The soft-shell civilian vehicles that carried IDF soldiers down from Mount Dov on Wednesday and into Hezbollah’s line of rocket fire prompted criticism and questions about the army’s operational readiness in the tense area. It is likely, however, that they saved several lives, even if inadvertently.
Hezbollah squads, seeking to retaliate against Israel for a January 18 strike on the Syrian side of the Golan Heights which killed Jihad Mughniyeh and Iranian IRGC Brig. Gen. Mohammed Allahdadi, established an ambush, apparently including a reconnaissance team and several missile squads. The goal was not to abduct a soldier, but to draw blood.
The Hezbollah squads, situated four kilometers away, fired the first of their guided, Russian-made Kornet missiles at the Israeli convoy. It hit an Isuzu DMAX, the second car in the convoy, killing the driver, Staff Sgt. Dor Chaim Nini, and the company commander, Maj. Yochai Kalangel. The other soldiers in the convoy ran like hell and flopped down on their stomachs, knowing — from what might be called an acquired instinct, drilled into them from their first day in Basic Training — that the closer to the earth you are the better your chances of staying alive.
The Hezbollah gunmen fired five more Kornet missiles. These missiles can tear through armor and did so repeatedly during the Second Lebanon War. “In this instance, with the use of an anti-tank missile, an armored vehicle would not have been protected unless it was a Merkava tank,” Defense Minister Moshe Ya’alon said Thursday on Army Radio.
The IDF stressed that the road in question, Route 999, was open to civilian traffic and that the soldiers were not on an operational mission at the time.
A spokesperson said that the army uses an array of armored vehicles for travel in the border region. One of the vehicles, the Safari – an armored truck that effectively shields against small arms fire – would have been a death trap.
The soldiers, as happened all too often on the roads of the security zone in south Lebanon, would not have made it through the maze-like interior and out in time. The five subsequent missiles, two of which hit another car in the convoy and a home in Ghajar while the other three missed their mark, would have killed more soldiers.
The convoy, carrying as many as a dozen officers from the Tzabar Battalion, according to a report in Ynet, would have been decimated.
The region was a pleasant mountainous training area during the 18-year IDF presence in the so-called security zone Israel held in south Lebanon from 1982. In June 2000, once the withdrawal had been completed, it became a forward zone.
Anyone who served there in the years prior to the Second Lebanon War of 2006 felt the presence of Hezbollah in the field, forever encroaching upon the army’s ridge-line positions, probing the access routes and laying the ground work for abduction operations
After the war and the issuing of UN Security Council Resolution 1701 — which failed to disarm Hezbollah but reduced its armed presence south of the Litani River — the tension in the area appreciably subsided. Now, after the January 28 ambush, it is a forward zone again.
Ya’alon defended the use of unarmored vehicles Thursday night, telling Channel 2 news that it’s impossible to send a tank for every routine drive. Instead of relying on armor, the military will likely instead attempt to minimize daytime movements, and conduct surveillance before sending out convoys.