Sending Hizbullah a message: Israel is ready

Intel on Hizbullah declassified this week makes clear: Israel can still destroy the group's missiles should another war break out.

idf tank 311 (photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski)
idf tank 311
(photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski)
Four years ago, on the eve of the Second Lebanon War, the IDF had just a few hundred designated Hizbullah targets throughout Lebanon. About 90 of them were longrange missiles that had been stored in the homes of top Hizbullah operatives and these were destroyed by the air force within 36 minutes on the first night of the war.
While by the end of the war, the air force had bombed close to 8,000 targets, the fact that it knew about only a few hundred before the war partially led to the failure to stop the rocket fire and fatally hurt the guerrilla group.
On Wednesday, top IDF officers revealed that the air force today has thousands of designated targets it can bomb if war were to break out.
Some of them, like those that appear on the maps of the southern Lebanese village of el-Khiam that were declassified on Wednesday, are of arms caches, command-and-control centers and rocket launchers; others are likely longrange rockets, like the highly accurate M600 or Scuds, which Syria recently transferred to Lebanon.
In the four years that have passed since the Second Lebanon War, both the IDF and Hizbullah have been busy studying their mistakes and implementing the necessary lessons. The IDF, for example, significantly increased training regimens, developed and procured active-protection systems for tanks and armored personnel carriers and is investing in building new urban warfare training centers due to an understanding that the next conflict would be fought in the narrow streets of southern Lebanese villages.
Hizbullah, senior officers said this week, mostly consists of a lot more of the same encountered in 2006, except today its command posts, rocket launchers and guerrilla forces are deployed inside villages and not in the notorious “nature reserves” it had created in the forests of southern Lebanon before 2006.
THERE ARE two main reasons for Hizbullah’s change in strategy. The first is the presence of UNIFIL, which immediately following the war was beefed up to some 13,000 soldiers, throughout the open areas in southern Lebanon. These soldiers operate throughout southern Lebanon, but only in open areas, claiming that their mandate does not allow them to independently enter villages.
To enter a village, even after receiving intelligence regarding a Hizbullah arms cache, the peacekeeping force needs to coordinate ahead of time with the Lebanese Armed Forces (LAF), which Israel suspects in previous cases of having tipped off Hizbullah. In other cases, LAF simply does not want to clash with the more powerful Hizbullah.
The second reason is Hizbullah’s desire to draw IDF troops into the 160 or so densely populated villages in southern Lebanon. This is a similar strategy to the one employed by Hamas in the Gaza Strip during Operation Cast Lead, which resulted in the Goldstone report and the continued international criticism which has caused far greater damage than any Kassam rocket fired from Gaza.
In a 2008 newspaper interview, OC Northern Command Maj.-Gen. Gadi Eizenkot explained what will happen in a new conflict.
The IDF’s plan for a future war, he said, would be based on the “Dahiya doctrine” – in reference to Hizbullah’s stronghold in Beirut which was flattened by IAF smart bombs during the war.
“What happened in the Dahiya neighborhood of Beirut in 2006 will happen in every village from which Israel is fired on,” Eizenkot said. “We will apply disproportionate force on it and cause great damage and destruction there. From our standpoint, these are not civilian villages, they are military bases.”
More recently, at a conference in Tel Aviv, Eizenkot explained that the IDF will first attack immediate threats, and will then begin warning the civilian population throughout southern Lebanon to vacate their homes ahead of a ground offensive and aerial bombardment.
“I am convinced that this mode of operations is moral and is the right way to operate,” he said. “Hizbullah is the one that is turning these hundreds of villages into war zones.”
The heavy deployment inside the villages serves as a major challenge, but some in the IDF hope it could also deter Hizbullah from launching another offensive. In 2006, Hizbullah came under harsh domestic criticism for provoking a war which ruined Lebanon’s usually profitable summer tourist season.
This is even truer today when Lebanon’s economy grew by 8 percent over the past year and more than 2 million tourists, mostly from Arab countries, visited.
Either way, the IDF’s decision to declassify intelligence information on Hizbullah should be viewed as the opening shot in a public relations campaign ahead of the next war. The village chosen to present to the media was el-Khiam, which should more appropriately be called a town – it has a population of close to 25,000.
Predominantly Shi’ite, el-Khiam was, before the IDF’s withdrawal from Lebanon in 2000, home to a detention center where Hizbullah operatives were interrogated. It is located about 4 kilometers from the border.
The maps and videos declassified by the IDF show the homes that Hizbullah has taken over and used to store weapons and establish bunkers and command-and-control centers. It also revealed the location of improvised explosive devices, some of them weighing up to half a ton, mostly at the entrance to the village.
The declassification is aimed at deterring Hizbullah from attacking by demonstrating the IDF’s deep penetration of its most carefully- guarded secrets. The IDF is also hoping to achieve a diplomatic victory. It recently sent a delegation of top officers to UN headquarters in New York to present the evidence to foreign diplomats. Northern Command also presented the evidence to UNIFIL commander Maj.-Gen. Alberto Asarta Cuevas.
The release of the information also results from the lessons learned from the Goldstone report and the handling of the Gaza-bound flotilla in late May. In both cases, Israel felt that it was justified in taking action, but was genuinely frustrated by the world’s decision to ignore its case. As a result, it is now preparing the world for what will happen in the event of a new war. By showing the public the Hizbullah positions in villages, they will likely better understand why there will be so much devastation throughout Lebanon.
Israel’s main problem with Hizbullah continues to be its unprecedented military buildup. In 2006, Hizbullah had 14,000 fighters compared to 30,000 today; it had 15,000 rockets compared to 40,000 today.
And in 2006, just 10,000 of them were in southern Lebanon compared to 30,000 today.
It also has long-range missiles, such as the Fateh-110, 220 mm. and 320 mm. Katyushas and the Syrian-made M600 – which has a solid propellant and has a range of 250 km., a 500 kg. warhead and is equipped with a sophisticated guidance system. Hizbullah also recently received Scud missiles with a range of about 300 km.
Israel’s hands are pretty much tied when it comes to stopping the rearmament. Several months ago, when the government debated the possible bombing of a weapons convoy from Syria to Lebanon, the plan was nixed due to the fear that war would erupt – this according to foreign reports.
In closed-door meetings, Eizenkot has said a number of times that it is almost impossible to deter a state or terror organization from building up its military. “It is however possible to deter that state or organization from using it,” he said.
That is exactly what Israel is hoping for.
While it continues to prepare for war, it is no secret that the past four years have been the quietest in decades along the northern border.
During Operation Defensive Shield in 2002 – when the IDF took up positions in all major cities in the West Bank – Hizbullah fired 600 rockets and mortar shells and 300 anti-tank missiles into Israel. Fourteen people were wounded. During Operation Cast Lead, Hizbullah did not fire a single rocket.
While deterrence can temporarily postpone a conflict, it ultimately wears off. That is why Israel continues to take action against Hizbullah. On the one hand, Israeli officials speak publicly about the destruction expected in Lebanon but the IDF also operates openly along the border, sometimes even beyond the border fence but within the Blue Line border which does not always correspond with the physical barrier.
These crossings of the fence take place almost every day and are meant to send Hizbullah a clear message – Israel is ready.