Morning Report: July 12, 2006

Israel's two-front battle. A second hostage incident opens up conflict on Israel's northern front.

Debka on Israel's Lebanon incursion. Debka:
Seven Israeli troops killed in heavy fighting sparked by Hizballah kidnap of two Israeli soldiers under heavy rocket-mortar fire early Wednesday. Eleven civilians injured. Four troops killed when their tank blew up in pursuit of kidnappers, three during the abduction. Al Arabiya TV reported later that both Israeli hostages, said to be Druze IDF fighters, are wounded. This is not confirmed. Wednesday afternoon, Hizballah began shelling Israeli posts on Mt Dov and the Shabaa Farms. Israeli air force is striking sources of fire. Israel has called up air force and armored infantry reserves. Five Katyusha rockets were fired by Hizballah over Mt Meron in Israel. A Hizballah infiltrator was spotted and shot dead near the Yakinton army border post. A special operations unit was dropped over the Beirut area midday Wednesday in effort to intercept the Hizballah kidnappers with hostages before they disappeared in the Shiite district. Israel continues to bomb bridges, roads, power stations and Hizballah positions from the air and the sea. So far pursuit units battled Hizballah and Palestinian pursuit units in Lebanon have not caught up with the kidnappers. The bodies of the tank crew have not been recovered. DEBKAfile’s military sources: Preparations for the Hizballah kidnap operation were sighted well in advance at its border positions. The attack did not therefore come as a surprise. Nonetheless the first IDF probe conducted after the attack found that a Hizballah commando unit transferred from its Baalbek base had managed to infiltrate the northern border, lie in wait for two Israeli Hammer jeeps patrolling the border, and blow them up at around 0900 a.m., injuring 6 soldiers, three critically. After long moments, medical teams arrived and only then were the two kidnapped soldiers found missing. There is a strong parallel between the Hizballah kidnap operation and the Hamas attack and abduction of Gilead Shalit on June 25. The result is that Israeli is now fighting on two fronts and forced to stage incursions into two territories evacuated by its troops and used as terrorist strongholds. The Lebanese front differs from the Hamas front in Gaza in that Hizballah has arrayed its 12,000 rockets and missiles on the ready. Within their range are Israel’s northern cities from Nahariya to Haifa and Hadera in central Israel. Should the war situation escalate, Syrian military and air intervention cannot be ruled out.

US holds Iran, Syria accountable for kidnappings. Stratfor (subscription):
1810 GMT - The United States holds Iran and Syria, which both support Hezbollah, accountable for the kidnapping of two Israeli soldiers by Hezbollah militants, National Security Council spokesman Frederick Jones said July 12. Jones added that the abductions were timed to exacerbate already high tensions in the region.

Tammy: Stop ignoring the enemy. Tammy Bruce: 'The situation in Israel has gotten even worse. Frankly, while none of us wish war on anyone, there's a point where you have to stop ignoring the enemy. This finally may be the point when Israel ends the 'restraint' and is forced to deal a fatal blow to their terrorist enemies. Of course, it just so happens that their enemies also happen to be the enemies of the entire civilized world.'

Olmert: Act of war. Via Tammy's link, CNS News:
The abduction of two Israeli soldiers by Hizballah militants in southern Lebanon was not a terrorist attack but an act of war, Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert said Wednesday.

The Israeli army attacked Hizballah targets in southern Lebanon by air, land and sea on Wednesday after Hizballah captured the two soldiers and wounded 11 others in a cross-border attack earlier in the day.

The attack on northern Israel effectively opened up a two-front war for Israel, which also expanded its two-week old military operation in the Gaza Strip early Wednesday morning. Israel went into Gaza, hoping to force the release of another captured soldier and to stop the continual firing of Kassam rockets into Israel.

Gaza roundup. Vital Perspective:
The international community has begun to weigh-in on the situation with Hezbollah and Lebanon. Secretary Rice is urging Syria "to use its influence to support a positive outcome" and called on all sides to act with restraint after what Israel described as an act of war by Lebanon. "Hezbollah's action undermines regional stability and goes against the interests of both the Israeli and Lebanese people."

The UN envoy to Lebanon, Geir Pederson, said "Hezbollah's action escalates the already tense situation along the Blue Line and is an act of very dangerous proportions. I call on Hezbollah to release the soldiers and urge all parties to exercise maximum restraint and avoid any further escalation."...

Escalation predicted. Amos Harel at Ha'Aretz, via IRIS:
On the 18th day since the abduction of Corporal Gilad Shalit, the picture has become all the more complex. From limited fighting on a single front (the Gaza Strip), the Israel Defense Forces is now approaching what might evolve into a near outright war on two fronts.

This is the most complex crisis Israel has faced since Operation Defensive Shield in 2002, when Israel successfully curbed Hezbollah's bid to spark a confrontation on the northern border in response to the IDF occupation of West Bank cities.

In some respects, however, the situation now is even more complicated than in 2002, because terror groups are holding three soldiers captive: Gilad Shalit in the Gaza Strip, and two other soldiers who were captured Wednesday morning on the northern border. ...

From another perspective, however, the opening of a new front somewhat eases Israel's dilemma. It now seems that the government may be able to stop acting like it is walking on eggshells, as it has thus far.

IDF shells Qassam positions in Gaza. Jerusalem Post: 'IDF artillery was shelling Kassam rocket launch sites in the Gaza Strip on Wednesday evening.' For background on the importance of Gaza-based Qassam attacks, see this February 19 post.

Briefly noted. Tom the Redhunter detects some welcome nostalgia in the White House.

Commentary. So much going on, so little time to comment. I've said before that the Bush Administration's foreign policy will ultimately make no sense if the removal of the Taliban and Iraqi Ba'athist regimes are not followed up with regime change in Damascus and Tehran. This June 30 Morning Report prefigures some of the issues we're confronting at this moment - particularly Yossi Klein Halevi's comment about the paradoxical effects of hostage-taking on the Israelis.