Can the IDF defeat Hezbollah?

In recent years the IDF conducted many exercises aimed against Hezbollah. Can Israel reach a victory?

August 6, 2019 21:31
3 minute read.
Members of Hezbollah march with party's flags during a rally marking al-Quds Day, (Jerusalem Day) in

Members of Hezbollah march with party's flags during a rally marking al-Quds Day, (Jerusalem Day) in Beirut. (photo credit: REUTERS)

A commander from Hezbollah warned after the friction between Iran and the United States, “If any missile hits Iran, it will be treated like Israel did it.” It was one of the indications of the ongoing tension between Israel and Hezbollah. In recent years the IDF conducted many exercises aimed against Hezbollah. Can Israel reach a victory?  
Since the 2006 war there has been an argument that says although Israel did not win then, it managed to deter Hezbollah, since the border has been quiet. Yet the situation is basically the same one that was in 2000-2006. In that sense the 2006 war was unnecessary. Furthermore, if since then Israel had attacked Iran’s nuclear sites, Hezbollah would have opened fire at Israel, regardless of the outcome of the 2006 war.   
Israel had wars not only with Hezbollah but with another non-state organization that has hybrid capabilities, Hamas, in the Gaza Strip. The wars against Hamas in 2008-2009 and 2014, as the one against Hezbollah in 2006, ended in a draw. Those results created frustration in Israel due to overwhelming Israeli superiority over Hezbollah and Hamas in manpower, weapon systems, technology, etc. 
Hezbollah and Hamas refuse to accept Israel’s right to exist, unlike Arab states including those that are much stronger than those groups, such as Egypt. Hezbollah is aware it could not defeat Israel, let alone in one big strike, so it calls its strategy the resistance, an approach which relies on attrition. 
Israel assumes the next round might be only a matter of time. Meanwhile Israel strives to weaken and contain Hezbollah as much as possible as part of the war between wars, mostly by launching air strikes to blow up deliveries of advanced weapons that were sent to Hezbollah from Syria. Since 2012, Israel has carried out around 100 bombardments of this kind.  
According to “IDF Strategy” from 2015, the IDF strives to gain “a victory and dictate terms for the end of hostilities and to reduce damage to the Israeli rear.” This is a general, limited goal, yet a practical one. The threat to the Israeli rear comes from Hezbollah’s 150,000 rockets. The IDF will try to annihilate as many rockets as it can, particularly the more dangerous ones, those with a long range or accuracy to hit sensitive sites inside Israel. 
DESTROYING HEZBOLLAH is almost impossible. Israel can inflict a major blow to Hezbollah by causing it maximum casualties, including to its leadership, and by wiping out its infrastructure. Yet preventing Hezbollah from recovering will demand Israel to renew its military deployment in a large part of Lebanon, which Israel will not do. Israel also knows that Hezbollah will continue to fight Israeli troops in Lebanon, as the group did in the 1980s and ‘90s. 
Furthermore, the group is rooted inside the Lebanese Shi’ite community, to which the group provides education, medical aid, etc., in return for their total loyalty. Dismantling and at least reducing Hezbollah’s influence in Lebanon requires giving the Shi’ites there a reliable alternative, a moderate one, which will come from their own community. Hezbollah might also be taken out of the Lebanese government but Lebanese Shi’ites will not trust Lebanese Sunnis and Christians to represent and protect Shi’ites’ rights.      
Israel and Hezbollah have been training for the next war between them. However, in recent years Hezbollah fought Syrian rebels, who are enormously less powerful than the IDF, so Hezbollah gets used to fight against a much weaker foe. Israel has confronted Hamas in the Gaza Strip since 2008, which is like Hezbollah. Therefore, in the next war in Lebanon the IDF should be better ready to combat its foe than Hezbollah will be.     
Israel’s evaluation of the length, cost and outcome of the war against Hezbollah will be a major consideration if it bombs Iran’s nuclear sites, since the war in Lebanon might be a direct result of that decision.  
Israel has to continue to prepare for war. But maybe the best way to deal with Hezbollah is to run economic warfare against both it and its Iranian patron. The implementation of this approach, which actually depends on the United States and European powers, could prevent war in Lebanon and cripple or even bring about the demise of Hezbollah and Iran. 
The writer is a PhD analyst of Israel’s national security and senior fellow in the Gold Institute for International Strategy who formerly worked for the Israeli military.

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