A strike into Hezbollah's heart By Syed Saleem Shahzad
BAALBEK, Bekaa Valley - The Israeli commando raid and accompanying air strikes
on the Hezbollah stronghold of Baalbek near the Syrian border in southeastern
Lebanon mark the deepest strike north by Israel in three weeks of fighting.
Just hours after the Israelis seized five suspected Hezbollah guerrillas from a
hospital in the city, Asia Times Online visited the scene, where Hezbollah
field commanders said they believed a large-scale war would now be unleashed in
the Jabal Asharqi (Eastern Mountains), a strategic heart of Hezbollah.
The Hezbollah leaders said Israel had been working for some time to destroy
Hezbollah in the Bekaa Valley. During 21 days of war, its proxy network tried
to penetrate Hezbollah ranks, but was unable to do so.
"For the last five days they have been sending their fighting
aircraft to engage us, and they sent their Apache helicopters to lift their
men, whom they had planted in the area to gather information," said "Abbas", a
Hezbollah member in Baalbek who had menacingly stopped this correspondent to
check his identity.
Soon, though, the tension melted and we engaged in a long conversation over
"All Israeli operations in Baalbek failed. Initially, they attacked our leader
[in the area], Syed Ibrahim al-Syed. His house was destroyed, but he survived
as he was not there. Then in Asaira [a nearby town], Israel destroyed the house
of Sheikh Mohammed Yasbek. But he also survived as he was not there.
failures forced Israel to work out a new strategy, which they applied last
night [Tuesday - the night of the raid on the hospital]. Once they uplifted all
their agents, they carried out a massive raid [about 200 commandos] and engaged
our forces for six hours, and in the meantime they entered into our strategic
hub, Asaira, and took three people hostage.
"The purpose is to interrogate those innocent civilians, who only happen to be
the neighbors of top Hezbollah leaders, and therefore Israel would be
interested to know the whereabouts of Hezbollah leaders and Hezbollah's
strategic bases," Abbas maintained.
Though the British Broadcasting Corp claimed on Wednesday evening to be the
first Western media company to enter Baalbek a few days ago, before the Israeli
invasion, a Hezbollah field commander confirmed that Asia Times Online was in
fact the first international outlet to enter Asaira, which has been the target
of Israeli attacks.
"We never allowed any journalists to enter Asaira, but you can visit the area.
But take care of Israeli planes - as you can hear from the sound in the air,
Asaira is a 24-hour target," the man said.
About half the houses, buildings and fuel stations in Asaira have been
flattened by Israeli air strikes. Jets still criss-cross the sky, making their
sinister noise, while on the ground the silence of the shattered town is
Clearly, the town was a Hezbollah base of some sort. A number of yellow caps
with Hezbollah's insignia scattered in the rubble of one building bear
testimony to this.
Nevertheless, Hezbollah claims that its human resources are still well spread
in other parts of the Bekaa Valley.
"After Wednesday's developments, we are expecting that Israel will wage a new
phase of perhaps full-scale war by attacking Baalbek and the Bekaa Valley. We
expect it in the next few days," Abbas said, adding, "We are ready to go to the
Eastern Mountains to give them a tough fight."
Abbas predicted that after Baalbek, Israel would take the war to northern
cities, including Beirut. He was spot-on. Early on Thursday, Israel launched
air strikes against Hezbollah strongholds in Beirut's outskirts. According to
media reports, at least four explosions shook Beirut as missiles hit Dahieh, a
Further Israeli attacks in the Baalbek area, though, throw the shadow of war
directly over Syria. Baalbek and the Eastern Mountains are the main supply
lines of the Lebanese resistance from Syria, which would be very concerned
about the Israeli military operating just across its border.
Similarly, this area is a virtual outpost of the Iranian revolution. Each and
every village square and the walls are decorated with portraits or posters of
Iranian revolutionary leaders. All major hospitals, shopping malls and
education centers are named after Iranian clerics and leaders and run by
Thus the next few days will be crucial, as the Baalbek area is not only the
strategic capital of Hezbollah, it is also a strategic back yard of Syria and
Syed Saleem Shahzad Pakistan Bureau Chief, Asia Times Online. He can be
reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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