Analysis: A warning to Hezbollah

Six years after the Second Lebanon War, the IDF looks today at Lebanon on two different levels.

Hezollah operatives film IDF movements 370  (photo credit: IDF Spokesperson)
Hezollah operatives film IDF movements 370
(photo credit: IDF Spokesperson)
A few months ago, after the IDF began building a concrete wall between Metulla and Lebanon, an Israeli observation post spotted a group of men gathered on a rooftop just over the northern border.
A closer look identified one of the men as the commander of the Lebanese Armed Forces (LAF) in southern Lebanon.
Several of the other men were later identified as senior Hezbollah operatives, also from southern Lebanon.
This story, senior IDF officers said on Thursday, illustrates one of the many new challenges Israel will face in a future conflict with Hezbollah and particularly what will it do when it comes to the Lebanese Army.
“It will largely depend on them,” one officer said. “If LAF soldiers open fire we will respond with all of our force, but if they remain in their positions we will not attack them.”
Six years after the Second Lebanon War, the IDF looks today at Lebanon on two levels.
On the one hand, there is no question that for residents of northern Israel these have been the quietest six years in over four decades. On the other hand, Hezbollah is building an unprecedented military capability with tens of thousands of rockets alongside advanced infantry capabilities.
While the IDF wants to retain this quiet, it is concerned by a number of catalysts – mostly external – which it assesses could spark a conflict between Israel and Lebanon that neither side really wants.
First, there is always the possibility that Hezbollah will attack along the border, either by kidnapping a soldier or by attacking Israeli towns. This decision could be made out of frustration with the continued failure to strike at Israel overseas – demonstrated by the recent thwarted attacks in Thailand, Georgia, India and Azerbaijan.
Second, changes in the Lebanese Army have also raised concern in Israel. Lebanon officially abolished the military draft a couple of years ago, leading to a major increase in the number of Shi’ites, who are generally poorer, serving in the military. This means more sympathy for Hezbollah in the army as well as a stronger chance that it will join in a war against Israel.
The two external catalysts that Israel believes have the potential to set off a war are a military strike against Iran – not dependant on who attacks – or an Israeli assault against a convoy carrying advanced weapons from Syria to Lebanon.
For these reasons, the IDF convened local and foreign press on Thursday to send a clear message to Hezbollah, with the aim of persuading it to refrain from doing something that could lead to a war.
The IDF threats – one officer said that the Goldstone Report on Operation Cast Lead in the Gaza Strip in 2009 would pale in comparison to what will happen in Lebanon – should not be taken lightly.
Due to Hezbollah’s impressive firepower – it is believed to have more than 50,000 rockets and the ability to fire over 1,000 a day – Israel will have to be extremely aggressive to end a war as quickly as possible.
What this means is that in a future war the IDF will immediately operate from the air as well as on the ground, with the aim of capturing as much territory as possible to prevent rocket fire into its cities. With Hezbollah positions believed to be mostly located inside villages in southern Lebanon, the fighting will be fierce within urban areas.
But there would be another purpose to Israel’s aggressiveness. Unlike the war six years ago that ended without a clear victor, next time Israel will want to make sure that Hezbollah and the larger Arab and Muslim world know who wins.