Israel now escalated to the use of its Special Forces to raid these redoubts across the Lebanese border. 200 personnel of the Israeli Special Forces team of the elite “Sayeret Matkal“ and Sayeret Shaldag“ struck a Hezbollah logistics base at Baalbek in Bekka Valley (150 kms North of the Israeli border). They were helidropped by CH-53 Sea Stallions heavy transport helicopters, as part of Operation Clear Cut. They stormed several residential buildings and a hospital where suspected Hezbollah operatives were living or operating from. They killed 10 militants and captured five more and returned safely to base after carrying out their mission.33 Even the Special Forces, however, failed to stem the rain of rockets falling on the Israeli cities.
The Limited Land Operations
After two weeks of the air alone offensive had failed to completely destroy the Hezbollah or stem its rain of rockets, on 19 Jul 06, the Israeli Army attacked the Hezbollah redoubt at Marin El Ras and on 21 July, 06 the town of Bent Jebel (which was considered the stronghold of the Hezbollah in Southern Lebanon). The attack was spearheaded by two Israeli Brigades, the 1 Golani Infantry Brigade and the 7th Saar Armored Brigade.34 Both of these were bogged down in fierce fighting in the layered defence lines where the Hezbollah’s Anti-tank Guided Missile Teams fired in Swarms at the tanks and Infantry. They were able to penetrate the armour of the Israeli Merkava Mk 3 and MK 4 tanks. The Merkava is one of the most heavily armoured and well protected tanks in the world. The Hezbollahs missile men ambushed it by firing in swarms at its relatively weaker sides and rear. The Russian Matis-M and Kornet-E Missiles have proved very effective. As against the planned three Divisions thrust, this two brigade offensive was half hearted. The Hezbollah focused all its resources against this single thrust. After five days of fierce fighting the two brigades managed to capture Bent Jebel but took fairly heavy casualties (16 soldiers killed).35
The Main Ground Offensive
Finally on 3 Aug 06, the Israeli Defence Minister, Amir Peretz ordered the IDF to prepare to expand its operations (some 20 kms deep into Lebanon up to the Litani River, where most of the Hezbollah’s rockets were deployed). However, the Israeli Cabinet hesitated in approving this decision. The main offensive, therefore, went in rather late in the day (around 9 Aug, 06). Seven Israeli Armoured Brigades (five regular and two reserve brigades) were thrown into this offensive (that should have been launched almost three weeks earlier). The thrusts were launched as under:
- Central Sector. 35 Paratroop Brigade attacked in the Central Sector of Southern Lebanon and was involved in fierce house to house fighting in the village of Aita-al-Shaab. As per Nicholas Branford, an Israeli Armoured column launched a Westward thrust to seize the villages of Ghandourich (located on a dominating ridge aside a strategic road junction South of the Litani river). A brigade of Nahal troops (presumably the Para Brigade) launched the biggest heliborne assault after the 1973 Yom Kippur war. The Paras landed in the high ground around the Ghandourich village to make way for the Tank columns driving up the Wadi Saloqui Valley. The Wadi Saloqui Valley was a major Base area of the Hezbollah and had a large number of rocket firing positions. The Hezbollah was able to detect the Israeli preparations for an offensive in this sector. Dozens of Hezbollah Anti Guided Missile teams converged from other sectors and took positions in the dense foliage along the flanks of Wadi Salouqi Valley. This become a major tank ambush. The leading Israeli tank was blown up by an IED and the tank column came under heavy missile, RPG and mortar fire. Eleven tanks were hit and 12 Israeli soldiers were killed in this ambush. This 60 hour operation (11 – 13 Aug 06) proved to be a major disaster of this war.
- Eastern Sector. The 401 (Iron Trails) Armoured Brigade alongwith the 93 Nakhal Infantry Brigade and the Reserve 2 Carmeli Infantry Brigade, attacked in the Eastern Sector and were heavily engaged in the villages of Markaba, Al Taybe, and Kila.
- Western Sector. The Reserve 903 Alaxandroni Infantry Brigade encountered fierce resistance in the village of Rajamin as it advanced towards the Mediterranean town of Bayada. Another two reserve divisions which were hastily mobilised on 30th Jul were kept in reserve and did not join the fighting.
Greg Grant writing in the 28 Aug, 06 issue of the Defence News said “The fighting was reminiscent of the great World War II tank Battles at Kursk, in which Germany’ massed tank forces attempted to swarm through thick Russian defensive belts but were ground to bits in a defeat from which the Whermacht never recovered.37