Hezbollah’s cross-border abduction of two Israeli soldiers on the morning of July 12, 2006 triggered the heaviest Israeli onslaught against Lebanon since the 1982 invasion. Hezbollah said it captured the two soldiers to win the release of a handful of remaining Lebanese held in Israeli jails. But the Israeli government of Prime Minister Ehud Olmert chose to launch a punishing campaign against Lebanon that was intended to break the military might of Hezbollah and secure the return of the two soldiers.
Israel imposed a naval and air blockade on Lebanon and targeted Lebanese infrastructure such as Beirut’s Rafik Hariri International Airport and roads and bridges around the country. Beirut’s southern suburbs, the location of Hezbollah’s headquarters, were heavily damaged by numerous air strikes. Hezbollah deployed in bunkers and villages in South Lebanon, and struck back by firing almost 4,000 rockets into Israel during the month-long conflict and confronting probes by Israeli ground forces across the border.
The United States stalled on calling for a ceasefire despite the urgings of the Lebanese government, in the hope that Israel would succeed in knocking out Hezbollah. By the second week of the war, however, it was clear that Israel’s initial reliance on air power alone to crush Hezbollah was not working. Some 15,000 Israeli reservists were called up in preparation for a deeper troop thrust into southern Lebanon and the US began to entertain the notion of a ceasefire package.
By the time a ceasefire was adopted at 8am on August 14, Israeli forces were operating in much of South Lebanon below the Litani river. However, they had been unable to stop Hezbollah’s rocket firing and Hezbollah militants had continued to fight in border villages that the Israelis were unable to capture. By the end of the war, over 1,000 Lebanese –mostly civilians – and 160 Israelis had lost their lives in the conflict. The blockade was fully lifted on September 8.
Hezbollah agreed to abide by UN Security Council Resolution 1701, which detailed the provisions of the ceasefire. Most Israeli soldiers pulled out of Lebanon by the end of September, though a small contingent of troops remained in the town of border town of Ghajar until early December.