Just as they had waited for the Israelis outside the village of Aansariyeh two years ago, killing 12 before the remnants were rescued by helicopter, so yesterday's trap was carefully arranged by the Hizbollah, which had been tipped off about the Israeli raid. An Israeli major and two lieutenants were killed as they tried to advance out of their occupation zone 15 miles north of the Israeli border near the village of Meidan; a friend of Benjamin Netanyahu, the Israeli Prime Minister, was among the wounded.
According to the Hizbollah - which had openly boasted that it was about to take its revenge against the Israelis for enlarging the occupation zone last week to include the Lebanese village of Arnoun - the guerrillas fired machine- guns and threw grenades when the unit was 12 feet away.
The Israelis responded in their usual way: with three air raids around the village of Yohmor, an attack by helicopter gunships and a flurry of shells from Israeli artillery positions inside the occupied area. Such retaliation rarely achieves any effect; there have been over 1,000 air raids on Lebanon in the past 12 months.
Impeccable sources in Beirut say that yet again the Israelis had been double-crossed by one of their own agents, persuaded to ambush a non- existent Hizbollah unit only to be led into a trap. At Aansa-riyeh in 1997, the Hizbollah had unmasked an Israeli agent in Lebanon and forced him to supply an Israeli commando force with a map that would supposedly lead them to ambush and kill a senior Hizbollah official. Following the map - which had been drawn by the Hizbollah - the Israelis walked into a minefield.
Israel's intelligence "eye" in Lebanon has been virtually destroyed, its collaborators arrested or killed, even its own proxy South Lebanon Army militia infiltrated by the Hizbollah. Israel's former top intelligence officer in Sidon now languishes in Ashkalon prison accused of spying for the Lebanese army. When The Independent revealed the Israelis had been lured into a trap at Aansariyeh, an official Israeli inquiry insisted its soldiers had been ambushed by chance. But a second inquiry last year confirmed the Independent report: that they had been betrayed. Yesterday's ambush - "a very, very bitter blow for us," Mr Netanyahu called it - appears to have followed the same pattern. Yet again, one of Israel's best commando units walked into an ambush.Reuse content