So far the battle between Hizbollah and the Israeli army has been played out largely in the skies. Rocket attacks from the Party of God have challenged Israel’s aerial supremacy and, therefore, its ability to defend itself. North of the Lebanese border the Shi’ite guerrillas are launching missile after missile. At the beginning of the crisis, it was estimated that Hizbollah had some 13,000 Katyusha rockets, with a range of between 11 and 20 kilometres.
According to Israel, Hizbollah also possessed around 100 long-range so-called Raad-1 missiles, made in Iran. They are non-guided and so less precise but their impact in a residential area causes considerable damage. Hizbollah is thought to have around 600 full-time fighters and several thousand more reservists, who can be called upon when needed.
It is an asymmetric war – a militia against a state. Hizbollah uses guerrilla tactics, becoming an elusive enemy for the Israeli military, which is doing all it can to weaken the militants both physically and morally. Hizbollah hideouts and launchpads have become targets of the Israeli air force. F-16 jets have destroyed more than 100 Hizbollah strongholds but, by itself, that is not enough, admits this Israeli pilot.
“The option to hit Hizbollah leaders depends on intelligence, much more than it depends on the operational situation from the airforce,” he said. The aerial firepower can also provide Israeli ground forces with cover, striking at suspicious figures from above. Shells fired every 20 seconds also provide protection as do battalions of tanks. Israel has massed some 9,000 soldiers at the Lebanese border. The aim of the operation is to create a buffer zone in Lebanon, a 20-kilometre Hizbollah-free area.