Threat of Abduction That Haunted Israeli Soldiers
This article is from the archive of The New York Sun before the launch of its new website in 2022. The Sun has neither altered nor updated such articles but will seek to correct any errors, mis-categorizations or other problems introduced during transfer.
LONDON — High in the mountains that delineate Israel’s northern border with Lebanon, Israeli troops have spent the past year engaged in a deadly game of cat and mouse with Iranian-backed fighters from the radical Islamic Hezbollah militia.
On a visit to the hotly contested border area earlier this year, it was clear that at key sectors along the 60-mile border, the Israeli defensive positions were less than 50 yards from their Hezbollah foes.
The Israeli soldiers serving on the front line were under no illusions about Hezbollah’s deadly intent.
“There’s nothing they’d like more than to kidnap an Israeli soldier,” said the senior Israeli army officer with me. “It’s just the kind of publicity stunt they crave. Every time we go out on patrol we know we might run into a Hezbollah ambush.”
Yesterday the officer’s predictions proved correct when Hezbollah said it had taken not one but two Israeli soldiers hostage during a raid into northern Israel code-named “truthful promise.”
Israeli military commanders have become increasingly concerned about Hezbollah’s activities in southern Lebanon since Syria was forced to withdraw its forces last year. In recent months, Hezbollah has built a network of sophisticated control towers and monitoring stations along the length of the border with Israel.
The new equipment, which has cost tens of millions of dollars, was paid for by Iran. Israeli officers have reported frequent sightings of Iranian military officials inspecting the new facilities and advising local Hezbollah commanders.
Although Hezbollah claims to be a Lebanese political party, it continues to function as an independent, armed militia in southern Lebanon where it was originally established in the 1980s by Iran’s Revolutionary Guards.
Hezbollah continues to enjoy close links with Iran to the extent that Israeli commanders regard the northern border as their “front line” with Iran.
In the past few months Hezbollah militiamen have made several abortive attempts to kidnap Israeli soldiers. In one incident earlier this year 20 Hezbollah militiamen stormed a farmhouse close to the border in the mistaken belief that a group of Israeli soldiers had taken shelter inside. They were victims of an elaborate trap set by the Israeli army, and most of the Hezbollah attackers were killed in the ensuing shootout.
Until yesterday’s abductions, Hezbollah has been able to act with relative impunity in southern Lebanon because Israel has been keen to establish good relations with the new Lebanese government. This has inhibited the Israelis from taking pre-emptive action to diminish the threat posed by Hezbollah.
Israel is unlikely to be inhibited in its response to the abductions, even though the two Israeli soldiers will by now most likely be hidden away in a basement in the Hezbollah-controlled southern suburbs of Beirut.