TEL AVIV (May. 21)
The Israeli air force has retaliated vigorously for a Hezbollah onslaught against the Israeli-backed South Lebanon Army.
Israeli jets blasted bases of the pro-Iranian Shi’ite militia in the eastern region of Lebanon’s Bekaa Valley, near the Syrian border, Thursday morning.
Until now, Israel had refrained from attacking in that region, which is under de facto Syrian control. An Israel Defense Force spokesman said all aircraft returned safely to their bases.
Their targets were Yanta village, less than 2 miles from the Syrian border, where Hezbollah maintains a headquarters, and Nebi Sheet.
Hezbollah sources said seven of its men were killed and 18 wounded in waves of attacks by six Israeli fighter bombers. Five of the dead and 13 of the wounded were victims of delayed action bombs and rockets dropped by the Israelis, which exploded three hours after the raid, Hezbollah said.
According to a report by Baalbek Radio in the Bekaa Valley, a member of the Iranian Revolutionary Guard who was training Hezbollah forces died in the raid.
Voice of Lebanon Radio reported late Thursday that Israeli air force attack helicopters strafed a house in Jibsheet village in southern Lebanon at 4:30 p.m. local time. They reportedly hit the home of a Hezbollah chieftain.
Baalbek Radio reported that 155mm IDF artillery shelled several villages in the Bekaa Valley containing local Hezbollah bases and training grounds.
CONCERN OVER SOPHISTICATION
The latest clash occurred after a well-executed Hezbollah attack on SLA positions in Alman village in the western section of the southern Lebanon security zone Tuesday.
According to Israeli sources, one SLA soldier was killed and four were captured, including the commander of the unit. Alman village was overrun and briefly occupied by Hezbollah forces.
Israeli and SLA artillery engaged in gun duels with Hezbollah on Tuesday and Wednesday and the Israeli air attacks followed Thursday.
The IDF, however, was clearly disturbed by the growing sophistication of the Iranian-trained Hezbollah forces and the apparent shortcomings of the SLA, a mercenary army largely of Lebanese Christians which patrols the security zone and areas north of it in close collaboration with the IDF.
The SLA troops clearly were unprepared for the bold tactics of Hezbollah, which has rarely mounted a direct ground assault on their positions.
While some military experts said the latest incident should not be taken as a sign of SLA weakness, veteran observers said the training of the Shi’ite fundamentalists by the Iranian Revolutionary Guard in Syrian-controlled territory was having its effect.
Israeli Defense Minister Moshe Arens accused the Syrian and Lebanese governments of doing nothing to halt Hezbollah’s terrorist activities and were therefore responsible for the recent spate of attacks on SLA and IDF positions in the security zone.