This week’s words from the Levant offer contending messages for Israel’s and Hezbollah’s friends and foe alike:
“We are naturally unhappy about the fact that Lebanon will be largely destroyed. Ask Iran why this may well happen? But be assured that it won’t drag on for anything close to 34 days like last time. (July 2006). We urge all civilians to leave Hezbollah controlled neighbourhoods.” 9/27/2017 An aide to Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee chairman MK Avi Dichter who asked that his name not be made public.
“Netanyahu and his military leadership do not know where a war might lead them should they start it, and they do not have a real picture about what will await them in the next war. I call on non-Zionist Jews to leave occupied Palestine to the countries they came from so that they don’t be the fuel of the next war, seeing as they might not have enough time to leave.” Hezbollah’s Hassan Nasrallah 10/1/2017 during his south Beirut speech commemorating the 10th day Ashoura.
The view of many analysts in the Israeli and American military leadership as well as among the Israeli lobby in the US Congress is that Israel must ensure that the next war is short. The shorter the better for many reasons. One being that Washington will not ‘green light’ a protracted war that kills large numbers of Lebanese civilians. Another one is that the Israeli public and politicians will not accept many Israeli military or civilian casualties.
Hezbollah’s forces have a history of disciplined and skilled high-risk fighting techniques despite paying a high “martyrs” price. They will likely do so again. And they are preparing expecting, preferring and intending to pursue a longer war. The longer the better for many reasons. One reason is that both sides are acutely aware that a drawn out war with Hezbollah saturating Israel with approximately 2000 missiles daily will cause nearly unimaginable damage to Israel’s military bases, infrastructure, civilian neighborhoods and population. And unless there is a hastily arranged enforceable ceasefire the war will not end even when there is not a lot left of Hezbollah neighborhoods as occurred in 2006. Or of many of Israel’s and Lebanon’s— unless mass public protests and demonstrations flood Israel’s streets and swarm Parliament because the UN Security Council will likely be paralyzed as unfortunately has become its recent fate.
For a few reasons Israel has not, and likely will not succeed in curtailing a large portion of Iran’s arms shipments to Hezbollah which moves them from Syria to where they want to position or store them around Lebanon or according to source in Daraa, South Syria near the Israeli controlled Golan Heights. A significant reason Israel cannot stop the shipments is the 200 miles Lebanon-Syria sieve-like border created and maintained by centuries of locals smuggling just about anything both ways from literally hundreds of tree covered and mountainous routes traversing the borders.
These days in this region, as has been the case throughout a long history with most countries, it’s not easy to block determined, resourceful, and experienced smugglers. Another is the fact that hundreds of trucks of all sizes from many countries travel from Syria to Lebanon every day and only a relatively few of the experienced local lookouts squinting the routes know from experience which trucks (one thing they look for is the size of the bulges in the partially deflated tires as they roar by), likely have missiles or other heavy armaments inside. One young man, a veteran militia fellow from Majdel- less than two miles from the Maznaa Lebanon-Syria border crossing, 35 miles east of Damascus, claims he can look at a truck and tell what type of missiles are almost certainly inside by the way the truck shimmies and sways going up steep inclines!
Even this observer, admittedly a fairly obtuse lookout, from countless trips by road between Beirut and Damascus over the past several years is sometimes able to make an educated guess that a truck is carrying heavy armaments even though bags of potatoes, onions, or bunches of bananas are mounded high on top of the truck bed. Especially when he recognizes the truck driver who is an acquaintance from his own Hezbollah neighborhood in Dahiyeh, South Beirut (Haret Hreik).
Hezbollah presumably has plans to put the arriving weapons to good use. Israel being not quite the size of New Jersey, the 5th-smallest American state, is an easy, even ideal target according to Hezbollah because it has only a relatively small number of vital sites which are quite easily targeted. Their targets will include power stations, Ben Gurion airport, seaports, railway stations, key government’s buildings, military installations and the kind of civilian targets a variety of belligerents have been targeting in Syria for years without sparing schools, religious gathering sites, large public markets, hospitals, etc. Many of these will be damaged in the next war if not totally destroyed as has happened in Syria the past seven years. Israel will quickly pay an unbearable destruction of infrastructure price along with sustaining hundreds of casualties despite intensely planning for a short war.
