Sheikh Hassan Nasrallah is feeling the heat.
The UN tribunal investigating the 2005 assassination of former Lebanese prime minister Rafik Hariri is, by all accounts, about to point an unerring finger of blame in Hizbullah’s direction.
Lebanon is on tenderhooks. The potential for explosive unrest, in a
country beset by internal divisions, is acute. The killing itself set
off a near-revolution five years ago. Now Hariri’s own son, the current
prime minister Saad, is so afraid of the incendiary impact of an
indictment of Hizbullah that he is reportedly pleading behind the scenes
for the tribunal to postpone its fateful announcement.
In Israel, it is emphatically believed that Nasrallah was indeed behind
the fatal Beirut car-bombing.
“He knows exactly who was to blame,” said Maj.-Gen. (res.) Ya’acov
Amidror, the former head of IDF Research and Assessment, of Nasrallah on
Tuesday. “He dispatched them.”
And thus, on this side of the border, Nasrallah’s Israel-bashing TV
appearance on Monday night was generally interpreted as a rather
desperate diversionary tactic. The sheikh’s protracted effort to assert
that Israel carried out the killing of the tycoon-politician who was
rebuilding Lebanon was instantly dismissed as “ridiculous” by officials
in Jerusalem… who may have missed the point: Nasrallah was primarily
bent on sowing doubt among the Lebanese – and he likely succeeded – and
on prodding the Lebanese government into halting all cooperation with
RATHER MORE attention was devoted here to Nasrallah’s bragging on the
subject of 1997’s Shayetet 13 disaster, when naval commandos on an
operation in Lebanon triggered explosive devices that had been laid by
Hizbullah, with the ultimate loss of no fewer than 12 of their 16-strong
The deaths of so many elite commandos in that one incident, at the hands
of Hizbullah, has been characterized by some analysts, with no little
justification, as the beginning of the end of Israel’s deployment in the
south Lebanon security zone – the catalyst for the zone’s
dismantlement, and the unilateral withdrawal to the international
border, that followed three years later.
Nasrallah claimed Monday that this bloody interception represented a
glorious intelligence and operational success for his organization,
further proof of its heroism and its savvy. Plainly, his motivation in
returning to the incident – which involved him reviving claims that had
already been made several years ago by his deputy Naim Kassem – was to
demonstrate Hizbullah’s purportedly peerless capacity to harm those
Zionist enemies to the south, and thus to underline its value to Lebanon
and the need to safeguard it from the harmful repercussions of the
Nasrallah, as ever, was also taking aim at the Israeli psyche, hoping
that the reopening of this 13-year-old wound would prompt a new bout of
debilitating recrimination, perhaps involving the bereaved parents and
certainly senior IDF officers, past and present. And, to some extent, he
has been successful: The question of what exactly Hizbullah knew of the
Shayetet operation ahead of time, and how exactly it knew it, did
indeed return to the public agenda this week.
Hours before Nasrallah’s TV appearance, Gabi Ofir, the reserve general
who chaired an IDF investigation into the catastrophe, was still
insisting that the commandos had not fallen victim to an intelligence
“leak,” and that the Hizbullah interception was “purely coincidental.”
But Nasrallah’s performance, which featured footage allegedly obtained
from unmanned IDF drones that were scouting out the commandos’ route,
further vindicated the already widespread belief that the operation had
indeed been compromised. Hizbullah, it is now largely accepted, may have
managed to view the unencrypted footage from the drone – simply by
identifying the relevant broadcast frequency.
Prompted by Nasrallah to reexamine the terrible incident once again,
generals, parents and analysts have been discussing why it was that the
drones’ footage was not encoded. Amidror, who was military secretary to
defense minister Yitzhak Mordechai at the time, has been arguing that
the capacity for such encoding was quite new, and was being tested
initially in drones being used by another elite IDF outfit, Sayeret
Matkal – the General Staff’s commando unit. The author and journalist
Amir Rappaport has countered that there was no good reason that this
latest technology should not have been available to the Shayetet, and
called the failure scandalous.
