BEIRUT, (Reuters) – The magnitude of the Israeli response to Hezbollah’s cross-border operation in July took the Lebanese guerrilla group by surprise, Hezbollah deputy leader Naim Qassem said in an interview published on Saturday.
Qassem told an-Nahar daily that Hezbollah had expected an Israel attack at some stage as part of a joint plan with the United States but it had no indication it would come in July.
“We were expecting the Israelis would respond at the most by bombing for a day or two or some limited attacks or targeting certain places, such that it would not go beyond three days and some limited damage,” he said.
After Hezbollah fighters seized two Israeli soldiers on July 12, Israel started bombing Lebanon’s civilian infrastructure in a one-month war which displaced more than 900,000 people.
Israeli attacks killed close to 1,200 people in Lebanon, mostly civilians, and did damage worth billions of dollars.
Israel lost 157 people, mostly soldiers inside Lebanon.
Qassem said: “Frankly we were surprised by the great size (of the Israeli response) and by this serious attack.”
Two days after the war began, Hezbollah learned that Israel and the United States had been planning an attack in September or October. U.S. media have also said the United States was enthusiastic about Israeli plans to strike at Hezbollah.
“Israel was not ready. In fact it wanted to prepare for two or three months more, but American pressure on one side and the Israeli desire to achieve a success on the other … were factors which made them rush into battle,” Qassem said.
The Israeli army said it would not comment on the state of its planning at the start, saying this was a “political matter”.
Leading up to the war, the Israeli government showed little public interest in Hezbollah, focusing on isolating Hamas after the Islamist group won Palestinian elections and on a now-shelved plan to reshape the occupied West Bank.
Soldiers returning from the front say training in recent years focused too much on dealing with action in Palestinian streets, not on fighting a more formidable force like Hezbollah.
The Hezbollah official said the guerrilla group would coordinate with the Lebanese army as it moves into parts of south Lebanon dominated by Hezbollah.
But Hezbollah will not give up the concept of resistance against Israel, on the grounds that Israel continues to occupy the Shebaa farms region, holds Lebanese prisoners and overflies Lebanese territory almost every day.
“The justifications for ending it (resistance) are not yet there. When we agree on a defence plan to confront Israel, defining the job of the resistance, the army and the Lebanese people, then we will see what the rules and roles are,” he said.
The Shebaa Farms is a small patch of land claimed by Lebanon, but occupied by Israel since it captured the Golan Heights from Syria in the 1967 war. The United Nations deems the territory Syrian until such time as Syria cedes it to Lebanon.