Israeli Press Analyis of the Terror Attack on Israel's Northern Road
Terror Returns to the Galilee
Ma'ariv (p. 2) by Avi Ashkenazi et al. -- Terror returned to the Galilee. As a result of shots from an ambush near Kibbutz Metzuba, six Israelis were killed, including a mother and daughter, an IDF officer and another three civilians. Two terrorists were killed, and by last night, it was still not clear whether a third terrorist had fled, after footprints of another person were found in the area. The Fatah military wing, the El-Aksa Martyrs Brigades, claimed yesterday, "A Palestinian cell that infiltrated from Lebanon" carried out the terror attack.
At about 12:30 p.m. the terrorists stationed themselves on a hill about three and a half kilometers from the Lebanese-Israel border. They shot to death a shepherd from Moshav Betzet, Ofer Kanerik. Afterwards they fired at a number of vehicles, including a Subaru in which a mother and her 15-year-old daughter, Lynn and Atara Livne, were traveling, and another private vehicle in which Yehudit Cohen of Shlomi was traveling. The three women were killed.
Then they shot at another two vehicles and a public bus on its way from Safed to Nahariya carrying a driver and a passenger. The passenger was slightly injured. The bus driver managed to get away and drive the bus to nearby Kibbutz Metzuba.
Afterwards the terrorist killed the driver of a truck transporting earth: A single bullet penetrated the window and hit him. The sixth dead person is Lt. German Rojyakov, killed while storming the terrorists. Yitzhak Friedman, 68, from Moshav Betzet, saw two figures walking near his orchard yesterday at about 8:30 a.m.: "They wore IDF uniforms and had M-16 rifles, but no helmets. I think that one of them had reddish hair. I said hello to them, they were about 20 meters from me, but they continued to walk and didn't even look at me. I was very lucky they didn't shoot me."
Policeman Ilan Cohen from the Nahariya police was on his way to the police station for the afternoon shift when he heard the shooting. "He immediately left his car and was the first to return fire at the terrorists. In essence, he kept them covered until the first police cars arrived a few minutes later," related a senior police officer from the northern district. After a short gun battle, Cohen was injured in his foot and fell bleeding in the middle of the road.
IDF forces arrived. These were Nahal forces manning the outpost at nearby Rosh Hanikra. They stormed the terrorist in an open area while firing volleys and climbing the hill. Brigade Commander Col. Dror Rofeh killed the two terrorist in a face to face battle. The deputy commander was killed while covering for him.
The driver of the regional council truck, Eli Ohana of Shlomi said: "I was just about to unload the truck at the banana fields under the hill, and then fire was opened at me. I was able to see one of the soldiers shooting at me very clearly, he wore army clothes and webbing. It was frightening. I don't know where I got the strength, but I jumped out of the window of the truck and lay on the ground so as not to be hit."
The terrorists used a weapon with a silencer during their attack so as to make it difficult to discern their location. This became clear yesterday in the investigation.
Execution: Palestinians; Planning: Hizbullah
The findings have not received final confirmation so far, but the picture that is emerging points to an attack carried out by Palestinians, members of Islamic Jihad, who trained in Hizbullah bases in the Bekaa Valley in Lebanon and were sent by Hizbullah to carry out a quality attack inside the Green Line.
The two Palestinians apparently crossed the Lebanese border without triggering the fence's warning systems. This is a very worrisome possibility, one which has operational ramifications for the functioning of the Northern Command along the border in the future. The Northern Command will have to discover the method that the organizers of the attack found to penetrate the fence without being discovered. Until then, more forces will have to be concentrated along the fence. In Gaza, too, the terrorists have found ways of getting through the fence. In one of the most recent attacks, near Kissufim -- in which a Givati soldier was killed -- it turned out that the terrorists simply hopped over the fence using a ladder. And information of this sort no doubt moves between the various sectors.
