Islamist militants are using the cover of residential dwellings and civilian facilities – such as water reservoirs – in which to hide their military assets in an effort to prevent future attack by the Israeli military, according to a senior Israeli official and an Israeli media report.
Commander of the Israeli Air Force Major-General Amir Eshel said on Wednesday that the Shiite terror group Hezbollah has placed “thousands” of military bases inside apartment buildings in Lebanon and that Israel would not be deterred from striking those buildings, even if civilians end up being killed.
“The unusually explicit threat by air force chief Major-General Amir Eshel appeared to be part of an effort by Israeli officials to prepare world opinion for high civilian casualties in any new confrontation with Hezbollah in Lebanon,” Reuters reported.
Also on Wednesday, the Israel Defense Forces (IDF) military intelligence chief Major-General Aviv Kochavi said that 170,000 missiles and rockets are directed at Israel. Defense Minister Moshe Yaalon on Tuesday said that Hezbollah has an estimated 100,000 missiles and rockets.
"We will have to deal aggressively with thousands of Hezbollah bases which threaten the State of Israel and mainly our interior," Air Force chief Eshel said in a speech.
Eshel’s assessment comes on the heels of an earlier report in the Times of Israel which said that Hamas in Gaza is increasingly using the civilian infrastructure to create a layer of protection for its military hardware, in other words, setting up the Palestinian population of Gaza as human shields.
According to the report, Hamas has been placing rocket launch pads adjacent to water reservoirs. It is also positioning reconnaissance cameras in elevated locations such as mosque minarets and water towers.
Hamas’s aim is to avoid Israeli Air Force strikes of its terrorist infrastructure, the report said.
The Times of Israel further reported that Hamas is digging dozens of “terror tunnels” between Gaza and Israel in the hopes of moving terrorists into Israeli territory to stage either a large-scale attack or kidnapping of Israelis.
The Israeli Air Force commander Eshel said Hezbollah fighters have entire storeys of apartment buildings ready to be used in combat, Reuters reported.
“Above and below live civilians whom we have nothing against - a kind of human shield,” Eshel said in a talk at the Fisher Institute for Air and Space Strategic Studies near Tel Aviv. “And that is where the war will be. That is where we will have to fight in order to stop it and win. Whoever stays in these bases will simply be hit and will risk their lives. And whoever goes out will live.”
When civilians have been killed in past conflicts, Israel has been criticized, such as in the now-discredited 2009 Goldstone Report investigating the Gaza war that year.
Though the report accused Israel of intentionally targeting civilians, the IDF contended that Hamas was firing rockets and storing weapons next to schools and mosques.
The UN-sponsored report’s author Richard Goldstone later publicly retracted the allegation that Israel intentionally targeted civilians. He further wrote that Hamas’s “rockets were purposefully and indiscriminately aimed at civilian targets.”