What's behind renewed war jitters in Israel, Lebanon?
The saber-rattling between Israel and Lebanon – which Israeli Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman extended to Syria – has created an atmosphere similar to the one that preceded Israel's 1982 invasion.
(Page 2 of 2)
Expectations of another war between Hezbollah and Israel began the moment the last one ended inconclusively in August 2006. During that month-long conflict, Hezbollah’s militants proved tougher than the ill-prepared Israeli army anticipated. Hezbollah proclaimed a “divine victory” but lost its military autonomy over the southern Lebanon border district. Israel was widely seen as having lost the war, but has benefited from a peaceful border since.Skip to next paragraph
Subscribe Today to the Monitor
Since then Israel has retrained its army, developed and introduced new technology to cope with Hezbollah’s rockets and anti-tank missiles and drawn up a new strategy for dealing with its Lebanese foe.
Israeli officials have warned that in the event of another war they will treat Lebanon as their enemy rather than just Hezbollah, particularly since Hezbollah joined Lebanon’s coalition government in November, a move that has blurred the distinction between the state and the Shiite group.
“For practical reasons we cannot beat Hezbollah. We have to define Lebanon as our enemy,” says Giora Eiland, a former Israeli national security advisor during the premiership of Ariel Sharon. “The Lebanese government must know that it has only two possibilities: One, to let the relative calm continue, and, two, that a war will devastate Lebanon.”
Dubbed the “Dahiyah doctrine” after Hezbollah’s southern Beirut stronghold, which was heavily bombed in 2006, it calls for attacking roads, bridges and power stations as well as Lebanese army bases and population centers that support Hezbollah.
“The strategic objective in the next war is to understand that you cannot solve the problem in one step,” says Shlomo Brom, a former director of the Israeli army’s Strategic Planning Branch. “The only way of solving the problem is occupying Lebanon and kicking Hezbollah out. It is not easy and Israel is not willing to pay that price.”
The doctrine amounts to using collective punishment to discourage Lebanon’s continued tolerance of Hezbollah’s armed status.
Hezbollah's fresh battle plans
Hezbollah has prepared fresh battle plans of its own amid an unprecedented rearming, recruiting and training drive since 2006. It reportedly has 40,000 rockets now, more than double the figure prior to 2006.
Among Hezbollah’s new rocket systems is the Syrian M-600, with a longer range and more accuracy than past models, according to US and European intelligence sources. Hezbollah militants have hinted at staging cross-border raids to attack military and civilian targets. That would be unprecedented in the history of the Arab-Israeli conflict.
“You will see next time that maybe the UN will ask us to withdraw from northern Israel rather than asking Israel to withdraw from south Lebanon,” says Abu Khalil, a 22-year Hezbollah veteran.
Many Hezbollah fighters say the next conflict with Israel will lead to the destruction of the Jewish state. Sheikh Hassan Nasrallah, Hezbollah’s leader, recently predicted that in the next war his group “will defeat the enemy and change the face of the region.”
Still, analysts say that the stakes are so high and the level of mutual destruction so great that neither Hezbollah nor Israel are looking for another confrontation.
“I don’t think Israel is willing to have a war right now and I don’t think Hezbollah is itching for a fight either,” says Timur Goksel, a former senior UNIFIL official. “Yes, Israel can trash Lebanon, but it will be very expensive for Israel too. Hezbollah will fire all over the place and there will be many more [Israeli] casualties than in 2006.”