A day after an explosion uncovered a hidden Hizbullah arms cache in southern Lebanon, the IDF's Northern Command estimated that the group had turned hundreds of homes in the area into warehouses to store short- and medium-range Katyusha rockets.
The IDF released video footage taken from an Israeli aircraft, showing a home that had exploded on Tuesday in the village of Hirbet Selm - located some 20 kilometers north of the Lebanese border. The roof is seen in the footage with dozens of holes, which IDF ballistic experts said were the size of 122-mm. Katyusha rockets.
UNIFIL said that storing the ammunition was a "serious violation" of the UN-brokered ceasefire that ended the Second Lebanon War in 2006.
The peace keeping force said that it considered the incident a "serious violation" of the UN resolution that ended the conflict, which specifies that there should be no presence of unauthorized assets or weapons in the area of operations.
Israeli defense officials had also accused Lebanon of violating United Nations Security Council Resolution 1701.
"This is a major violation of resolution 1701," one Israeli official said. "The weaponry was stored inside a village and is proof of our longstanding claim that Hizbullah uses civilian infrastructure to hide its weaponry."
Contrary to Lebanese media reports which claimed that the cache was hidden in the village before the Second Lebanon War in 2006, Israeli defense officials said that the weaponry was recently placed inside the storehouse.
According to the officials, the cache was hidden in a storehouse inside the village and contained dozens of 122mm Katyusha rockets as well as high-powered machine guns. Some of the rockets reportedly flew into the sky.
The blast took place at 10:30 a.m. Tuesday, and for the first few hours, Hizbullah sealed off the area and refused to grant UNIFIL or the Lebanese army access. IDF sources said that the clearing of the home and the unexploded ordinance had taken over 24 hours.
The sources said the IDF had been aware prior to the explosion that the home was being used as a storehouse for weapons. Several months before the explosion, an IDF aircraft captured footage of several senior Hizbullah operatives entering an underground tunnel near the house and reappearing from an exit 700 m. away.
"This house was connected to an entire underground network that was built right under the noses of UNIFIL and the Lebanese army," one IDF officer said. "This is a major violation of United Nations Security Council Resolution 1701."
The Katyusha rockets that went off in Hirbet Selm were being stored in a two-story home. It was unclear on which floor they were being stored, but the home was shown on Lebanese television in close proximity to other village buildings.
In addition to the 122-mm. rockets, IDF ballistic experts said it was likely that the home also contained mortar shells and additional types of ammunition.
DEBKAfile Special Report
July 16, 2009, 9:06 PM (GMT+02:00)
Mock rockets mark Hizballah's armed positions at South Lebanese villages
The mysterious explosion at the Hirbet Salim village in South Lebanon, heard on both sides of the border, occurred, DEBKAfile's military sources report, at one of the 35 large weapons dumps the Hizballah has built illegally as near as 20 kilometers from the Israel border.
Its men failed to adhere to the handling procedures for the dozens of rockets stored there and suffered casualties, dead, wounded and missing, when they blew up. Hizballah forces cordoned the disaster area against outside access.
Each of the Hizballah depots, containing surface-to-surface and anti-aircraft missiles, mortar shells, and large quantities of ammunition and explosives, is heavily fortified, fenced in by barbed wire and guarded by Hizballah checkpoints around the clock. At least five of these Hizballah guards were killed in the blast.
In the event of war with Israel, these arsenals are able to arm some 7,500 Hizballah militiamen who live in hiding wearing civilian clothes among the Lebanese-Israeli border villagers.
This perilous state of affairs is carefully concealed three years after the Lebanese war by Israel's war leaders, its armed forces chiefs, the UN peacekeeping force and the Lebanese president.
They are all conspiring now to mask the facts that the Lebanese border region is swamped with vast amounts of rockets and weapons - triple the quantity Hizballah commanded on the eve of the 2006 war - and Hizballah's return in full force in South Lebanon.
The same policy of concealment enabled Hizballah to launch its surprise attack in 2006.
This week, neither the present chief of staff Gabi Ashkenazi nor the OC Northern Command Gabi Eisencott referred to Hizballah's blatant violations of UN Security Council resolution 1701, which cut short that war with a ceasefire and a ban on Hizballah's rearming and return to South Lebanon.
The UN peacekeeping force, deployed to prevent these violations, let them happen under its noses, together with the massive smuggling of arms to Hizballah from Iran and Syria.
After the explosion on July 15, UNIFIL headquarters was forced to admit to the presence of the arms depot as a gross violation of 1701.
Lebanese president Michel Suleiman, like UNIFIL, was caught in flagrant negligence of Hizballah's illicit activities, and tamely offered to form a joint Lebanese-UN inquiry committee to probe the incident.
Finally, Israel's Lebanon war leaders - most of all the former Chief of Staff Dan Halutz - whose mismanagement was widely criticized at the time - tried to cover up their failings by holding up the three-year calm on the border as proof of its success. The prime minister at the time, Ehud Olmert, ex-foreign minister Tzipi Livni, and ex-defense minister Yehoshua Peretz, tried taking this tack, only three days later the Hirbat Salim explosion restored a sense of reality.
The truth is that the "calm" was ordered by Tehran to enable its surrogate, the Hizballah, to regroup close to the Israeli border and rearm undisturbed, so as to be ready to hit Israel on a signal when it suits Iran's book.