TEL AVIV, Israel — In the least friendly fire imaginable, Israeli soldiers in southern Lebanon encountered Hezbollah wearing Israel Defense Force uniforms, the Jewish state's leading investigative news program reported.
During a battle on the evening of August 6 and early hours of August 7, in the town of Hule, an IDF unit found two Hezbollah dressed in Israeli fatigues and helmets in a civilian home. The battlefield commander was forced to order his men to remove the white hats they wear on their helmets to distinguish his men from the enemy.
An embedded reporter, Itai Engel, from the weekly television news series "Uvda" — widely regarded as Israel's equivalent to "60 Minutes" — filmed the battle with a night vision camera.
In an interview yesterday, Mr. Engel said,"There were two of them in one of the houses. The soldiers realized they were wearing army uniforms. They had the helmet cover as well. They were wearing everything the IDF soldiers wear."
The report of Hezbollah in IDF uniforms fighting Israelis shows that Israel's foe has studied the Israel Defense Force closely. The tactic presents a challenge for soldiers trying to fight them; according to Mr. Engel, the house to house fighting was brutal, and the surprise of fighting the enemy in friendly uniforms only added to the fog of war.
The story also serves as another example of the Iranian proxy's predilection for fighting outside the laws of war. Earlier, the Israelis claimed Hezbollah fired rockets into its northern towns and cities from civilian positions, and the United Nations Interim Force in Lebanon warned in the first week of fighting that the terrorists were using the U.N. positions as cover.
An IDF spokeswoman said she could not confirm the incident. But a Likud member of the Knesset's defense and foreign affairs committee, Yuval Steinitz, said yesterday that he was aware of these incidents. He cautioned that they were not significant, however.
"You can buy IDF uniforms in shops all over the world. But it is not something serious. What we have to learn is first on the level of tactics," he said.
Mr. Steinitz's committee was briefed Wednesday by IDF generals on tactical lessons learned in Lebanon. On July 31, the IDF reported that it had uncovered a store of IDF uniforms after fighting in Al Adaisa.
A former military intelligence officer also said Hezbollah's appropriation of Israeli military uniforms is not a new tactic among his country's terrorist enemies. The IDF has arrested Palestinian Arab terrorists dressed as Israeli soldiers in the West Bank and Gaza, the officer, who requested anonymity, said.
Israel's military has strict rules about uniforms. IDF soldiers may not hitchhike while in uniform out of concern that they may be picked up by Palestinian Arabs looking to confiscate their uniforms. And soldiers are fined if they are not able to account for their uniform.
A former Israeli ambassador to the United Nations, Dore Gold, said yesterday that Hezbollah had been studying Israeli tactics. "They have been on our border. They know our patrols, where our soldiers go. They have studied our tactics, everything," he said.
"They listen to our radio, they read our books, they read Ariel Sharon's biography," a former brigadier general for IDF military intelligence, Shimon Shapira, said. "They know a lot about Israel. And as you know, the Israeli correspondents are very noisy. They can learn a lot from them."