were killed and nine were wounded. Two Hezbollah fighters were also reportedly killed.

Yesterday, Israeli troops crossed into Lebanon for a second day in search of tunnels and weapons, and faced fierce resistance, the Associated Press reported. Hezbollah’s Al Manar television said three Israeli soldiers were killed yesterday. Al Jazeera television put the number at four.

When Israel pulled out of Lebanon in 2000, it was after years of skirmishing with Hezbollah in which the Shi’ite militia proved itself an efficient guerrilla force. Since then, thousands of Hezbollah fighters have undergone training in Iran, which has also provided Hezbollah advanced armaments as well as intelligence and communications capabilities it did not have previously.

Hezbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah in a television appearance last week said that Hezbollah would welcome an Israeli incursion.

Despite heavy Israeli artillery attacks on southern Lebanon and frequent air strikes, Hezbollah has managed to fire about 100 missiles into Israel almost every day since the confrontation began last week. The aggressiveness of the front-line Hezbollah fighters has also been demonstrated by several attempts in the past week to penetrate the border and attack Israeli villages despite the heavy Israeli military presence. These attacks were driven off.

Gen. Dan Halutz, Israeli chief of staff, told the Israeli Cabinet Wednesday that Hezbollah wanted to drag Israel into a war of attrition. He said that plans have been laid for a ground incursion, but the army is not implementing them at the moment.

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