Kidnap of Soldiers in July Was Hezbollah's Fifth Attempt

Israel told diplomats after learning of previous plans it would respond with military operation to kidnap attempts.

The abduction of Israel Defense Forces reservists Eldad Regev and Ehud Goldwasser, which sparked the war in the north, was the fifth attempt by Hezbollah to kidnap IDF soldiers.

Since the October 2000 attack in which three IDF soldiers were killed during a kidnap attempt, this was the only time Hezbollah succeeded in capturing IDF soldiers and holding them as hostages.

Two months before the July 12 raid in which Hezbollah abducted the two soldiers and killed three others, Israel had learned of another plan by the group to carry out an attack against an IDF patrol at the same location.

Sources said Hezbollah refrained from carrying out the attack due to the deployment of large IDF forces in the area. At the same time, Israel contacted American and French diplomats, and warned them that if Hezbollah would attempt to kidnap IDF soldiers again, Israel's response would include a large-scale military operation.

It is unclear whether Israel's warning of a massive response to another attempt to kidnap soldiers reached Hezbollah, nor is it clear whether the group chose to disregard the warning.

Israel's assumption was that the Americans and French would find a way to relay the message to Hezbollah.

Repeated Hezbollah efforts to capture IDF soldiers is a subject that will be of great interest to the Winograd Committee, which was established to investigate the war and related aspects.

An examination of these kidnap attempts will not only shed light on pre-war planning, but also lead to conclusions on the IDF's day-to-day operational policy and quality of tactical intelligence before the outbreak of fighting.

The first attempt to kidnap soldiers took place in a Hezbollah attack against IDF positions at the border village of Ghajar on November 21, 2005. IDF intelligence succeeded in learning about Hezbollah's plans to carry out the attack, but the Northern Command's tactical intelligence on the ground was lacking, and failed to identify the concentration of Hezbollah forces in a bunker on the Lebanese side of the border.

The person who succeeded in salvaging the situation was the platoon commander, who decided to reposition his troops. As a result, one of the soldiers managed to kill four of the Hezbollah attackers.

Hezbollah planned to carry out another raid in May 2006. This was planned to take place at exactly the same location as the July 12 raid. Intelligence learned of Hezbollah's plans, and in response, the IDF openly deployed large forces in an effort to deter any possible attack.

While it appeared that the IDF deterrent worked at the time, it was only temporary. It is possible that Hezbollah's choice to repeat its attack at the same site stemmed from its conclusions that this was the most advantageous location, or that the IDF had lowered its guard.

It is pretty clear that Hezbollah was aware that this specific location was not under constant IDF observation.

Halutz appoints team to examine kidnap

IDF Chief of Staff Dan Halutz on Monday appointed an investigative team to examine Hezbollah's abduction of Regev and Goldwasser. Halutz requested that the staff finish its work and present its conclusions within a month.

Halutz appointed General (res.) Doron Almog, former head of the Southern Command, to head the team. The chief of staff held met on September 18 with Reserve generals to discuss the army's conduct during the war. Almog was one of the harshest critics of the IDF's performance in the war.

The intention of the new investigative team is to carry out an examination by a team of experts, some of whom are not in regular army service.

Monday morning, Haaretz reported that IDF investigations since the kidnapping showed that military intelligence ignored signs that Hezbollah was planning an attack. According to the findings, this information, which may have given the army a greater chance of thwarting the attack, was not examined properly or distributed to forces on the ground in time.

The IDF Spokesman's Office refused to affirm or deny these findings, stating that the investigations were still to be carried out by Military Intelligence and the Northern Command, and that he could not comment on an ongoing investigation.

Immediately after the kidnapping, the Northern Command appointed an investigative team headed by Brigadier General (res.) Avi Ashkenazi. Ashkenazi was expected to present his report to Halutz this week, as well as to the senior IDF brass.