Still angry at the assassination of top Hamas figure Saleh al-Harouri in Beirut last week, the Hezbollah movement carried out what it called a “preliminary response,” trading heavy fire with Israel along the Lebanese border.
Hezbollah focused the attack on a hilltop observation post, firing off 62 rockets. The outpost was purported to be for “observation” and “aerial control.” Israel later confirmed the attacks hit the strategic airbase at Mt. Meron.
Though Israel was somewhat late in commenting at all, beyond saying they’d retaliated against the “terrorist cell,” Israeli officials ultimately admitted Mt. Meron sustained “extensive damage” from the strikes.
Mt. Meron is an aerial control site for the Israeli Air Force, and essentially serves the northern air control unit. The Hezbollah strike came with anti-tank missiles, not smaller ones that could be intercepted by Iron Dome.
What’s embarrassing is that Israel doesn’t have a way to intercept these missiles, which fly at low altitude. Essentially, they had to sustain all the damage to the base. It is not clear how functional it remains after the attacks.
Hezbollah did, however, release videos showing a number of direct hits, destroying radar systems that gave Israel coverage of airspace far into Lebanon. Such coverage may well have helped Israel in Tuesday’s assassination, which was against the capital of Beirut. The base may still be used for direct observation, but anything else is probably destroyed.
The assassination is politically difficult for Israel because Harouri was a high-profile player in negotiating the hostage exchange with Hamas and was said to be trying to work on another when he was killed. Israelis with family members held by Hamas in the war are not happy to see the opportunity for an exchange squandered by military force.
Israeli hawks are practically champing at the bit to start a big fight in southern Lebanon, but here too there is some strong opposition. The United States, usually a backer of all things unilateral in Israeli action, have actually warned against significant escalation.
This is related to an intelligence assessment by the DIA, which says Israel would have a very difficult time contending with a lot of additional military action on their northern border. Given the already enormous undertaking of the Gaza War, they would be spreading themselves very thin indeed.
State Dept. spokesman Mark Miller said it was “in no one’s interest to expand the war beyond Gaza.” Israel DM Yoav Gallant said Israel would stick to an “agreed-upon diplomatic settlement,” but ominously cautioned that they are “close to the point where the hourglass will turn over.”