Tuesday, August 08, 2006

Israel readies major new offensive in Lebanon..and makes a command change

Maj.-Gen Moshe Kaplinsky

Israel appears to be getting ready to make some major and far reaching moves in Lebanon.

Originally, as I reported here, Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert was prepared to wait and see what the UN Security Council came up with in terms of a ceasefire, and to stop the Israeli advance well south of the Litani River, in spite of the opinion of the IDF command staff and defence minister Amir Peretz.

Sunday's horrifying blitz on Northern Israel, which killed 15 people and the stalemate in ceasefire negotiations appears to have changed Olmert's mind.

For starters, the Lebanese city of Tyre, a Hezbollah stronghold where I've predicted for some time now that Israel will make a major push is essentially in lockdown. The IDF has imposed a curfew on anyone driving vehicles south of the Litani River, about 25 miles north of Israel's border.

Leaflets dropped by Israeli aircraft over Tyre warned that Israel would escalate its operations to hit "terrorist forces using human shields to fire rockets from homes into Israel." The flyer said that "any vehicle of any type" seen on roads south of the Litani "will be targeted because they will be suspected of carrying rockets."

The IAF also took out the Litani causeway, the sole passage from Tyre to the rest of the country.

In other words, Tyre is isolated now.

Another indication to me that the Israelis are planning on making some major moves is a change in command that could have some far reaching consequences.

Israeli Chief of staff Dan Halutz appointed his deputy, Major General Moshe Kaplinsky to take over the IDF's Northern Command.

The general he's replacing is Major General Udi Adam.

General Adam is a tank commander, who specializes in the use of tanks in desert warfare. He had never fought before in Lebanon’s special conditions and mountainous terrain against a Hezbollah force dug in and armed with anti-tank weapons.

Halutz has resisted any command changes up until now, not wanting to change commanders in mid-war or raise questions about the preparedness of the general staff as a whole for the Lebanon war or the appointments he approved in the last year.

However, when Halutz saw that the northern command was still stuck in the Bint Jubeil battle and after finally obtaining a green light from Olmert, he decided to appoint General Kaplinsky. He's the former OC of Central Command and a former commander of the Golani infantry brigade, who's specialty is infantry tactics.

Kaplinsky needs to pull off a breakthrough in South Lebanon and use the IDF's forte - its versatility and speed of movement - to its advantage, pushing Hezbollah out of its strongholds and back beyond the Litani.

From the way it looks from here, bringing in General Kaplinsky and opening up another front in Tyre might be just what's needed to do that.

Stay tuned...

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