Restrained Israeli Response for Hizballah Rocket Killing IDF Soldier On Lebanese Border

DEBKAfile Special Military Report

20 January 2004

DEBKAfile’s military experts do not rate Israel’s air strikes against two Hizballah ammunition bases Tuesday January 20 as full-scale retaliation for the Hizballah’s anti-tank missile attack the day before that blew up a military tractor and killed Sgt.-Maj. Jan Rotchenski, as well as seriously wounding a second Israeli soldier. Their tractor was sweeping for one of the “daisy chain” bomb-traps that the Hizballah has been laying in recent months for Israeli border patrols.

Monday’s air raids were more in the nature of a limited operation to uphold the principle of immediate response to each and every act aggression by the Lebanese Shiite terrorists. This time, however, there was some delay. The missile launcher’s location could not be established quickly; by the time it was pinpointed, night had fallen and the missile crew had scattered under cover of dark.

The next day, Hizballah ammunitions dumps (which used to be IDF bases) were chosen as alternative targets. Since these installations are sparsely manned, the Lebanese Shiite terrorist group may be said to have got off lightly as far as casualties were concerned. They did, however, lose substantial quantities of ammo. The stores were completely gutted – which is why the operation took two hours. The fact that Israeli jets diving into attack in waves of four were able to pulverize their targets without a single shot being fired from the ground will certainly dent the reputations of both the Hizballah and its sponsors in Damascus.

But for the time being, the books are most likely closed on this episode. Israeli policy makers, civilian and military, do not expect either the Hizballah or the Syrians to take it any further. But another couple of days of high preparedness will have to elapse before they can be sure