Hizbullah is hurting under the impact of Israel's military action, but it is not yet showing signs of desperation, according to Uri Lubrani, an adviser to the defense minister and formerly Israel's longtime coordinator of activities in Lebanon.
Watching Hizbullah's broadcasts, "my sense is that they are feeling the pressure," Lubrani told The Jerusalem Post. "It's also plain that the IDF operation in Baalbek [overnight Tuesday-Wednesday] had a real impact. They'll have to explain that to their supporters."
The hope in Hizbullah that the Kafr Kana tragedy would lead to a far wider escalation of anger in the Arab world, and one that would dramatically constrain Israel, had not been fully realized, he added.
But a good barometer of the Hizbullah mindset, Lubrani suggested, would be the degree to which its backers press at the United Nations for an urgent cease-fire. "I would consider a real sign of desperation if their supporters starting putting on frantic pressure at the UN for a cease-fire," he said. And that might happen, he posited without elaboration, "if they fear that we are about to go further."
Lubrani stressed that stability in Lebanon, and for Israel, required the maximal marginalizing of Hizbullah and its Iranian backers.
"We have to demand the maximum in the next 10 days and insist on the minimum. I know there's talk of a demilitarized zone. We need to insist that Hizbullah is reduced in its capacities. We need to insist that it comes under oversight and supervision from those who will have the gumption to resist its pressures, in an international force. We need to insist that Resolution 1559 be implemented to the full, that there be no threat at the border."
Lubrani added that "the international community has to be aware that this cannot be racheted up and down; a longer-term solution is required. The international community has to make it possible for the Lebanese government to be able to govern free of threat - to marginalize Hizbullah's capacity to browbeat and to threaten, to fulfill 1559 to the maximum."
Looking at the wider picture, Lubrani said stability in this region and beyond required facing up to the threat posed by Iran. "The wider reality here is that we are at the beginning of a much wider confrontation," he said. "There are those who prefer not to think or talk about it. There are those who believe Iran can be talked to, reasoned with. Don't count me among them."
Regarding Iran, Lubrani elaborated, "the world has to come to the conclusion that the Iranian threat requires root-canal treatment. I take [President Mahmoud] Ahmadinejad seriously. People think he's a clown, a buffoon. He's not."
Leaders of the Iranian hard-line regime, he said, "believe they have a direct line to God, and they'll do whatever 'divine inspiration' requires them to do. Talking to them is pointless. They want to wipe out the US, and us, too, in the bargain, as the representatives of Western culture. This can't be swept under the carpet."
Turning his attention to the build-up to the current conflict, Lubrani said Israel erred in not raising a diplomatic rumpus over Hizbullah's arms accumulation in the six years since Israel withdrew from the security zone to the international border. "We let them put us to sleep for six years while they built up an arsenal. And we did nothing, not even diplomatically. That was our screw up.
"When they built up this array of missiles, this arsenal, they knew it wasn't planned for use against Syria or Turkey. It was clearly for use exclusively against us. They built this up even though they knew we had left Lebanon, that we never had designs on its territory, that we weren't going to carry out attacks there since we were obligated to an internationally demarcated border line. We almost never responded to provocations at the border.
"We should have prompted an international scandal. The United Nations Security Council passed a binding resolution, 1559, backed by all, celebrated by all, and it wasn't being fulfilled. We should have said [to the UN], 'Either you ensure that 1559 is implemented, or we will.' We should have created the climate to legitimize the actions we needed to have taken."
Now, Israel had to insist that 1559 - a resolution, he noted, that France co-initiated - was fully implemented.
The international force set to deploy, he added, "has to be supplied with effective teeth."
It had to be aware that it might have to face pressures and attacks such as the twin suicide bombings in 1983 that saw 300 US marines and French paratroopers killed in Beirut, and the subsequent departure of those forces. Such attacks "could happen again," Lubrani said. "The international community has to know this. And if it does happen, it has to be prepared to deal with it."