Since Israel’s May 2000 withdrawal from southern Lebanon, Hezbollah acquired vast quantities of weapons and built networks of underground bunkers in preparation for war with Israel. This war began on July 12, 2006 when Hezbollah guerrillas attacked an IDF unit, killing eight and kidnapping two others (Ehud Goldwasser and Eldad Regev). Hezbollah simultaneously shelled northern Israel and Haifa.
Israel responded to these premeditated acts of war by bombing Hezbollah military targets. To prevent the supply of arms from Syria and Iran to Hezbollah, Israel launched air strikes targeting Beirut’s airport and major land routes and imposed a naval blockade.
The IAF’s initial air strikes destroyed most of Hezbollah’s Iranian-made long-range missiles, along with Hezbollah’s Beirut headquarters and weapons storehouses. But it soon became apparent that incessant Hezbollah Katyusha rocket fire from mobile launchers, often from amidst Lebanese populationcentres, could only be stopped by a large-scale IDF ground operation. The decision to undertake this was not made until the last days of the war.
Militarily, Israel dealt Hezbollah a severe blow. Hezbollah’s weapons systems were destroyed or degraded, it lost most of its long-range missiles, and it suffered serious casualties. Hezbollah also lost Lebanese popular support for recklessly provoking an unnecessary war that resulted in serious infrastructure damage and political instability in Lebanon.
However, the costs of the war to Israel were great. A total of 119 Israeli soldiers and 44 civilians were killed and 4,262 were wounded. A million Israelis were forced into bomb shelters as 4,000 rockets reined-down on Israel. The financial cost of the war, measured in physical damage caused by rockets, lost industrial productivity, and cancelled tourism, was in the billions of shekels. Israel once again found itself the subject of biased international media commentary and unbalanced and unfair criticism at the new UN Human Rights Council.
The war exposed serious deficiencies in IDF preparedness and planning, and in decision-making in both the IDF and the Ehud Olmert government. Controversies surrounding the war contributed to the resignations of IDF Chief of Staff Dan Halutz and Defense Minister Amir Peretz, and could ultimately bring down Prime Minister Olmert, depending on the final report of the Winograd Committee.