Israel 'ruse' in spotlight after Lebanon flare-up

Jerusalem (AFP) –


Israeli troops roll a comrade wrapped in apparent blood-stained bandages on a stretcher, but the dramatic scene shot after a flare-up with Lebanon's Hezbollah may not have been what it seemed.

Reports of an alleged military ruse filled Israeli front pages Monday, along with a photo of the soldier with mock wounds, purportedly as part of a plan to restore calm after Sunday's cross-border spat with the Iran-backed Shiite movement.

Israeli media said the thinking may have been that faking casualties would de-escalate the situation by allowing Hezbollah to believe it had successfully carried out its revenge mission.

That coupled with the fact that casualties among Israeli soldiers would lead to a harsh response from the Israeli military would then cause Hezbollah to halt its assault, the reports said.

There would then be time for Israel to respond.

Israel's military declined to comment on the reports, but a hospital issued a statement that added fuel to accounts that such a plan existed.

The Rambam hospital in the northern Israeli city of Haifa distributed a video showing what appeared to be a military helicopter landing there.

It then shows what seems to be two people being taken out on stretchers.

"They were removed from the helicopter, examined in the emergency room and released without treatment," it said, without providing further details.

Israel's military said after Sunday's exchange of fire that there had been no casualties, and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu later took it further by saying "not even a scratch".

The escalation, which followed a week of rising tensions, began with Hezbollah firing up to three anti-tank missiles at an Israeli military vehicle and a battalion headquarters near the Lebanese border.

Israel retaliated with around 100 artillery shells targeting the squad that fired the missiles.

Hezbollah issued a statement soon afterwards saying it had destroyed an Israeli military vehicle and killed and wounded those inside.

It was unclear if the reported ruse by Israel had fuelled Hezbollah's statement.

- 'Type of fog' -

One retired Israeli general who spoke to AFP on condition of anonymity called it psychological warfare meant to "confuse Hezbollah".

He said he believed that it was a mistake to later reveal there had been no casualties. "It should have remained as a type of fog -- that was the military plan at least," the ex-general said.

Netanyahu's main opponent in the upcoming September 17 elections, Benny Gantz, said "the government's policy of ambiguity was harmed".

Israel had been on alert for an attack from Hezbollah after it threatened to respond to an alleged Israeli drone attack on the group's Beirut stronghold.

Israel has not acknowledged the August 25 drone attack, but it subsequently accused Hezbollah of working with Iran to produce precision-guided missiles in Lebanon.

The drone incident came hours after Israel had launched strikes in Syria to prevent what it said was an impending Iranian drone attack on its territory.

Hezbollah says two of its members were killed in that strike.

A source connected to Hezbollah called Sunday's missile fire a response to those deaths and said a reaction to the alleged drone attack would take place in the air.