It is believed that the two crossed the fence under cover of the attack carried out by Hizbullah two days ago near Ghajar. We have seen this before: Hizbullah draws the attention of the IDF to one sector and then carries out an operation in another. The two had been inside the Green Line since two nights ago. This is enough time to find a good lookout point, follow activities in the area and comfortably choose the best target for attack.
Nothing that could identify them was found on their bodies, which only strengthens the assumption that they were sent by professionals who want to confuse the enemy. Because the moment that it becomes clear that this was an attack carried out with Hizbullah involvement, Israel will have to deal seriously with the matter and exact a painful price in order to prevent the reoccurrence of such incidents in the future.
Hizbullah wants to kill two birds with one stone: to help their forlorn brothers in Ramallah, as their secretary promised, and also to enjoy the anonymity of the two unidentified Palestinians, to cause Israel confusion and embarrassment and save itself from an Israeli counter-strike.
Israel must decide that it will no longer be the punching bag for every leper and outcast in the Middle East. The minute that it is proven that this was a cross-border infiltration, Israel should react immediately and in strength, but not against Hizbullah. There is really no point in getting into a war of attrition with Hizbullah and in opening a second front. The target should be the Lebanese government and Syrian interests in Lebanon. And it should be a blow so strong that Hariri will change his mind about holding the meeting of the Arab League in Beirut.
Hizbullah may have infiltrated perhaps even 24 hours ago and stayed overnight in a hiding place, leaving to carry out the terror attack in the light of day.
The terrorists might also have been a Palestinian cell from the territories that was prepared and instructed by Nasrallah's men in Lebanon for the operation.
And it might have been a Fatah cell from the Lebanese faction of the El-Aksa Martyrs Brigades that trains in Lebanon with the aid of Hizbullah in order to infiltrate and carry out terror attacks inside Israeli territory.
The important point is that Hizbullah recently made it its goal to heat up the northern front by carrying out a large scale terrorist act and not necessarily by firing Katyushas from Lebanese territory. Such a terror attack fits in well with the organization's need to prove that it is active militarily against Israel and that it is, in fact, keeping its promise to help the Palestinian struggle in the territories, without directly embroiling the government of Lebanon.
At least three Hizbullah spokesmen, led by Secretary General Hassan Nasrallah, have stressed the urgent need to "go from words to deeds" in the last two days. This need to inflame the armed confrontation between the Palestinians and the Israelis has become more urgent on the eve of the visit of American envoy Anthony Zinni to the region, who is coming here to push for a cease-fire agreement. Hizbullah is not interested in a cease-fire, just as Hamas and Islamic Jihad are not interested, and even announced yesterday that it makes no difference if the Americans are sending an envoy, the armed resistance must not stop.
And it is no accident that Hizbullah was one of the first groups in the Arab world to express vehement opposition to the Saudi initiative for full peace in exchange for a full withdrawal, and announced that Sharon should not be offered a way out of the complicated situation he finds himself in.
If the assessment that Hizbullah was involved in the terror attack in the north is found to be correct, this will indicate that the organization is changing its methods of confrontation against Israel, which up to now have been limited to shooting at IDF outposts on Har Dov, firing anti-aircraft fire at IAF aircraft, efforts to recruit and operate cells to carry out terror attacks from within the territories, and smuggle weapons from Jordan and other places.
Such a change may be a Hizbullah attempt to provoke Israel to respond militarily against them, which would then justify firing Katyushas at northern communities and enable them to open another front against the IDF.
Mofaz: "Hizbullah wants to open a second front"
Yesterday senior security sources spoke about "cautious assessments" that those who carried out the terror attack near Kibbutz Metzuba came from inside Israel but were coordinated with Hizbullah. "It is not clear to us from where the terrorists came. There were no signs of infiltration on the border fence, but the proximity, as well as the fact that it was a well-armed and well-trained force, raises the suspicion that it was an infiltration from Lebanese territory," said a senior source.
A very senior source in the north pointed out, "If it turns out that the terrorists infiltrated from Lebanese territory, it changes the whole situation on the northern border and Israel will have to respond powerfully. Therefore we are not in a hurry to say where the terrorists came from, until we know the answer one hundred percent."