Arguments have also raged as to how obvious the specifics of the
operation would have been to Hizbullah once it had got its hands on the
footage – and thus how easy for Hizbullah to thwart the commandos.
And there has been much renewed discussion of what exactly happened in
the terrible moments after the commandos first inadvertently detonated
those explosive devices that Hizbullah had placed on their route.
Nasrallah boasted about an ambush, featuring fighters who were lying in
wait for the hapless IDF troops. “Our men waited there for weeks,” he
claimed. The IDF narrative, by contrast, is that Hizbullah personnel
were not hiding in the field night after night for the commandos to come
and that, rather, the Shayetet fatalities were the victims, first of
the hidden Hizbullah bombs, and second, of the consequent detonation of
the explosives they were themselves carrying.
NASRALLAH IS feeling the heat over Hariri.
Nasrallah is emphasizing Hizbullah’s bravery, determination and
importance. Nasrallah is seeking to chivvy away at Israel’s perceived
weaknesses. All of this is obvious here, south of the border. Our
analysts are highly skilled in assessing Hizbullah’s motivations, and
our officials are adept in dismissing the more risible of his claims.
What seems to have been under-discussed this week, however, is the
original sin. And it’s the same original sin that left an Israeli naval
vessel defenseless in the face of a Hizbullah strike in the Second
Lebanon War – the INS Hanit, hit off the coast of Beirut in July 2006 by
a shore-toship missile, with the loss of four lives.
It’s the same original sin that, a month earlier, at Kerem Shalom on our
southern border, saw Gilad Schalit’s Armored Corps unit vulnerable to
Hamas’s tunneling and attack.
It’s the same original sin that rendered the Shayetet 13 commandos,
again, inadequately prepared to grapple with the core of violent thugs
who jumped on them when they boarded the Gaza-bound Mavi Marmara on May
The same original sin, breeding a welter of immensely compromising and
And which sin is that? The cardinal sin of underestimating the enemy.
CHIEF OF staff Lt.-Gen. Gabi Ashkenazi acknowledged to the Turkel
Commission on Wednesday that the IDF didn’t know enough about the
extremists on board the Mavi Marmara and the IHH organization that had
The IHH “was not on our list of priorities,” he said – although it had
been recognized by the security establishment, and even characterized by
Defense Minister Ehud Barak, as a pro-Hamas, proterror entity. The
ill-equipped commandos were expecting to be met by “10 or 15 people,”
said Ashkenazi, and the assumption was “that if we threw stun grenades,
they would move away.”
Neither, self-evidently, was the army sufficiently braced for the kind
of brazen Hamas incursion that saw the abduction of Schalit and the
killings of Hanan Barak and Pavel Slutsker early on June 25, 2006, even
though the Shin Bet said it had conveyed precise intelligence
information highlighting the danger. “The incident in Kerem Shalom
caught us unprepared,” said Ashkenazi’s predecessor, Dan Halutz, that
Similarly, the INS Hanit’s anti-missile defenses had not been activated
off the Lebanese coast because it was deemed unlikely that Hizbullah
possessed the Iranian- made C-802 missile that holed it, even though the
IDF was in possession of enough intelligence information to suggest the
Just as, back in 1997, we didn’t believe that Hizbullah had the capacity
to intercept unencrypted footage from our reconnaissance drones, even
though the technical process involved in accessing such footage was
WE DIDN’T realize. We didn’t believe. We didn’t know.
But we probably should have known.
And surely we should have prepared more effectively for the worst, in
each of these awful incidents, rather than hoping for the best. Surely,
we should have long since recognized the ruthless Iranian inspiration
that is common to all these bitter incidents. Our very survival, after
all, requires that we internalize the methodical malevolence with which
Iran is working toward its declared goal of our destruction.
So if we scoffed at Nasrallah’s lengthy bragging this week, deriding him
as military chief on the defensive, a vicious murderer confined to his
bunker and lashing out in all directions as the walls close in, we had
best think again. For such scoffing would only confirm a familiar hubris
– a hubris that is intolerable, indefensible and untenable in the face
of Nasrallah’s rapacious and relentless paymaster, Iran.