BEIRUT: A utility building suspected to be a weapons storage facility for Hezbollah was the probable target of an Israeli airstrike on Lebanese territory near Janta in the Bekaa Valley two months ago.
Newly updated satellite imagery to the Google Earth portal dated March 6, 2014 – 10 days after the Israeli air raid – shows fire-scorched ground and possible debris where the building once stood beside a dirt track south of Janta. An earlier image of the same location dated Sep. 2, 2012, shows a 21 meter by 11 meter building with an angled roof and what appears to be two drive-through entrances.
The building lay in a Hezbollah-controlled security zone that includes training camps, accommodation buildings, a firing range and a small urban warfare training site that featured in a Hezbollah propaganda video last year.
On the evening of Feb. 24, Israeli jets reportedly fired four missiles in two separate sorties against an unspecified target, or targets, in the Janta area near the border with Syria.
Israel has staged seven airstrikes since January 2013 against suspected consignments of advanced weaponry allegedly destined for Hezbollah. The first six raids all occurred in Syria.
The Feb. 24 air raid was the first against a Hezbollah facility in Lebanon since the monthlong war in 2006. Israel has maintained its customary official silence over the air raid, and it is still unclear what weapons system was struck.
Some reports claimed a consignment of surface-to-surface missiles was the target. Previous raids in Syria have reportedly targeted Russian P800 Yakhont anti-ship missiles, SA-17 anti-aircraft missiles and Fateh-110 surface-to-surface missiles.
Hezbollah admitted that one of its facilities was hit in the air raid, adding that only material damage was inflicted and that there were no casualties.
If the destroyed building was used for stashing Hezbollah weapons, it likely was on a temporary basis only, a transit point perhaps for armaments crossing the nearby border with Syria. The facility was clearly visible from the air and appeared to be unprotected and therefore vulnerable to air attack, which weighs against it being a permanent storage site.
It would also strengthen Hezbollah’s rejection of various media reports in the aftermath of the air raid that claimed the target was a missile or artillery base used to pound Syrian rebels in the Yabroud area of Qalamoun.
There were no indications of a second target being struck in the Janta area covered by the March 6, 2014 satellite image. However, the image ends a few hundred meters south of the destroyed facility and does not cover the dirt track to the border nor other similar buildings scattered at the southern end of the Hezbollah-controlled area.
In the wake of the Janta air raid, Hezbollah said it would retaliate at “the appropriate time, place and method of response.” There followed four attacks against Israeli military targets between Feb. 28 and March 18, all but one launched from the northern Golan Heights in an area controlled by the Syrian army. A rare roadside bomb ambush on March 14 against a passing Israeli army patrol in the Shebaa Farms was the only attack for which Hezbollah claimed responsibility, albeit after the event and by Sayyed Hasan Nasrallah, Hezbollah’s secretary-general, in an interview with As-Safir newspaper last week.
The last of the four attacks, a roadside bomb ambush on March 18, wounded four Israeli soldiers south of Majdal Shams beside the security fence marking the eastern edge of the Israeli-occupied Golan. Israel attacked Syrian military bases near Quneitra that night in retaliation to the wounding of the soldiers.
In his As-Safir interview, Nasrallah underlined the necessity of preventing Israel from altering the “rules of the game” that dictate the nature of the conflict between Hezbollah and the Israelis. He cited as an example the Labbouneh ambush last August, when Hezbollah fighters attacked an Israeli army squad that had crossed the United Nations-delineated Blue Line and penetrated 400 meters into Lebanon.
If Hezbollah had not retaliated to the Janta raid, he said “then the enemy might strike any truck, target or house anywhere under the pretext that they are committed to targeting [and destroying] advanced weapons.”