Battle of Maroun al-Ras
|Battle of Maroun al-Ras|
|Part of 2006 Lebanon War|
|Israel Defense Forces||Hezbollah|
|*Egoz Reconnaissance Unit
||17 fighters |
|Casualties and losses|
|8 killed||7 killed
(according to Hizbullah)
26 killed (semi-official Israeli account)
|No civilian casualties reported|
The Battle of Maroun al-Ras was a battle of the 2006 Lebanon War that took place in Maroun ar-Ras, a small village in southern Lebanon on the border with Israel, and Jall ad-Dayr, a nearby Hizbullah stronghold. This battle was the first serious ground battle in the 2006 Lebanon war. It was fought to a large extent by elite forces on both sides and would have huge consequences for the future of the war.
The clash at the "Nature Reserve"
There are two different Israeli versions about how the battle of Maroun ar-Ras actually started. According to Gal Hirsch, commander of the 91st Division, a unit of 18 soldiers from the elite Maglan Special Forces were sent out to occupy a Hizbullah position on mount Jall ad-Dayr, from which the nearby Israeli village of Avivim had been shelled, as well as the small nearby village of Maroun ar-Ras. If that version is true it would seem that the IDF had grossly underestimated Hizbullah strength. According to the IDF General Command however, the Maglan unit was on a reconnaissance mission and under strict orders to avoid Hizbullah strongholds or Shiite villages. According to this version the Maglan unit walked into the Hizbullah stronghold by mistake.
After a steep climb up the hill on July 19, the 18-man squad from the Israeli Maglan Special Forces finally reached the summit next to the village. Suddenly the Israeli soldiers realized that they were surrounded by Hizbullah positions. A violent clash ensued, and two of the Israeli soldiers were killed and nine were injured. The commander had trouble functioning, probably due to shock, and several of the remaining unharmed soldiers froze. Major (res.) Amit Ze'evi took over, drove the soldiers back into action, and the unit killed 5 Hizbullah militants. For most of the soldiers this was their first encounter with Hizbullah. 
Most of the Maglan soldiers had no idea what a Hizbullah Nature Reserve was. Even the IDF officers who ordered the operation thought that it consisted "at most of a cave or bunker". Paratrooper commander Hagai Mordechai said after the war that it was the Nature Reserves that surprised him most in the early battles. "Nature Reserves" became IDF soldiers' slang during the war for well-fortified Hizbullah strongholds, situated outside built-up areas in Southern Lebanon. They had well protected firing positions for Katyusha rockets, as well as bunkers and tunnels to protect the fighters, usually elite Special Force from the Nasr Unit (Arabic: وحدة نصر, Wahdat Nasr). It was surrounded by booby traps, mines and had CCTV surveillance. Uzi Mahnaimi labeled them "killing boxes". Apparently the IDF Staff tried to do away with the term for fear that the IDF would be perceived to cause some ecological damage. The Nature Reserve at Maroun ar-Ras had before the withdrawal in 2000 been an Israeli outpost, code-named "Shaked".
"We didn’t know what hit us," said one of the Maglan soldiers. "In seconds we had two dead." "We expected a tent and three Kalashnikovs — that was the intelligence we were given. Instead, we found a hydraulic steel door leading to a well-equipped network of tunnels."
The battle of Maroun al-Ras
The news about the clash at the Nature Reserve came as a shock to the Israeli General Command. The IDF paratroopers' Recon Company ("Sayeret Tzanchanim") was quickly sent as reinforcements to Maroun al-Ras to help evacuate the entangled Maglan unit. The paratroopers in turn were ambushed when they advanced with their tanks into the village and suffered 2 seriously injured soldiers (a 82nd battalion Merkava tank team). One hour later two teams of Sayeret Tzanchanim numbered 20 soldiers in total and lead by the Company commander Maj. Amit Lidor, went into close battle with Hizbullah fighters. After a few hours, although being outnumbered, the paratroopers managed to take full control over the village's highest point. During this battle the paratroopers found themselves surrounded but were able to capture a personal communication system from a Hizbullah fighter dead body. By listening to Hizbullah's moves inside the village, the paratroopers ambushed and killed 26 Hizbullah operatives using only their assault rifles, machine guns and snipers. In some stages of the battle the range between the two fighting forces was no more than few meters. By 06:00 PM most of Hizbullah forces withdrew from the southern part of the village. Sergeant Jonathan (Yoni) Asseraf from Sayeret Tzanchanim, was one of the 6 soldiers awarded the highest medal after the Second War in Lebanon, for his performance in Maroun al-Ras battle. Sayeret Tzanchnim, as a whole, was awarded for its performance in this battle.
