The IDF conducted a staged evacuation of “wounded” soldiers from a military vehicle struck Sunday by a Hezbollah anti-tank missile just inside Israel’s border with Lebanon, sources confirmed.
After the armored vehicle was struck Sunday afternoon, the army dispatched a helicopter to the scene and two apparently bleeding and bandaged soldiers were filmed being evacuated.
Lebanese media subsequently began reporting of a successful operation by the terror group, which struck several military targets.
The Iran-backed terror group quickly took responsibility for the missile strikes, saying in a statement that its fighters “destroyed an ‘Israeli’ military vehicle on the Avivim barracks road [in northern Israel] and killed and injured those in it.” Hezbollah even made a point of saying it did not interfere with the medical evacuation operation.
The IDF initially declined to comment further on the operation, and only a few hours later said that there had been no casualties in the attack. Shortly after the IDF chopper evacuated the apparently wounded soldiers to Haifa’s Rambam Medical Center, they were released without receiving any medical care, the hospital said.
Later Sunday evening, after Israel carried out extensive strikes in Lebanon in response to the missile attack, it emerged that the two “wounded” soldiers had in fact been part of a staged rescue operation planned ahead of time, sources said. Israel apparently hoped that Hezbollah, thinking it had inflicted casualties, would conclude that it had retaliated sufficiently for a pair of Israeli strikes on Hezbollah and Iranian targets late last month, and hold its fire.
(נדרשתי לצייץ מחדש) תרגיל ההונאה שצהל נקט אחה״צ: המסוק לא פינה פצועים כי לא היו פצועים. הפינוי המוסק כולו תוכנן מראש כפעולת הונאה, שמטרתה לגרום לחיזבאללה לחשוב שהצליח לפגוע בחיילים. שימו לב לרמת ההפקה pic.twitter.com/EYWuUNdt2p
— רועי שרון Roy Sharon (@roysharon11) September 1, 2019
The staged evacuation followed Hezbollah’s firing of several anti-tank guided missiles that hit an army base as well as the military APC.
Military sources said that the vehicle was empty when it was struck, but that soldiers had been inside half an hour earlier. IDF spokesman Lt. Col. Jonathan Conricus initially said that the APC had been painted with a red Jewish star, identifying it as an ambulance, but later retracted the claim and clarified that the vehicle had been used as an ambulance but was not marked as such.
This wasn’t the first time the IDF had employed an apparent psychological warfare tactic in the latest flareup with Hezbollah. Last week, Lebanese media spotted an IDF jeep parked along the northern border with mannequins in uniforms inside.
Ali Shoeib, who works for Hezbollah’s Al-Manar news network, published photographs of several IDF jeeps parked near the Lebanese border, in which dummies appeared to be sitting in the front seat.
The IDF has been known to use mannequins in this fashion, placing them in bunkers or sniper’s nests in an effort to trick its enemies into thinking that these positions are full of soldiers and thus serve a deterrent effect.
The army had declined to comment on the matter.
In response to Sunday’s attack, the Israeli military said its artillery cannons and attack helicopters fired approximately 100 shells and bombs at Hezbollah targets in southern Lebanon.
Conricus said the IDF considered the “tactical event on the ground” to be over as of Sunday evening, but that the larger strategic threat posed by Hezbollah on the border remained. The IDF remained on high alert Sunday evening, officials said.
Reacting to the incident at the opening of a Honduras diplomatic office in Jerusalem, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu boasted that no Israelis were so much as “scratched” by the Hezbollah attack.
The military said Hezbollah operatives fired two or three missiles at a battalion headquarters outside of the Israeli community of Avivim and at military vehicles nearby shortly after 4:15 p.m. Sunday. Several of the projectiles struck their targets but did not cause any casualties, despite the claims to the contrary by Hezbollah, the IDF said.
— כאן חדשות (@kann_news) September 1, 2019
Conricus said the armored vehicle — a personnel carrier known in Hebrew as a Ze’ev, which holds up to eight people — was destroyed and that the army base outside Avivim was damaged.
Hezbollah indicated that the missile attack was in response to an airstrike by the IDF last Saturday night that targeted an Iranian-led plot to bomb northern Israel with armed drones, killing several Iranian operatives, including two Hezbollah members. The terror group said the cell that carried out the missile strike was named for its two fallen operatives: Hassan Zabeeb and Yasser Daher.
Further stoking the flames last week was a drone attack in Beirut — blamed on Israel — that reportedly destroyed key components of a joint Hezbollah-Iran project to manufacture precision-guided missiles in Lebanon.