During the fall of 2003, I was a soldier in the Israeli Defense Forces, deployed on the Lebanese border. I learned more about Hizbollah than I ever wanted to know. I learned that when the IDF hastily withdrew from Lebanon in 2000, many of the old armored positions were abandoned and not destroyed. I learned that Hizbollah had taken up these positions. I learned the grisly details of various Hizbollah attacks. Attacks on families, schoolchildren, and Israeli soldiers. I learned about missile attacks, kidnappings, and roadside bombs.
During the days before we got up north, we were warned that the first week was most crucial. Hizbollah knows everything, we were told. They know when a new unit moves in, and often strike to intimidate the unit or to take advantage of the unit not being familiar with the area.
During the afternoon of our fifth day responsible for a portion of the border along the base of Mount Dov, Hizbollah fired a Sager anti-tank missile at our base. They simply fired the missile, and then took cover in the bunkers the IDF had left them. Fortunately, no one was injured.
We saw training videos of Hizbollah. They were professional soldiers. They were intimidating. They practiced moving in formation at night. We could see some of their positions with binoculars. Some were only a mile away from us, but we couldn’t do anything. They were on the other side of an international border, which Israel did not want to violate. We were told that we were only to cross the border in the event of a kidnapping. So we waited.
We spent our whole time up North waiting for Hizbollah to break through the fence into Israel or to attack us. Because of our rules of engagement, we knew that if there were combat, they would fire the first shot. It became obvious that they could kill us whenever they wanted to. They would fire an RPG from their side of the border and that would be the end of us. It was intimidating.
Eyal Banin was one of my company’s squad commanders. Last week he was doing routine reserve duty along the Northern border. Last Wednesday, he was the victim of a Hizbollah first strike. Eyal and two other soldiers were killed. Two more soldiers were kidnapped.
At the same time, Hizbollah began firing Katyusha missiles into Israel. Hizbollah had fired missiles into Kiryat Shmoneh many times. Somehow, as long as it was “just Kiryat Shmoneh,” we didn’t respond.
Last week, it wasn’t just Kiryat Shmoneh; it was the whole Northern border. On Thursday, there was speculation that Hizbollah had better, longer-range missiles. While I was eating dinner at my girlfriend’s house on Thursday evening, we had a discussion which must have also been taking place in tens of thousands of other homes in Israel.
“Can they hit Haifa? Could they be crazy enough to hit Haifa? If they hit Haifa, then we’ll have to really retaliate.” A few hours later, our question was answered. They had hit Haifa, and were almost halfway to Tel Aviv.
They killed eight people in Haifa on Sunday. They also hit numerous other cities for the first time. They struck the biblical city of Tiberias, and the mixed Arab-Jewish city of Afula. Also on Sunday, the Israeli Rear Command issued a statement warning residents of Tel Aviv to be prepared for the possibility of a missile attack. Israeli intelligence indicated that Hizbollah might in fact have the capability of striking Israel’s largest city.
Hamas and Hizbollah are constantly expanding their missile range. This means that the portion of Israel unthreatened by terrorist missiles is constantly shrinking. The terrorists are closing in on us. A month ago, the nearest missile hit was 50 miles in the South and more than 100 miles in the North. It is now 40 miles in the South, and 60 miles in the North.
These terrorist organizations are governmental. The democratically elected majority party in the Palestinian Authority is Hamas. Hizbollah is a large, democratically elected party in Lebanon, with 14 seats in parliament and two ministers.
My heart goes out to the innocent Palestinian and Lebanese civilians who have been killed in IDF responses to their governments’ attacks on Israel. But what would you do?