IDF Spokesman Brig.-Gen. Hidai Zilberman recently told reporters that the corona pandemic had hit hard in some of the region's countries and there was "a decline in hostile activity toward Israel." The severe outbreak of the disease in Iran has reduced the volume of its military activity against Israel as regards the supplying of weapons and financing of terrorism.
The plague hit Lebanon during an ongoing economic crisis. The dire situation of both countries has had a profound effect on Hezbollah, the terrorist organization that is supported by Iran and which is an integral part of the Lebanese government.
In an article published by researchers at the National Security Research Institute, Orna Mizrahi and Yoram Schweitzer state, "In these circumstances there is heightened pressure on Hezbollah, which is responsible for the appointment of the current minister of health."
Mizrahi and Schweitzer recommended that "the IDF should continue to use the opportunity to strike Hezbollah forces in Syria and disrupt their efforts to bring weapons into Lebanon." The IDF, it seems, agreed with the assessment of the two.
According to foreign publications, the Israeli Air Force recently carried out a series of strikes in Syria, some to prevent the organization from obtaining long-range guided missiles, and some against the "Golan File" unit that Hezbollah has established on the Golan Heights.
An epidemic or not, since the Second Lebanon War, Hezbollah stars at the top of the threat scenarios table prepared by the IDF. The man who worries the most is the commander of the IDF's Northern Command, Maj.-Gen. Amir Baram.
Last February, Baram spoke at a conference held in memory of Paratroopers Brigade Reconnaissance (Sayeret Tzanhanim) company commander, Maj. Eitan Balachsan, who was killed in a skirmish with Hezbollah operatives in Lebanon in 1999.
Baram said at the conference that he and Balachsan "met many times throughout the service in Lebanon, as young commanders in the paratroopers." He was also the man called to take command of the company after its commander was killed.
The man who recommended to call him was the commander of the brigade to which Balachsan belonged, along with Baram's company commander when he joined the paratroopers’ anti-tank company, Aviv Kochavi (Now the IDF chief of staff).
Indeed, despite the severe blow to the company, Baram again made it a leading operational unit. A few months later, Baram led a force from the company in a tangled operation in Lebanon. The result was two Hezbollah operatives killed.
The next time Baram was operating in the Lebanese sector was when he commanded the elite Maglan unit (before that he was my battalion commander in the Paratroopers Brigade). Although most of the activity during those years was in Judea and Samaria and Gaza, Baram pushed to activate the unit also against Hezbollah.
IN JUNE 2005, a force from the unit, commanded by Itamar Ben-Haim, also a Paratroopers Brigade officer (and now commander of the Hebron Brigade), ambushed three Hezbollah operatives on Mount Dov. Ben-Haim's force killed the squad commander who took part, it turned out, in the ambush in which Balachsan was killed. The other two operatives fled, and one was wounded.
The death of the squad commander has had a profound effect on Hezbollah's senior command in the area. In an after-action report, Baram wrote, "Hezbollah also has faces and names. It's not a demon that comes out of the ground, for whom the people are also dear. Wounded and dead are extremely difficult for them."
Since 2005, the IDF has fought two campaigns against Hezbollah; one in the summer of 2006, and one secret, long and Sisyphean. Former IDF chief of staff Lt.-Gen Gadi Eisenkot described at the time dealing with Hezbollah as "a huge iceberg, some of which is visible to the public and media eye, and the greater part is hidden from view."
The prime example is the organization's flagship project: the penetration tunnels dug in the northern border, which the IDF surprisingly destroyed in Operation Northern Shield.
At the conference, Baram said that despite the Lebanese government's claims that Hezbollah does not share its decisions, it is "two sides of the same coin."
The Lebanese president pledged in an interview to the French media that Hezbollah obeyed UN resolution 1701, which at the time ended the Second Lebanon War and included the deployment of an armed UN and the Lebanese Army in southern Lebanon to prevent Hezbollah from continuing to operate from there.
"But what they say in French does not happen on the ground in Arabic," said the Northern Command's general, noting that the organization, sponsored by the Lebanese state, "violently violates the decision."
As examples, he brought military activity in Shi’ite villages in southern Lebanon and the organization's striving to equip itself with long-range, high-precision missiles with the aim of damaging the Israeli home front.
In his speech, Raman warned, "If we are to fight, we will know how to claim a heavy price from this organization and those who sponsor it; also from its patrons in the northeast, also from the capital of the Lebanese state in Beirut, and certainly from the Shi’ite villages in southern Lebanon, which serve as a shelter and base for Hezbollah's terrorist forces".
The IDF, like Israel as a whole, is now facing a pandemic. The 98th Paratroopers Division, commanded by Brig.-Gen. Yaron Finkelman, who had previously commanded the Paratroopers Reconnaissance Battalion in Operation Cast Lead and the Givati Brigade, was deployed to Bnei Brak, as part of an effort to stop the severe outbreak of the epidemic that was discovered in before it can expand into wider circles outside the city.
That makes a lot of sense, since it's a flexible and portable power, but the 98th Division is the sharpened tip of the IDF Ground Forces for war. In the next round against Hezbollah, it is a significant tool in the IDF's offensive ability that the commander of the Northern Command spoke of, through rapid, deadly and flexible ground maneuvers at the front and behind enemy lines. In order to be ready for war the day after the coronavirus subsides, the IDF will be required to regain its now-defunct combat capabilities.
Hezbollah was at a low level in the past, during difficult times in the Syrian civil war and after the Second Lebanon War. But even when it was down, Hezbollah refused to give up the fight in Israel. Today the IDF is focusing its efforts close to home, investing resources, troops and tools in finding solutions to the plague. But it would be best to look to the future, too, because the plague will finally pass, and Hezbollah is here to stay.
The author is the founder and operator of the In the Crosshairs blog on military affairs, security vision, strategy and practice.