Defense Minister Binyamin Ben-Eliezer said yesterday: "It should be clear that Hizbullah cannot fire one bullet in the air without Syria. But I don't intend to bring about an escalation. As far as things are up to me, the matter will remain an incident on the border."
The initial investigations carried out so far focus suspicions in two main directions as to the identity of the terrorists: a Palestinian cell, or an Israeli Arab cell.
At first, security establishment officials thought that Hizbullah was behind the terror attack. According to this theory, the terrorists infiltrated Israeli territory several days ago, maybe even on Monday, under cover of the terror attack carried out at the IDF Lilach outpost north of Maayan Baruch. However various examinations conducted along the electronic fence did not reveal any indications of an infiltration from Lebanese territory. Thus, senior officials tend to negate the possibility that a Lebanese Hizbullah cell carried out the terror attack.
The suspicion that the terror attack came from Israeli territory is based mainly on the clothing and equipment of the terrorists. The two were dressed in IDF uniforms with webbing, and one of the weapons they were carrying with them, an M-16 rifle, was IDF-issued. It is believed that the equipment was stolen from the IDF (or sold by criminal elements), and transferred to hostile elements in the PA or among Israeli Arabs.
Senior officials believe that Hizbullah was indirectly connected to the attack, and possibly financed and trained the terrorists who operated near Kibbutz Metzuba. This assessment is corroborated by the amount of effort needed by Palestinian terrorist organizations to carry out a terror attack so far from PA territory. "It is not clear why they made such an effort to go so far, as from the minute the terrorists crossed the seamline, they could have fired in crowed populations centers, without taking the risk of getting caught on the way," a senior source said.
Lebanon officially claimed yesterday that the terror attack was not carried out from its territory. The Hizbullah television station claimed last night, "The fighters of the holy Intifada in PA territory succeeded in deviating from their war inside the territories and going to northern occupied Palestine, from where they attacked a bus and car near the settlement of Shlomi."
"In the morning, I went to open the water pipe in the moshav. Suddenly I heard the sound of someone stepping on dry leaves. Twenty meters from me I saw two guys quickly crossing the road. I said, 'good morning, guys,' because I thought that they were soldiers, and I continued on my way. One had a Kalashnikov and one had a long M-16. I did not report it to the police because they did not make me suspicious. It was a miracle that they didn't shoot me. Later, when I arrived at the scene of the attack, I saw on the bodies of the terrorists the weapons that I had seen in the morning."
As of last night, there was no irrefutable proof of any direct involvement of Hizbullah in the terror attack. But recently, enough evidence has accumulated that the organization indeed intends to again ignite the northern front. First there was talk, arrogant threats by Nasrallah and other senior organization officials. After that, a short while later, two terrorists suddenly appeared on the main road near Shlomi.
It is not yet known where the terrorists came from. But it would be reasonable to assume that they left on Monday night. Perhaps by chance, or not by chance, there were shooting incidents on Monday night between Hizbullah operatives and an IDF force near Maayan Baruch. Is there a connection between the two events? As of last night, no evidence was found of anyone crossing the border fence from Lebanon into Israel. But past experience has proven that Hizbullah likes to open fire in one sector in order to engage and distract, and to attack in another sector.
The details will become clear later. But there is no doubt that Arafat is pleased with what happened yesterday in the north. Form his point of view, especially when the IDF is absorbed in its operations in the territories, searching Jabalya and occupying Ramallah, it is convenient when a new threat develops and Israel is compelled to face two fronts and split up its forces.
If it turns out that the terrorists came from the territories, and that it was a Palestinian terror attack, it will be necessary to examine how they made their way across such a great distance from Area A territories to the northern border, whether they were aided by anyone and how they stationed themselves at the point they chose for the lethal attack.
But if it turns out that Hizbullah's hands were pulling the strings, directly or indirectly, then this is the horror scenario we've already been through in the past, and whose realization could make Israel face a new realityPress clips from Israeli media: March 13, 2002. Translations courtesy of "israel news today"