Israel conducted its first major incursion into Lebanon today, investing the town of Maroun al-Ras with 2,000 troops and tanks. The military operation coordinated ground forces, air, and naval assets and rapidly achieved its objective:
Israeli tanks and hundreds of troops moved in and out of Lebanon on Saturday, taking over a village, entering a U.N. observation post and engaging Hezbollah militants by land, sea and air as part of the country’s limited ground campaign.
The soldiers — backed by artillery and tank fire — took control of the large village of Maroun al-Ras, military officials said on condition of anonymity.
That included a group of Israeli tanks, bulldozers and personnel carriers that knocked down a border fence and entered the area Saturday afternoon. The equipment and about 25 soldiers raced past a U.N. outpost and headed into the village, where other Israeli soldiers already had control.
Some of the 2,000 troops returned to Israel, but the village remains in Israeli hands. The advance took the Israelis into direct combat with Hezbollah, which was unable to stop the advance. The Israelis took out more communication links, including three television station tramsmitters and telephone infrastructure. They also invested a UNIFIL outpost, and given the effectiveness of that force, it must have taken the Israelis almost no time at all to get them under control.
So far, though, Israel has not started a wideranging invasion. This appears to be something of a raid on steroids, and the Israelis will not likely keep Maroun al-Ras for too long. Olmert does not want to start administering an occupation of southern Lebanon, but to weaken Hezbollah enough to collapse their leadership and make them incapable of staging attacks on Israel for a long time.
Some, like the AP, believe that Israel’s goal is to beat up Hezbollah enough to where the Lebanese Army can sweep the militias out of the area and take control of southern Lebanon for themselves. That sounds good, but it’s unrealistics. According to Sheikh Nasrallah, Hezbollah runs the government in Beirut, and Lebanese PM Fuad Saniora appears to agree. He threatened to send the army into southern Lebanon to fight alongside of Hezbollah against the Israelis, so the likelihood of a disarmament program shrinks each day.
If Israel wants Hezbollah destroyed, it will have to destroy Hezbollah by themselves. The capture of Maroun al-Ras shows that the Israelis are not going to settle for any solution that leaves Hezbollah armed on their borders, and the reaction of the Lebanese government indicates that they will do nothing to meet that basic security requirement for peace. In other words, this is going to go on for quite a while.