'Lebanon can be shut down for years'

IDF: "Blockade will last as long as is necessary to remove missile threat."

Lebanon / UN 298.88 (photo credit: AP)
Lebanon / UN 298.88
(photo credit: AP)
Lebanon can be "shut down for years, as long as necessary" a senior military official said over the weekend. He added that the goals of the Israeli blockade of Lebanon were, on a tactical level, to make sure that no rockets could be supplied to Hizbullah, and strategically, to make the government in Beirut take responsibility for its southern border. The official said the blockade could be maintained "for as long as is necessary to remove the threat of missiles on the State of Israel," but acknowledged that diplomatic pressure might end it sooner. Regarding the imminent arrival in the region of a UN team to work on resolving the crisis, the military official said Israel would only work with the mediators if their paramount objectives were the return of the kidnapped Israeli soldiers and the implementation of UN Security Council Resolution 1559, which calls for Hizbullah to be disarmed and for the Lebanese Army to take control of its southern border. The feeling within the IDF General Staff is that the Lebanese government will eventually succumb and deploy its army in the south, but that this decision will be made at the political level, under international pressure. The senior military official said the current clash with Hizbullah was inevitable, that the "writing had been on the wall." Hizbullah miscalculated Israel's response to the kidnapping of two soldiers on Wednesday, he said. Israel's relations with UNIFIL, the United Nations Interim Force in Lebanon, were "reasonable," Chief of General Staff Lt.-Gen. Dan Halutz told The Jerusalem Post on Friday. "Their contribution to fighting terror is not overwhelming. Their presence along the border adds to creating an atmosphere, but they are not doing anything concrete to help the situation," Halutz said, adding that the future of UNIFIL's presence along the border would be determined by the political echelon. Halutz said Hizbullah leader Hassan Nasrallah had gone "a step too far" in evaluating his organization's power, and in forecasting Israel's reaction. "Nasrallah had expected a different response from Israel, he had grown accustomed to a different response from Israel," Halutz said. He said that there were already signs of criticism of Hizbullah by Lebanese parliamentarians. Halutz said there was no sign that Syria and Iran would be dragged into the conflict, but added that those who acted against Israel would themselves be acted against. "I see no reason that the Syrians would want to jump into a pool they are liable to drown in," he said, adding that the IDF has not seen any unusual Syrian military activity in recent days. A naval, air and land blockade does not necessarily mean that a country is "shut down," the military official said, but it does give the blockading power control over what goes in and out. "In a naval blockade, the navy can be ordered to let certain ships in and others not. In an air blockade, the airports are shut down. If you want to enter Lebanon you will have to land in Syria and enter in cars," the official said, speaking in a closed forum. The official said the IDF was not acting against the Lebanese government but rather against Hizbullah's infrastructure. However, the official warned the government in Beirut that "it had a lot to lose" if it did not deploy its forces in the south. The official said Israel knew that Iran has given Hizbullah a "blank check" regarding weapons supplies and had promised to replenish anything destroyed by Israeli action. Israel also knew that members of Iran's Revolutionary Guards were active in Hizbullah's rocket attacks, the official said, including the attack on Israel Navy Ship Hanit off the coast of Lebanon Friday. The official said that so far, there had been no direct military clashes between the IDF and the Iranian forces in Lebanon. The IDF has would continue to attack Hizbullah's missile silos and mobile rocket launching pads in southern Lebanon, the official said, in a long overdue attempt to deal with the strategic threat along the northern border. He said that by destroying roads and bridges throughout Lebanon, as well as disabling airports, the IDF hoped to prevent Iran and Syria from replenishing Hizbulah's supply of rockets and launchers in the south. Not one rocket will make it into Lebanon, the senior IDF official said over the weekend, adding that the Beirut-Damascus highway had been "shut down." The IDF's plan was to cut off Hizbullah's supply line from Syria and Iran, preventing weapons-laden trucks, ships and aircraft from reaching Lebanon, he said. The army was unable to say how long it will take for things to "turn around" and for Hizbullah to start running out of rockets, he said. Halutz said Hizbullah had missiles with a range of 70 km., "and perhaps a little more." With that range, the rockets might be able to reach reach Hadera and Netanya. Halutz could not say how many missiles Hizbullah had with that range. Estimates of the total number of missiles in Hizbullah's possession in southern Lebanon range from 10,000 to 13,000. The army took into account the very likely possibility that Hizbullah would unleash its rocket arsenal on northern Israel when the IDF responded to the kidnapping by striking Hizbullah's rocket infrastructure. "They have enough rockets at this stage to continue firing at Israel," Halutz said. "Hizbullah has taken on for itself the role of the defender of Lebanon, but in reality, it has become the destroyer of Lebanon," he said. Halutz said another reason roads and bridges in Lebanon had been hit was to make it harder for the kidnappers of IDF reservists Ehud Goldwasser and Eldad Regev to move them within Lebanon or to take them out of the country. He said that the latest information Israel had was that the three kidnapped soldiers [including Cpl. Gilad Shalit in Gaza] were alive and in a "reasonable" state of health.