Ansariya Ambush: Israel’s SOF Greatest Military Defeat

The Shayetet commandos landing on the Lebanon beach (Photo: Courtesy of Channel 10)

The 12 Israeli soldiers killed in an ambush in southern Lebanon on September 5, 1997 were betrayed by a Lebanese double agent. It was Israel’s greatest military humiliation in Lebanon since 1985 and Hezbollah’s most crushing intelligence operation ever. Even the Israeli map that led the soldiers to their deaths was allegedly drawn by the pro-Iranian militia, the Independent¬†reported.

On September 5, 1997, the unit suffered a major blow during a raid in Lebanon. A force of sixteen Shayetet 13 commandos landed on Lebanon’s coast, south of Sidon between the towns of Loubieh and Ansariya. Speculation about their mission was that they were trying to assassinate a senior Shia Muslim cleric of the Hezbollah movement.¬†In fact, it was this same leader – the assassination target of the Israelis – who set up what can only be described as a classic guerrilla ambush.

Ansariya Ambush Lebanon, 1997

They landed in the dark early hours of that Friday and started moving inland. The IDF said the force had been “on its way to its mission” when it was ambushed. Hezbollah and Amal commandos were lying in wait for them. The clash took place outside a 15-km deep security zone which Israel occupied in south Lebanon. The soldiers were ambushed after entering an orchard booby-trapped with bombs, which exploded as they entered.

The IDF knew that on September 4, 1997, while the Shayetet commandos were sailing toward Lebanon, Hezbollah went radio silent. The MID estimated at the time the decision had to do with the raised level of alert in Hezbollah, which was worried about Israeli retaliation for a terror attack in Jerusalem earlier in the day, which claimed the lives of three Israelis. No one even imagined the possibility Hezbollah raised the level of alert in the organization because of an intelligence leak. Radio silence normally means the enemy was waiting, Ynetnews revealed.

“Even in a group skydive, there comes a moment when the skydivers let go of each other, and then each is left to himself, alone with the parachute.”

The commandos were knocked to the ground and came under heavy fire, killing the force’s commander, Lt. Col. Yossi Korakin almost immediately. More commandos were killed when the firing triggered the explosives one of the commandos was carrying. Israel immediately dispatched a rescue team in a CH-53 helicopter. A rescue force of helicopters and missile boats arrived, joining in a battle that lasted until dawn as the rescuers evacuated the dead. Mortar shells exploded nearby, killing a doctor in the rescue force, and shrapnel hit the CH-53, but it was able to take off.

The IDF lost twelve dead, including eleven Shayetet 13 commandos, while six Hezbollah and Amal fighters and two Lebanese soldiers were also killed. The uncollected remains of the Israeli soldiers were returned to Israel on June 25, 1998 in a prisoner exchange deal.

After 14 years, Hezbollah revealed that they knew the position of the commandos in advance thanks to the interception of video footage broadcast by Israeli UAVs that were hovering over the area in the days before the mission.