In a few weeks, Maj.-Gen. Gadi Eizenkot will leave Northern Command headquarters
in Safed after nearly five years in the post. He is now finalizing plans to
spend the year studying at one of the country’s think tanks, and in 2012 will be
appointed deputy chief of General Staff.
Since becoming head of the
Northern Command, Eizenkot has kept in his desk drawer a copy of Hezbollah
leader Sheikh Hassan Nasrallah’s famous “Spider Web Speech,” which he gave to
celebrate the end of Israel’s 18-year presence in southern Lebanon following the
IDF withdrawal in May 2000.
The speech’s name came from the metaphor
Nasrallah used to describe Israel, whose strength, he claimed, was an illusion
and in reality was “weaker than a spider web.”
For Eizenkot, even though
the speech was given over 11 years ago, its underlying message is still relevant
for Israel today as it considers the challenges it faces in the
When Hezbollah thinks Israel is weak, it attacks, as it did when
it kidnapped three soldiers just five months after the 2000 withdrawal. But when
Nasrallah thinks Israel is strong, he does not attack, as has been the case
since the end of the Second Lebanon War, which broke out on July 12,
In fact, this quiet – 10 rockets have been fire into Israel since
the war, but not a single one by Hezbollah – is what might be guaranteeing
Nasrallah his life.
Since the war in 2006, Israel has been accused of a
spate of targeted killings of senior Hezbollah, Syrian, Iranian and Hamas
officials – including Hezbollah military commander Imad Mughniyeh in the
beginning of 2008, Syrian Gen. Muhammad Suleiman that summer, Hamas weapons
smuggler Ali Mahmoud Mabhouh in January 2010, and a slew of Iranian
Traditionally Israel neither denies nor confirms its
involvement in such cases, even though the assassination of these officials fits
Following the 1972 massacre of Israeli athletes at the
Munich Olympics, Israel launched a reprisal – widely known as operations Wrath
of God and Spring of Youth – that included the assassination of top PLO
terrorists in Beirut and throughout Europe. This is widely considered the last
time Israel acted strictly out of vengeance.
Nowadays, the country holds
by a policy that those eligible for assassination should be judged not by what
they did in the past, but by the potential danger they pose to the country in
the future. Nasrallah, as leader of Hezbollah, would definitely fit this
Of course, in his case, there are other
Hezbollah would respond forcefully to Nasrallah’s
assassination and would not limit its response to Israeli targets overseas, as
it has been doing since Mughniyeh was killed in a meticulous 2008 car bombing in
But that is not the only argument against targeting
There is also some thinking within Israel that today he is
actually something of an asset in preventing a future war, since he experienced
the Second Lebanon War personally, witnessed the devastation Israel caused
throughout Lebanon, and continues to live in a state of constant fear in
underground bunkers, the locations of which are known only to a few close
relatives and bodyguards.
“This experience might make him less inclined
to enter a new conflict with Israel,” a senior defense official said recently in
explaining the dilemma. “On the other hand, he is a terrorist who continues to
operate against Israel, and it is obvious what needs to happen to
Most Western intelligence assessments place Nasrallah in a series
of bunkers throughout Beirut, likely in the Dahiya neighborhood, the known
Hezbollah stronghold that was heavily bombed during the 2006 war.
officials who would like to meet him – whether Lebanese, Iranian or Syrian –
follow strict orders, are sometimes blindfolded and are under heavy
Practically this means Nasrallah lives his life something like a
Palestinian terror suspect in the West Bank – he rarely sleeps in the same place
for more than a few nights, rarely meets his wife and children, and commands his
vast guerilla terrorist infrastructure with the use of encrypted communications
devices and other technology.
The Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps, and
particularly the Quds Force, is believed to be intimately involved in protecting
His bodyguards are close confidants, such as his son-in-law Abu
Ali, who is married to his daughter Zena.
Over the years, these
bodyguards have also become communications experts. With Iran’s help, Hezbollah
has built an encrypted fiber-optic communications network throughout Lebanon
that links all of the organization’s headquarters and command posts. But
Nasrallah also needs to be able to communicate with the outside world and
deliver speeches to his faithful followers.
During the 2006 war, for
example, and after the IAF bombed all of Hezbollah’s long-range missiles within
half an hour on the first night, the Quds Force moved in and helped Nasrallah
find refuge in a bunker under the Iranian Embassy in Beirut.
subsequent bombing of a complex in Dahiya that included his office and home sent
a clear message to the embattled leader that he had to remain underground. That
he rose to power following Israel’s 1992 assassination of his predecessor,
Sheikh Abbas al-Mousawi, has also served as a constant reminder of the threat to
The reliance on the IRGC however, which was enhanced following
Mughniyeh’s assassination, has dealt Nasrallah something of a setback. Fearing
that their investment was at risk – Iran has given Hezbollah between $500
million and $1 billion annually in recent years – the Quds Force decided after
the war to bolster its presence in Lebanon and install key officials within the
organization’s top hierarchy.
The increased Iranian supervision of
Nasrallah serves as a restraint and prevents him from embarking on military
adventures that don’t fit Tehran’s interests, like the kidnapping of reservists
Eldad Regev and Ehud Goldwasser on July 12, 2006.
factor is the Lebanese economy, which comes in third in the Middle East after
Israel and Saudi Arabia and has seen a 7-percent growth in GNP since the war in
2006, as well as an annual two million tourists. The new government in Beirut,
established earlier this month by Najib Mikati, is dominated by Hezbollah and
its allies, making Nasrallah the first to be blamed if war with Israel breaks
Hezbollah in 2011 is vastly different from the guerrilla
organization Israel fought in 2006. Its rocket and missile arsenal has tripled
in size, it has established thousands of arms caches, command centers and bases
throughout villages in southern Lebanon, and it has significantly
increased its ranks.
For Iran, Hezbollah is a force meant to deter Israel
from attacking its nuclear facilities, which means that even if Nasrallah is
eliminated, Tehran will likely still want to safeguard its investment.