Assessing quiet on Lebanon front, 5 years after 2006 war

Analysis: For Israel, the 2006 war was a wakeup call and helped it realize that the war of the future is usually nothing like the war of the past.

Hezbollah rocket launcher 311 (R) (photo credit: Reuters)
Hezbollah rocket launcher 311 (R)
(photo credit: Reuters)
On Monday, Maj.-Gen. Yair Golan took up his post as head of the Northern Command in a ceremony in Tel Aviv, replacing Maj.-Gen. Gadi Eizenkot, who after almost five years stepped down ahead of his appointment in a year as deputy to Chief of General Staff Lt.-Gen. Benny Gantz.
Until a month ago, Golan was the head of the Home Front Command, experience that some senior officers said recently would prove to be beneficial to the head of the Northern Command.
RELATED:Security and Defense: The fly in the spider web?Learning Lebanon II’s lessonsThe path to the next Lebanon War At the Home Front Command, it was Golan’s job to prepare the country for the missile onslaught that it will face in a future war with Hezbollah, which is believed to be capable of firing hundreds of missiles a day into Israel. At the Northern Command, it is now Golan’s job to prevent that from ever happening.
“Knowing the devastation and destruction the war you are asked to plan and fight will have on Israel before it even occurs is a humbling experience,” one of the officers explained.
For the IDF, there are two ways to evaluate the five years that have passed since the Second Lebanon War. On the one hand, they have been very quiet – 10 rockets have been fired from Lebanon into Israel but not a single one by Hezbollah. On the other hand, it is impossible to ignore Hezbollah’s massive and unprecedented military buildup amounting to around 50,000 missiles and rockets.
While some Israeli politicians and defense officials – particularly those who served in key positions during the conflict in 2006 – argue that the quiet along the border is the result of the war, according to Military Intelligence assessments things are more complicated.
Yes, the war had a major affect on Hezbollah, which lost major infrastructure and hundreds of fighters, but the current quiet along the border is understood to be more the result of the control Iran has over the terrorist organization, as well as of its political metamorphosis.
Since the war, Iran has given Hezbollah between $500 million and $1 billion annually.
The money came with strings attached and Iran has bolstered its presence in Lebanon and installed key officials within the organization’s top hierarchy. This makes it almost impossible for Sheikh Hassan Nasrallah to embark on military adventures that do not fit Tehran’s interests – adventures like the kidnapping of reservists Eldad Regev and Ehud Goldwasser on the border on July 12, 2006.
Another restraining factor is the economy in Lebanon, which comes in third place in the Middle East after Israel and Saudi Arabia, and has seen 7 percent growth in GNP since the war in 2006. If another war breaks out, Hezbollah will likely be blamed, all the more so due to its and its allies current majority in the Lebanese cabinet.
In the five years since the war, Hezbollah has tripled in size, and according to Israeli intelligence today has bases and missile launchers in at least 100 Shi’ite villages scattered throughout southern Lebanon. It has longer-range missiles in the center, mostly in Beirut and the Bekaa Valley, and is also believed to maintain strategic assets in Syria, which according to news reports, might be on their way to Lebanon due to concern that President Bashar Assad’s days are numbered.
Iran wants to retain Hezbollah as a sword over Israel’s head, to deter Israel from attacking its nuclear facilities. There are actually some generals in the IDF who have in recent years argued for preemptive action, or for taking advantage of one of the missile attacks from Lebanon to launch a large-scale offensive with the belief that the stronger Hezbollah grows, the more difficult it will be to defeat.
Israel has also made advances. It has boosted training, increased its development and procurement of new technological capabilities that will provide it with an edge on a future battlefield, and invested heavily in creating target banks that it can immediately attack in the event that war erupts.
When and if this war will erupt are unknown. As the upheaval in the Middle East continues and the years pass quietly for Israel, the 2006 war’s impact on the strategic balance in the region slowly fades and becomes just another point in history.
For Israel, it was a wakeup call and helped it realize that the war of the future is usually nothing like the war of the past. That lesson needs to be remembered.