On the same morning of July 20, the commander of the elite Egoz Special Forces unit, Lieutenant Colonel Mordechai Kahana, was summoned to his brigade officer and was ordered to help extricate the supposedly trapped paratroopers. Egoz was created in 1995 specifically for the purpose of fighting Hizbullah in Southern Lebanon. Kahana at first rejected the notion of advancing through open terrain in broad daylight. "This is a suicide mission," he claimed but in the end he complied.
An Egoz company attacked a suspicious vehicle, apparently transporting wounded Hizbullah fighters that were injured during the battle with Sayeret Zanchanim, to nearby town Bint Jbeil. The unit was then noticed by Hizbollah units in Bint Jbeil, which attacked the Israelis with a volley of Sagger missiles, killing a senior officer, Major Benjamin Hillman, and two soldiers. Another Egoz company where sent in to evacuate the dead and the wounded but were targeted by another volley of Sagger missiles leading to further casualties. Meanwhile the third company got into a firefight inside the village where another soldier was killed. In total five Egoz soldiers died and six where wounded that day in the fighting. It was the bloodiest day in the unit's history.
One of the Egoz casualties, Yonatan Vlasyuk, was missing and could not be found until the next day.
By evening the paratroopers succeeded in taking control of most of the village. Israeli artillery fired around 8,000 shells on the Nature Reserve and the village on the first two days of battle. Several Hizbullah fighters were killed. The paratroopers discovered a very sophisticated listening post capable of listening on IDF communications, even in the West Bank. News that Maroun al-Ras had been occupied, however, seemed premature. The fighting would continue for several more days. A tank driver from the 7th Brigade told Jerusalem Post that "many of our tanks took hits, mainly from Sagger rockets; none of the tanks were destroyed but quite a few of our friends were wounded." The IDF claimed that Abu Jaafar, the commander of Hizbullah's central sector, was killed in an exchange of fire during the battle, which was denied by Hizbullah. Crooke and Perry also deny this claim, writing that Abu Jaafar made public comments after the end of the war. However the village commander of the Amal Movement, Hani Alawiya (Abu Ali), was killed in the clashes in Maroun ar-Ras on July 20. On July 21, Muhammad Dimashq, a Hizbullah squad commander in the Maroun al-Ras area, was killed in action. According to Hizbullah, he was shot in the head by an Israeli sniper. His body was seized by the IDF and taken to Israel. Khalid Bazzi, the commander of the Hizbullah forces in the Bint Jbeil area personally took part in the battle of Maroun al-Ras. At one point in the battle contact was lost with him at it was feared that he had been killed. He later surfaced unharmed but was killed some days later during an air raid in Bint Jbeil. On the eighth day of the battle the IDF suffered its last fatality in the battle, a paratrooper who was killed by a missile.
There are no reports of significant fighting at Maroun al-Ras in the last two weeks of the war. It is unclear whether Israeli forces eventually succeeded in taking control of the whole village. According to Farquhar the village was still "unsecured" by August 5. Israel claims that it overheard a general order to retreat towards Bint Jbeil. Crooke and Perry also maintain that Maroun al-Ras was "never fully taken". BBC reported a week after the ceasefire came into effect that Israel only occupied the southern side of the village while Hizbullah maintained a "discreet presence" in the other parts of the village. There are no clear indications that the IDF actually took control over the Jall ad-Dayr ("Shaked") Nature Reserve or whether rockets were continued to be fired from this position. According to an account later published in Israel Hayom three soldiers from the Maglan unit eventually stormed the Hizbullah position, killing five Hizbullah fighters and destroying the 'Nature Reserve' with explosives. This version is not confirmed by other sources.
