Hezbollah members carry mock rockets next to a poster of the group's leader Sayyed Hassan Nasrallah [FIle].
(photo credit: REUTERS)
In the past few days the nation has faced one of the worst brushfires in its history. Nearly a thousand hectares of forests and rural areas have been destroyed in Zichron Ya’acov, Neveh Shalom, Modi’in, Neveh Ilan and Nataf. Tens of thousands were evacuated from their homes in the Haifa area alone.
Israel’s under-staffed firefighting forces have been battling day and night to stop the flames from spreading.
Firefighters and equipment from abroad have provided important backup. In times of natural disaster – even when many of the fires seem to have been the result of arson – nations come together. Israelis received help from Palestinians and Turks as though the political differences that normally taint relations did not exist.
Thankfully, as of this writing there have not been any casualties. This is a testament to the success of firefighters and other rapid response teams.
However, the fires provide an opportunity to reflect on the dangers of a very different scenario.
What were to happen if Israel’s emergency teams were forced to deal with a large-scale brush fire while facing a missile offensive launched by Hezbollah from southern Lebanon? This is not a far-fetched scenario. Depending on the season, a barrage of rockets and missiles landing in Israel could easily spark a major brushfire bigger than the one that spread across the nation over the past few days. If Katyusha rockets landed in dry brush after a long period of drought at a time of high winds, they could easily ignite huge fires.
But unlike the present situation, Israel would not then have the sympathy of the nations of the world – not from the Palestinians and Turks and not from more friendly nations that would be adverse to entering a war zone to come to the aid of Israel.
When Israel faces what is perceived as a natural disaster the world is more open to coming to Israel’s rescue.
When Israel is engaged in a military conflict with an Arab nation, in contrast, the world is much less forthcoming.
If Hezbollah were to carry out an act of aggression that drags Israel into a another prolonged military conflict on its northern border, it will not take long for the international community to denounce Israel for daring to defend itself. This is what happened shortly after the outbreak of the 2006 Second Lebanon War.
And if Hezbollah were to launch a major rocket and missile offensive against Israel, the Israeli response would likely be particularly devastating, not because Israel relishes destroying south Lebanon, but because the Hezbollah has purposely placed a large amount of its ballistic arsenal in civilian areas.
Speaking last week at The Jerusalem Post Diplomatic Conference in Jerusalem, Brig.-Gen. Ram Yavne, head of the IDF’s Strategic Division, warned that one-third of Hezbollah weapons are stashed in or under private homes in Shi’ite villages in southern Lebanon.
“This use of civilians as human shields must be condemned,” Yavne warned.
Don’t hold your breath.
Legally and morally Israel would have the right to destroy these houses as a means of defending itself against a Hezbollah strike. But the world would never admit that Hezbollah – not Israel – holds responsibility for the tragic consequences.
Israel should therefore prepare for a scenario in which it receives no help from the international community in extinguishing fires caused by Hezbollah rockets.
That means beefing up the Fire and Rescue Authority by increasing the number of firefighters, expanding the fleet of firefighting planes, and acquiring larger planes to be used to extinguish fires.
The fires of the last few days were a humbling reminder that, even under ideal diplomatic conditions, with Israel receiving support from abroad for its firefighting efforts, a large-scale fire can cause major damage. Israel must begin preparing for a situation in which international aid is not forthcoming and firefighting efforts are being carried out in the midst of a rocket offensive launched by Hezbollah.