(Photo: Motti Sela, Israel Ministry of the Environment)
A recent headline in Ha'aretz ("Katyusha rocket hit Haifa oil refineries complex during Second Lebanon War") brought back some disturbing memories of last summer's war between Israel and Hizbullah.
That conflict began with Hizbullah's brazen incursion into Israeli territory on a squad of Israeli reservists, on Wednesday, July 12, 2006, which resulted in the deaths of 3 soldiers and the capture of Eldad Regev and Ehud Goldwasser, who are still being held by the organization today (unless they have been killed already). When ground forces pursued the attackers into Lebanon, Hizbullah fighters blew up an Israeli tank with a massive IED, killing 4 crew members. But what looked like a copy of the Palestinian abduction of Gilad Shalit on June 25 quickly developed into something far more frightening.
Already on July 12, the Israeli home front came under attack, as Hizbullah shelled and rocketed communities in the north of the country, along the border. But the "War of the Missiles" began in earnest on Thursday, July 13, when katyushas killed a woman in Nahariya and a man in Tsfat (Safed). In the evening of that day, Carmia reported the first katyusha attack on Haifa (see also her posts on local reactions that night and on Saturday).
One of the worst days of that war, at least for the home front, was Sunday, July 16, 2006, when a Hizbullah missile struck the Haifa train depot, killing 8 workers, just after 9:00 in the morning. Carmia and I reported live from Haifa, as the city came under attack. At the time, we heard several rumors of strategic sites having been hit. Already, on Thursday night, the New York Times had claimed that a rocket had hit the Haifa port, as Carmia reported. In subsequent days, we heard numerous unsubstantiated reports that Haifa's famous Technion, an institution equivalent to MIT, had been hit, and that katyushas had also landed very close to the "salt-and-pepper shakers" that house Israel's main oil refinery.
It now turns out that the refineries complex was indeed hit by a Hizbullah missile during the war, as Ha'aretz reported on March 22. Fortunately, the rocket landed in an open area. A direct hit could have had disastrous consequences - leading to the deaths of hundreds of people
The scary thing is that the IDF still seems no closer than it was last summer to a military solution that might adequately protect these strategic facilities - not to mention Israeli civilians in the north - against short-range rocket attacks. It is possible that the air force's devastating response to Hizbullah, which came with the tremendous cost of hundreds of Lebanese civilian casualties, has somewhat changed the party's calculus. But while Hizbullah listens to its sectarian constituency in Lebanon, and sometimes even to Lebanese public opinion as a whole, the organization owes its power and, indeed, its existence to the Iranians and the Syrians.
The Iranians demonstrated last week that they can still act up when they feel threatened. It remains to be seen how this latest hostage drama plays out, but there is no doubt that elements in the Iranian leadership are willing to take similarly provocative actions in other theaters as well. Meanwhile, Palestinian groups such as the Islamic Jihad may try to force another Israeli offensive into Gaza, by stepping up rocket attacks from there. Such an incursion would surely force Hamas and Fatah into the fray as well. Amir Oren has a worrisome report about state of preparedness for such contingencies in the IDF.