Inside Hizbullah's Hidden Bunkers

[TIME] Nicholas Blanford - It had taken seven months of searching to finally discover one of the underground bunkers that had enabled Hizbullah to fire thousands of rockets into northern Israel last summer even under the pounding of Israeli air and ground operations. The elaborate network of bunkers and fortified firing positions built over a six-year period in sealed-off valleys and hilltops throughout south Lebanon was key to Hizbullah's ability to survive Israel's onslaught during last summer's month-long war. One bunker complex discovered and dynamited by Israeli troops a week after the ceasefire reportedly covered more than a square mile and was fitted with hot and cold running water and air conditioning. After several unsuccessful attempts to find one, last week I received map coordinates for two bunkers in a valley near the Christian border village of Alma Shaab. We almost missed the manhole cover beneath its layer of dirt, dead leaves and twigs. The room must have been at least 100 feet underground, and could probably have withstood a direct hit by a heavy bomb. A few hundred yards away we found two rocket firing positions, one of them located in a 15-foot deep pit with reinforced concrete walls. Even from a few yards up the hill, the position was all but invisible. And during the war, Hizbullah gunners had tossed fire-retardant blankets over the launchers immediately after unleashing their rockets to hide the lingering heat signature from prowling Israeli aircraft. The effort that went into building the fortifications in this valley alone had been extraordinary, and these were just three of dozens, possibly hundreds, scattered throughout southern Lebanon. The steel plates and girders, as well as the digging tools, sandbags and other equipment, had to be carried by hand up the steep slope from the valley floor and welded into place in the tunnels.

2007-03-30 01:00:00

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