According to the Israeli account, the head of the IDF Northern Command Gal Hirsch heard the news that there were 13 Hezbollah bodies, he informed the Head of Northern Command Adam. Adam wanted photos of the dead Hizbullah fighters to show to the media. The commanders in the field were reluctant to comply, although there should have been operation cameras, saying that this would endanger Israeli soldiers. This was probably justified, but shows just how precarious Israeli control of the village was at the time. At the Ministry of Defense there was a widespread suspicion that the claim of 13 killed Hizbullah bodies was "bragging".
Chief of Staff Dan Halutz ordered all the 13 bodies to be brought to Israel to be shown to the media. Udi Adam and the paratroopers characterized this as a "waste of time". In the end only six bodies of Hizbullah fighters were carried to Israel on stretchers. These six bodies, out of a total of about ten during the entire war (the remainder apparently from the fighting around Bint Jbeil) were later returned to Lebanon in the prisoner exchanges in 2007 and 2008. Other semi-official Israeli estimates claim that 26 Hizbullah fighters died in the battle. According to Hizbullah officials Maroun al-Ras was only defended by 17 fighters, seven of whom died in the battle.
Hirsch had ordered the Military police in Israel to prepare prisoner facilities for 100 prisoners. None were taken in the battle of Maroun al-Ras.
The battle of Maroun al-Ras became a watershed in the Lebanon war. After realizing that the standing army was not enough to defeat Hizbullah, Israel finally decided on July 22 to call in the reserves. This decision increased the options available to Israel and would eventually lead to the decision at the end of July to commence ground operations. Operation Change of Direction 8 was initiated on July 31 with the aim of taking control of a 6-8 kilometer wide "security zone" along the entire Lebanese border, an aim that was never realized. On August 9 Israel launched Operation Changing Direction 11 which aimed at occupying South Lebanon up to the Litani river.
At Maroun al-Ras IDF experienced for the first time sustained Hizbullah attacks with anti-tank rockets and guided missiles and especially the deadly effect of the "swarming" technique. As a member of the Egoz later told: "What can you do when a missile is being fired at you other than say your prayers?" IDF Northern command banned the introduction of vehicles to Lebanon, with exception of tanks and heavy APCs, such as the Achzarit. This would have a detrimental effect on IDF's ability to supply its troops later in the war. The battle at Maroun ar-Ras however showed that not even these heavy armored vehicles were invulnerable to Hizbullah missiles.
The must painful lesson that the IDF learnt at Maroun al-Ras was the deadly effectiveness of Hezbullah "Nature Reserves". After the battle the head of IDF Northern Command Maj. Gen. Udi Adam forbade any further attacks on Nature Reserves. "A nature reserve can swallow an entire battalion," he said. This prohibition would remain in force throughout the war and would to a large extent determine the outcome of the war. The well entrenched Nature Reserves were not vulnerable to artillery or air bombardment. The decision not to attack these positions, sometimes only hundreds of meters from the Israeli border, made it possible for Hizbullah to continue firing rockets over Northern Israel throughout the war. Most of the short range Katyusha rockets fired on Israel during the war were fired from Nature Reserves. Human Rights Watch concluded in a report that "Hezbollah stored most of its rockets in bunkers and weapon storage facilities located in uninhabited fields and valleys" and "fired the vast majority of its rockets from pre-prepared positions outside villages."
A report on the war written by the Knesset Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee sharply criticized the decision not to attack Nature Reserves and claimed that it "played into Hezbollah's hands".
Israeli IDF Fatalities
July 19, 2006
- St.-Sgt. Yonatan Hadasi (Maglan), 21, of Kibbutz Merhavia
- St.-Sgt. Yotam Gilboa (Maglan), 21, of Kibbutz Maoz Haim
July 20, 2006
- Maj. Benjamin (Benji) Hillman (Egoz), 27, of Maccabim Re'ut
- St.-Sgt. Refanael Muskal (Egoz), 21, of Mazkeret Batya
- St.-Sgt. Nadav Baeloha (Egoz), 21, of Karmiel
- St.-Sgt. Liran Saadia (Egoz), 21, of Kiryat Shmona
- St.-Sgt. Yonatan (Sergei) Vlasyuk (Egoz), 21, of Kibbutz Lahav
July 26, 2006
- Lt. Yiftah Shreirer (Paratroopers, Bat. 101), 21, of Haifa
- Crooke, Alastair and Mark Perry, HOW HEZBOLLAH DEFEATED ISRAEL, Asia Times
- PART 1: Winning the intelligence war, Oct 12, 2006
- PART 2: Winning the ground war, Oct 13, 2006
- PART 3: The political war, Oct 14, 2006
- Erlich, Dr. Reuven (Col. Ret.), "Hezbollah's use of Lebanese civilians as human shields", Intelligence and Terrorism Information Center at the Center for Special Studies (C.S.S), November 2006. [The study was supported by Military Intelligence, the Operations Division of the IDF General Staff, the IDF Spokesperson and the legal experts of the IDF and the Ministry of Foreign Affairs.]
