(photo credit: Channel 2)
No longer a purely guerrilla organization, Hizbullah is engaged in a huge political battle that culminates in the June 7 elections. "The Party of God" is in the pro-Iranian and Syrian camp facing off against the Hariri camp supported by America, Saudi Arabia and France.
The assessment in Israel is that Hizbullah will win the election and put "acceptable faces" in the cabinet to consolidate its rule. This will be another political victory for the radical Muslim axis following Hamas's victory in the 2007 Palestinian elections.
But even if Hizbullah loses the upcoming election, it will continue to control Lebanon. It is the strongest force in Lebanon by far, and the country's Shi'ite community is growing. The Christians in the North have been weakened, and the Druse in the central region will strike a deal with anyone who furthers their interests. Nobody will separate Hizbullah from its weapons, and the group will continue to strengthen and deepen its control of Lebanon.
Israel is closely watching the results of this election to see which faces Hizbullah places in the cabinet. It will be interesting to note the implications for Israeli offensive policy against Hizbullah should the next Lebanese defense minister be affiliated with the Shi'ite group.
Hizbullah has a multi-year plan for building up its power and is learning its lessons from the Second Lebanon War. It has received hundreds of millions of dollars every year from Iran for its military program. It also obtains military products from other parts of the world through Iranian and Syrian financing and logistics. Hizbullah is diversifying, burying all of its systems underground throughout Lebanon. Its motto: simplicity and survivability.
The Shi'ite group is doing everything underground. It first constructs a building, then starts working underneath it to construct bunkers. It is building rocket-launching devices, which are sure to fire from under the ground. It is importing Syrian and Iranian weaponry and technology. Despite UN Resolution 1701, the transfer of weaponry to Hizbullah is massive and systematic. Hizbullah believes that in the next round with Israel, the IDF will invade much more massively and go deeper into Lebanese territory than it did in the summer of 2006, so it is constructing formidable ground defenses, under civilian guise, including booby-trapping villages south of the Litani.
This is happening despite the presence of UNIFIL in the area (UNIFIL cannot go into villages). Hizbullah is gearing up for a major ground campaign against IDF troops. The group is also building its capacity to fight for a longer period. Others in the region, like Syria, are studying the IDF and Israeli society.
Israel's weakness is the home front. Its enemies are all concentrating on rocket power to hit our home front and damage our morale. Hizbullah has doubled its rocket power, developed more accurate warheads and longer-range rockets, and is hiding its missiles well. This is a serious challenge, as Hizbullah can already hit any strategic and civilian installation, starting from the North of Israel and covering all of Gush Dan, from north of the Litani River. The organization will concentrate fire on civilian targets, IDF military and IAF targets. In a possible next round of violence with a Hizbullah that has effectively taken over, the IDF will not see itself restrained to purely Hizbullah military targets. Lebanese civilian infrastructure and the Lebanese Army may also be part of the equation.
While Military Intelligence Chief Amos Yadlin says MI does not foresee a war breaking out this year, MI does believe that the decisions taken and processes embarked upon this year will determine the direction the Middle East will take in the coming years. As such, 2009 is a crucial year. All of Israel's enemies are well into a sustained process of strengthening their military capabilities.
Syria's Bashar Assad, for example, is building an asymmetrical military model against Israel, as his standing army has not been updated in decades. Its armor and air force are not in a state to effectively take on the IDF. War with Syria will not be easy, and the IDF wants to avoid it. Syria is focusing on defense against Israeli invasion (by constructing traps and deploying anti-armor units), not on conquering territory. It is also developing its missile system for hitting the Israeli home front.
Syria has a wide range of missiles, including hundreds of Scud rockets with enough range to hit any target in Israel. It is also beefing up artillery, commando and anti-tank units. Syria understands it is a country with strategic targets, and is thus focusing on air defense. Over the past two years, Syria has acquired missiles that seriously threaten IAF planes and helicopters. While not directly engaging the IDF in the summer of 2006, Syria fought Israel through Hizbullah. Jerusalem does not believe Syria will embark on a symmetric war against Israel. But assessments show that the day may come when the IDF will find it extremely difficult to operate on the Golan Heights if Syria joins Hizbullah in a direct fight with Israel.
Israel in 2009 is facing threats on five fronts: Iran, Syria, Hizbullah. Hamas and Global Jihad. The state's weaknesses are well known: long borders, population concentrated in the center, no strategic depth, one central airport, and proximity to threats (from Gaza, the West Bank and Lebanon). Despite this, Israel is the strongest power within a 1,500-km. radius. The IDF is honing its ability to fight symmetrical and asymmetrical wars simultaneously. Israel's enemies have shaped the battle like this and could cooperate with each other in the next round. The enemy's long-term strategy is one of constant terror inside the home front and constant harassment along the borders.
For more of Amir's articles and posts, visit his personal blog Forecast Highs