Hezbollah kills two soldiers; large-scale response unlikely

21/07/2004 Two soldiers repairing an antenna on the roof of a fort on the Lebanese border were killed yesterday by a Hezbollah sharpshooter. The attack came as the army was placed on high alert following the death of a top Hezbollah official in a car bombing in Beirut on Monday. The two soldiers – Sergeant Itai Iluz, 21, of Afula, and First Sergeant Avishai Kuriski, 24, of Upper Nazareth – were communications technicians sent to make the repairs on the roof, without flak jackets. The army will investigate why the two were allowed to operate in the open on the roof of the Nurit fort, not far from Moshav Zarit, when army orders along the entire border were to avoid giving the Lebanese guerrilla group any target to attack.

While the IDF is not expected to launch a large-scale response to the soldiers’ deaths, it did respond immediately after yesterday’s shooting. Shots were fired from the air and tanks, and Israel Air Force jets set off sonic booms over Beirut, a reminder of the Lebanese capital’s vulnerability and a warning to the Beirut government to take against the Hezbollah. The tank fire hit the position from where the snipers fired, apparently killing one Hezbollah gunman. Helicopters struck a Hezbollah position in south Lebanon, a former Israeli position taken over by the Lebanese group, and reports said that another three Hezbollah gunmen were wounded. The Lebanese government filed an official complaint to the United Nations Security Council, sources in Beirut’s Foreign Ministry told Reuters. Hezbollah responded to the Israeli return of fire by firing anti-aircraft shells at Israeli territory. Several fragments hit a northern Galilee moshav, causing a fire. The Hezbollah said the skirmish began when Israeli forces shelled its positions near the town of Eita al-Shaab. But Israel insists Hezbollah had started the fighting, and that the army would continue to operate against any party „involved in terrorism against Israeli citizens.” Prime Minister Ariel Sharon gave the order yesterday to keep the incident „local,” meaning not to undertake a major operation against Hezbollah, Lebanese or Syrian targets in retaliation. Northern Command Maj. Gen. Benny Gantz said that the the alert would remain in effect for as long as the IDF perceived a Hezbollah threat. „We’ll continue keeping our eyes on the events in the coming hours and days and do everything we can not to disturb the residents of the area.” But he added that „there is a significant threat emerging here that is creating an explosive situation that could explode.” Gantz blamed Syria and Iran for the tension, as the patrons for the Hezbollah. But the assessment in Jerusalem was that the incident was over, at least for now. Israel is hardly interested in an escalation, and neither is Hezbollah. The incident occurred the same week that Brig. Gen. Yossi Kuperwasser told the Knesset Foreign Affairs Committee that Iran might provide Hezbollah with weapons of mass destruction, after providing them with thousands of rockets that can hit all of northern Israel.