At daybreak Wednesday, a small number of Israeli troops were operating just across the border inside southern Lebanon, looking for tunnels and weapons, the Israeli military said without providing any more details.
The incursion came a day after Israel indicated that it might send large numbers of ground troops into the southern Lebanon, but Israel’s U.N. Ambassador Dan Gillerman denied Wednesday’s operation was part of any such operation.
“What is going on at the moment is a number of Israeli ground troops very near to the border on the Lebanese side, trying to destroy some Hezbollah outposts,” he told CNN.
“This is an operation which is very measured, very local,” he said. “This is no way an invasion of Lebanon. This is no way the beginning of any kind of occupation of Lebanon.”
The army’s deputy chief of staff, Maj. Gen. Moshe Kaplinski, said Israel has not ruled out deploying “massive ground forces into Lebanon.”
Israel, which has mainly limited itself to attacks from the air and sea, had been reluctant to send in ground troops because Hezbollah is far more familiar with the terrain and because of memories of Israel’s ill-fated 18-year-occupation of south Lebanon that ended in 2000.
Northern Front Commander Brig. Gen. Alon Friedman told Army Radio; “Right now we don’t have any intention, any thoughts of acting against Syria, unless Syria carries out some sort of act. As long as Syria remains outside of these activities, we will keep the same policy that we have implemented until now.”
Defense Minister Amir Peretz told senior IDF officers Tuesday that attacks against Hezbollah would continue “without letup and time limit.”
A senior military source said Tuesday that Israel seeks “to significantly weaken Hezbollah but not crush it.” He said that “it is impossible to crush a popular, religious movement.”
The source added that had the Government of Israel reacted differently to the abduction of three IDF soldiers in an attack on the border in October 2000 and behaved as Israel is doing now, it is likely that the attack last Wednesday, in wich two soldiers were abducted, could have been prevented.