ישראל נאמן | Lectures, Articles, Tours: Israel | Mideast onTarget | Elliot Chodoff & Yisrael Ne'eman | A Time of Reckoning: Israel vs. Hizbollah

A Time of Reckoning: Israel vs. Hizbollah

14 July 2006

By Yisrael Ne’eman

The Lebanese radical Islamist Hizbollah cross-border attack into northern Israel on Wednesday triggered Israeli reactions far beyond those expected by its leader, Hassan Nasrallah. For the past three days Israeli ground forces are operating in south Lebanon while the air force and navy are pounding Hizbollah positions along the coast, in the Baka Valley and against their southwest Beirut headquarters. Lebanon’s airports are now bombed out of service, land links to Syria cut, power stations knocked out and transportation forced to a standstill. Lebanon’s multi-billion dollar tourist industry has collapsed.

The Hizbollah continues to shell northern Israel intermittently with greater intensity and depth than ever before, killing two and wounding 115 civilians. The civilian populations of Tzfat and Nahariya are absorbing the greatest damages, not strategic installations. Other northern towns, including Rosh Pina, Hatzor, Ma’alot, Kiryat Shmona, the kibbutzim and moshavim have been hit. In the center of the Galilee, Karmiel and the Arab village of Madj el-Krum were hit by several katushas causing injuries and property damage. Last night, for the first time ever, Haifa absorbed two rockets. Strategically, the radar station at Mt. Meron was targeted several times, but the clear purpose of Hizbollah fire is to terrorize Israel’s population. Northern Israel’s tourist season is finished.

Israel holds the Lebanese government accountable for the cross-border attack on Wednesday which left eight Israeli soldiers dead, several wounded and two abducted. They are not buying the excuse of such an action being the sole the responsibility of Hizbollah. UN Resolution 1559 calls upon Lebanon to fully deploy its army throughout the country and in particular to take state control over the border area with Israel. In May 2000 Israel withdrew from the security zone in south Lebanon, accepted the UN demarcation of the international border and built the present border fence.

Ignoring the UN resolutions, the pro-Iranian, Khomeinist Hizbollah took up border positions, imported arms, ammunition and in particular rockets from Iran (through Syria) and increased its guerilla and terrorist training. Israel naively held out hopes for the development of friendly relations with Lebanon in the future. Hizbollah now formed a “state within a state” with an agenda for continual conflict. Israel’s withdrawal broadcast weakness and loss of resolve to the extreme Islamist movements worldwide even if the intended message was one of peace. Hizbollah’s understanding of the Jewish State’s vulnerability was further reinforced in October 2000 when three soldiers were killed in a Hizbollah incursion into Israel and their bodies abducted. In February 2002 another Hizbollah attack on a bus left six dead and many wounded. Despite threats, Israel did not respond in either case but rather negotiated to obtain the soldiers’ remains (along with another Israeli who was kidnapped) and released hundreds of terrorists in exchange. Nasrallah and everyone else understood – Israel can be blackmailed into releasing terrorists.

Hizbollah Objectives

In alliance with the no less extreme Palestinian Islamist Hamas, the Hizbollah goal was to trade abducted soldiers for thousands of Israeli-held Palestinian terrorists and thereby significantly raise their own stock in the Arab/Moslem world. Since April 2005 when their Syrian patrons were forced to leave Lebanon, Hizbollah has lost ground as a political/military force. As the only extra-governmental militia remaining, Christian, Druze and even different Moslem faction leaders called for their disarmament. Proving “the necessity” of retaining themselves as an independent military faction, Hizbollah seized the opportunity to attack Israel in a show of pan-Arab/Islamist brotherhood with the Palestinians/Hamas.

They did not expect the sharp Israeli reaction against Lebanon, nor against their own targets. Nasrallah was convinced that his threat of unleashing Iranian long range rockets would deter any serious Israeli response. These missiles can reach Haifa (and its highly inflammable northern industrial zone) and possibly south to Hadera, just fifty kilometers from Tel Aviv. Hizbollah miscalculated.

Israeli Objectives

Israeli military and political leaders knew the day of reckoning with Hizbollah would arrive – eventually. The weakening of the pro-Syrian and pro-Islamist forces in Lebanon since early 2005 was certainly a facilitator. The intense Israeli response is intended to crush the Hizbollah physically and limit radical Islamist influence (including Iranian) in Lebanon. It is also a clear reminder to the Lebanese government of their responsibility for terrorists who operate on their territory and to pressure the anti-Syrian, anti-Islamist forces to take political and if possible military action against Nasrallah & Co.

 

The destruction of Lebanese state infrastructure as punishment for harboring the Hizbollah terrorists is doubly meant to advise the Syrians of their own vulnerability for hosting Khalid Mashal (Hamas) and other terrorist leaders who orchestrate attacks against Israel from their well protected headquarters in Damascus. Furthermore, the economic losses incurred by the more pro-western, anti-Syrian, anti-Islamist factions due to the Israeli retaliations are designed to serve as a catalyst for intensive anti-Hizbollah activities to be initiated by the above mentioned. (Wishful thinking?) Israel hopes for the completion of the pro-secular, pro-Western Cedar Revolution which began to sweep Lebanon as a response to the assassination of former anti-Syrian former PM Rafik Hariri in early 2005 and was partially responsible for the Syrian withdrawal. For the Hizbollah this means disarmament and marginalization.

Although retrieving the abducted soldiers was the initial aim of the operation, once this was not obtained in the first hours of conflict, the macro-political/military objectives were revised. The attack/abductions on July 12 can now be seen as a springboard for radically changing the security and political situation on Israel’s northern border.

Projections

Still ahead are at least four to five days of intensified shelling by the Hizbollah against Israeli civilian targets. Israel will be working to take out all Hizbollah targets and weaken the organization to a point where internal Lebanese forces will be willing to challenge Nasrallah’s military hegemony in the multi-ethnic/religious state. On the physical “containment” side Israel will do its best to liquidate arms depots, rockets, launchers and as many personnel as possible.

Israel’s ultimate objective is to remove Hizbollah from her northern border and eliminate the extreme Khomeinist/Islamic organization as a player in Lebanese politics and society.

This is the first of two articles. The second will analyze the political and international implications.