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Deep Strike: IDF Air Assault Commando Raid on Baalbek

In the past 48 hours, messages from Israel have been delivered to both Damascus and Tehran through the public release of intelligence claims. On Tuesday, however, the message had Hizballah addresses, namely being intended for Hassan Nasrallah and Imad Mugniyeh. While the messages to Iran and Syria were clearly for them to stay home, the message to Hizballah was “We can go where we want and strike where we want.”

For on Tuesday, there was no other way to interpret the IDF air assault on Baalbek, referred to as the ‘capital’ of Hizballah, situated near the Syrian border in the northern reaches of the Bekaa Valley. From the outset, it appeared to be an operation that was planned around specific actionable intelligence as a hospital in northern Baalbek appeared to be the primary target, with IDF Special Forces commandos checking the ID’s of all in the hospital according to early reports. The primary target appears to have been Mohammed Yazbek, who heads Hizballah’s Shura Council (or ‘consultation council’).

While Yazbek was not there, who Israel believed was being treated in the target hospital, three lower level Hizballah operatives were reportedly among the captured in the operation: Hussein Nasrallah, Hussein al-Burji and Ahmed al-Ghotah. Early reports were dominated by information from Hizballah - as the IDF remained very tight-lipped during the ongoing operation – and included claims from fierce fighting and Israeli troops trapped inside the hospital to many helicopters but no troops on the ground. Hizballah also claimed that the hospital had been evacuated days before the raid.

The picture that is coming into focus after the operation appears to show that the hospital was at least not entirely evacuated and that whatever fierce fighting occurred resulted in no IDF casualties, according to the Israeli military. The significance of the operation is clear, both in tactical terms and the psychological impact on Hizballah. The IDF inserted force where they wanted, operated as they wanted and performed a successful massive air assault deep in the heart of Hizballistan.

For Hizballah, increasingly cut off from Syrian and Iranian re-supply and largely left to stores on hand, they must now actively consider defenses beyond their southern front. That none of the IDF helicopters at low altitude over the heart of Hizballistan were shot down should not go unnoticed.

While Hizballah was surprised in the north, the northern operation was followed today with Israel sending 10,000 troops across the border on Hizballah’s southern front on a day in which the terrorist organization has launched over 160 rockets into Israeli cities so far in the day. At least one of them reached near Jenin in the West Bank, the deepest strike thus far by Hizballah. The rocket activity into Israel from Tyre in the west to various points on the eastern stretch of the border has been higher today than at any point in the conflict thus far.

For Hizballah, there is no rest as operations begin to accelerate in Hizballah-controlled southern Lebanon in what looks to be the beginning stages of the broad IDF clearing operations in their push northward to the Litani River.

While the talk is of inserting a multi-national force - headed by France under a UN flag - Israel’s Defense Minister Amir Peretz makes a clear distinction between a ‘Peacekeeper Force’ and a ‘Peacemaker Force.’ Israel’s forces are ensuring that the multinational forces will serve as more than an expanded UNIFIL, doubting that any UN-flagged troops will actually engage Hizballah militarily. Said Peretz, “We are preparing the conditions for the multinational force, so whenever it is deployed, it would be able to enforce the new situation.”

As Peretz no doubt understands, there must first be a peace to keep.