- Farquhar, Lieutenant Colonel Scott C. (2009). BACK TO BASICS, A Study of the Second Lebanon War and Operation CAST LEAD. Fort Leavenworth, Kansas: Combat Studies Institute Press, US Army Combined Arms Center.
- Harel, Amos and Avi Issacharoff, 34 Days: Israel, Hezbollah, and the War in Lebanon, Palgrave Macmillan, New York, 2008
- ANSHEL PFEFFER (Jul 24, 2006). "After Maroun al-Ras battle, Bint-Jbail looms as next challenge". Jerusalem Post. Retrieved Dec 4, 2011.
- US Embassy Beirut (2006-07-26). "Cable 06BEIRUT2474". Retrieved Aug 1, 2012.
- Erlich, p.97
- Harel and Issacharoff, p.132
- Amir Rapaport (2007-10-16). "הלילה בו נשלפו הסכינים (The night the knives were drawn)". Maariv. Retrieved Dec 4, 2011.
- Harel and Issacharoff, p.133
- Uzi Mahnaimi (August 27, 2006). "Humbling of the supertroops shatters Israeli army morale". The Sunday Times. Retrieved Dec 4, 2011. Original link inaccessible, alternative link "here".
- Farquhar, p. 15
- Harel and Issacharoff, p.134
- Amos Harel and Amiram Barkat (2006-08-29). "The Battles in Lebanon / Maroun A-Ras / IDF ground operations in Lebanon began after 'unintentional' capture of Maroun A-Ras". Retrieved Dec 4, 2011.
- Hanan Greenberg (2006-07-21). ""דווקא עכשיו, 'אגוז' חייבת להמשיך לפעול" ("For now, 'Egoz' must continue to act")". Yedioth Ahronoth. Retrieved Dec 4, 2011.
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- Crooke and Perry, Part2
- "(Maroun ar-Ras embraces its martyr Hani Alawiya)مارون الراس تحتضن شهيدها هاني علوية". as-Safir. 5 Sep 2007. Retrieved Aug 1, 2012.
- Sara Taha Moughnieh (09-08-2011). "Our Great Martyrs...Hallmark of Victory: Mohammad Dimashq (Video)". al-Manar. Retrieved September 29, 2013. Check date values in:
- Kamil Jabir (2007-07-29). "خالد بزي (قاسم) يكتب ملحمة بنت جبيل (Khalid Bazzi (Qasim) writes the Bint Jbeil epic)". al-Akhbar. Retrieved Jan 3, 2012.
- Farquhar, p. 16
- Crooke and Perry, PART 2: Winning the ground war
- Martin Asser (21 August 2006). "Dangers await Lebanon returnees". BBC. Retrieved Aug 1, 2012.
- Nir Volf (June 17, 2011). "Sword of Maglan". Israel Hayom. Retrieved Nov 20, 2012.
- Amir Rapaport (2007-10-16). "(הלילה בו נשלפו הסכינים (המשך (The night the knives were drawn - continuation)". Maariv. Retrieved Dec 4, 2011.
- Harel and Issacharoff, p. 270
- Harel and Issacharoff, p. 137
- Amos Harel (2007-07-22). "Hezbollah hides rockets from UN in S. Lebanon villages". Haaretz. Retrieved Dec 4, 2011.
- "Why They Died (Executive Summary)". Human Rights Watch. September 5, 2007. Retrieved Dec 4, 2011.
- Shahar Ilan (2008-01-01). "IDF 'played into Hezbollah's hands' says Knesset report on Lebanon war". Haaretz. Retrieved Dec 4, 2011.
- Israel Ministry of foreign affairs. "Israel-Hizbullah conflict: Victims of rocket attacks and IDF casualties". Retrieved 2011-11-10.