The Air Offensive
The Israeli Air Force (IAF) put in a stellar performance in this war. Its prime target system was the known locations of the Hezbollah’s long range rockets like the Raad (45 km range) Fajr 3 (50 km range) Fajr 5 (70 km range) and the Zel Zal 1, 2 and 3 (with 120 km, 200 km and 400 km ranges). These were deemed to be the most potent threats to Israel and detailed intelligence on these had been gathered and target folders drawn up well before the war. It is claimed that upto 50 percent of the Hezbollah arsenal of long range rockets was destroyed in the very first hour of the air campaign. Storage facilities of these long range Rockets (near Beruit and elsewhere) were repeatedly targeted.
The Israelis claim that 90 percent of the Hezbollah long range rocket launchers (especially the 220mm Raad and 302mm Khyber rockets) that fired later were destroyed immediately after launching their salvos.20 Suspected command and control nodes in the suburbs of Beirut were also struck repeatedly. This included the five story tall al Manar TV Network control station of the Hezbollah, its Command HQ in Southern Beirut and intelligence HQ North of Baalbek.21 The Israeli Air Force launched a total of some 15,500 sorties and struck 7000 targets in Lebanon. Its employment of Precision Guided Munitions was so high that in the first week of the war itself, it ran out of stock of the GPS guidance based Joint Direct Attack Munitions and emergency supplies had to be air lifted by the USA.
However, by the second week of the war (writes Martin Van Crevald) it had run out of viable targets.22 The shorter range Katyusha Rockets were very difficult to detect from the air and adequate intelligence on the tactical level defensive layout of the Hezbollah in Southern Lebanon was just not available. The Hezbollah fighters had dug networks of deep tunnels and underground bunkers on the Vietcong Pattern – which provided adequate shelter from air attacks. The Israeli Air Force repeatedly struck the suspected logistical base area of the Hezbollah around Beirut and the Bekka valley and the road communications from Syria. The Lebanese road infrastructure was targeted repeatedly to destroy several bridges and try to cut Syrian traffic to the West and from Central Lebanon to the South.
Three bridges on the Litani river were completely destroyed.23 The degree of success achieved in this interdiction effort is not known. From the second week of the war, a dearth of viable targets caused the Israeli Air Force to waste effort on targets like chasing individual cars and motorcycles. It was technically incapable of destroying the Hezbollah’s arsenal of some 14,000 Katyusha 122mm Rockets, given the ease with which these could be transported, concealed and fired from prepared, static positions.