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Jul 26, 2006 | 05:40 GMT

4 mins read

Lebanon: Precision in the Israeli Air Force's Campaign

The battle damage inflicted during the Israeli air force's campaign against Hezbollah in Lebanon has been far more precise and focused than most realize.
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The destroyed highway overpass has become a common sight in southern Lebanon since the Israel Defense Forces (IDF) — and particularly the Israeli air force (IAF) — began its campaign against Hezbollah, but the damage is not what it immediately seems. IAF precision-guided bombs are targeted at the middle of the bridge, dropping one or two spans and possibly the central pillars. But the foundational abutments on each end are left intact, as is the highway roadbed itself. The IAF is making it very clear to everyone (especially those in southern Lebanon, where this kind of infrastructure attack is heaviest) what it is capable of. But the ultimate impact is relatively marginal; because the bridges and roads themselves are not damaged more extensively, reconstruction time and costs are reduced. The effect on shipping and movement is predominantly that of annoyance. These strikes will only slow the movement of supplies, realistically interdicting only large vehicles.
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The damage to Beirut International Airport is even more telling. While the strikes are precisely placed at runway intersections, almost none appear to be the work of the French-designed BLU-107 Durandal anti-runway bomb. The IAF employed the Durandal's predecessor with dramatic effectiveness during the Six-Day War in 1967. Once the Durandal is dropped, a series of parachutes deploy. Once the bomb reaches the proper orientation (30 degrees from perpendicular — enough to prevent ricochet), a rocket motor ignites; the bomb drives itself through up to 15 inches of concrete and detonates, causing massive buckling of the entire road bed. A single Durandal can damage 2100 square feet of runway, making it unusable for flight operations and requiring expensive, long-term reconstruction. What we see above are surface explosions of general-purpose bombs creating small craters — which can be quickly and cheaply filled in and patched up.
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But the IAF is by no means playing softball, as evidenced in the Bir al Abid district of downtown Beirut, Lebanon, a known Hezbollah stronghold. Compare the center of this district to the surrounding areas of Beirut. The bombardment has been absolutely devastating. Built-up urban areas are much more difficult to engage; a bomb that veers 30 meters from its target will still knock out a bridge in southern Lebanon, but it may well hit an entirely different building in Bir al Abid. Even when the bomb is on target, the blast, concussion and fire from the impact may damage or even bring down surrounding structures. The IAF's targeting criteria are known only to the Israeli government, but collateral damage must have been substantial. This strike was not about individual targets; it was about the neighborhood.
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The fields east of Tyre have also been heavily hit. Although some of these strikes may have been targeted at the roads, the strikes on roads themselves were probably more likely aimed at specific vehicles: suspected high-value targets, supply vehicles or Katyusha launchers.
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These impacts were likely all strikes directed against firing positions for Katyusha and Fajr rockets. Orchards east of Tyre are especially useful for Hezbollah rocket launches because they can provide concealment for fighters as they position their launchers. The orchard may even partially — though certainly not completely — screen the smoke and dust plumes from launch. Although hills provide more tactical cover, the orchard's well-spaced vegetation provides plenty of freedom of movement and fields of fire for artillery rockets, while providing concealment from aircraft (except those directly overhead). The extent of these strikes on mobile Katyusha positions very likely indicates some IDF reconnaissance presence on the ground. While attacks in Bir al Abid attest to Israel's intent to annihilate Hezbollah, much of the infrastructure strikes evince a certain restraint and a focus on temporary, rather than lasting, destruction. Of course, the IAF will follow the Katyusha and Fajr launch sites wherever they may lead. The scope and success of IDF ground operations may be the final determinant of infrastructure damage in southern Lebanon.

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