Hezbollah, Iran and Syria appear to have more or less accepted the fact of Israel’s increasing attacks on arms shipments–or perhaps do not respond just now out of concern for escalation. Despite direct Israeli strikes on various Iran- Hezbollah convoys, Hezbollah has assured the media and local allies that it will continue expanding its arsenal.
According to IDF analysis, to assure that the next war is short and its forces victorious requires that it also targets the state of Lebanon, not just Hezbollah. Its thinking is reportedly that Hezbollah, Lebanon’s infrastructure and its army can be largely destroyed within one week or in any case in no longer than ten days. Preparations are being focused on this timeline according to analysts at Jane’s Weekly. When war ignites it will create massive international pressure for both sides to quickly accept a ceasefire and that’s just what Israel’s military is hoping and planning for. Hezbollah for its part is, as noted above preparing for the long war. Meanwhile, until the war does erupt, Israel will continue trying to stop Hezbollah from arming itself with accurate weapons.
Israel is broadcasting widely the IDF’s message that: “Lebanon and Hezbollah will both be Israel’s enemies and equally targeted in the next war” hoping that it will create deterrence until the IDF is ready for its planned quick war. Plus none of the key players in the region, Syria, Iran, Saudi Arabia, the GCC countries, France, Russia, the United States and EU want to see Lebanon destroyed even though a majority express a wish that such will be Hezbollah’s fate.
About a week ago, at the end of the major IDF military exercise in northern Israel, the Israeli defence minister and army chiefs hastily conveyed an international message that Israel is capable of quickly defeating Hezbollah and when war does break out it’s important that the Western states—at least the US—understand in advance that Israel chose this strategy having no other option. But some in Israel and elsewhere are criticizing this message and pushing another one which is quite the obverse, suggesting that there is significant confusion in Israel’s government about the previously widely promoted Gidion Doctrine. The Israeli Knesset’s Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee subcommittee on Defense Outlook and Force-Building last week released a watered down summary of a highly classified governmental report on Israel’s five-year Gideon Plan to defend Israel from Iran, Hezbollah, Hamas and other sworn enemies. The report is strongly critical of Israel’s lack of a cohesive security strategy over the past five years which it argues led to a number of military failures in the 2014 Gaza war and which continue to weaken the IDF today. The report blamed the political leadership for failing to provide clear strategic guidance for the military and also emphasized strong doubts that Israel is ready for the next war with Hezbollah.
An intensifying debate in Israel seeks the heretofore illusive answer as to whether its military is properly prepared for its next war-long or short- unlike the past few. Is the IDF ready for war tomorrow morning is openly being asked by the Knesset and military brass. A watered down de-classified Knesset subcommittee’s report raises a number of fundamental questions.
The report insists that the five-year Gideon Plan which is supposed to prepare the army for the next war, appears to have devolved into an admission by the IDF itself that it has been preparing over the past couple of decades for the wrong war against Hezbollah. It argues that Israel must prepare differently and that there is an urgent need for a changed strategy for the army next time against Hezbollah as well as for a plan that will destroy the many threats from Iran that the army predicts it will have to face sooner rather than later. According to the report:
“The arming and force building pace is derived from the options and doesn’t always solve the gaps in different areas that the committee discovered in its work. There are a number of critical fields which require adjustments in the force building pace, even at the expense of other abilities.”
The subcommittee’s central criticism revolves around the fact that the military determined its own needs for the multi-year plan, rather than the political leadership dictating to the army what it needs to do. The report was positive about a few elements of the implementation of the Gideon Plan, but identified serious problems with IDF plans to execute the next war with Hezbollah. The report claimed that while Israel’s military has succeeded in crafting an impressive fighting force, it does not always prepare itself adequately for the correct mission. The report reads in part; ‘The arming and force building pace is derived from the options and does not solve the gaps in different areas that the committee examined. There are a number of critical fields which require adjustments in the IDF building pace, even at the expense of other abilities.”
The subcommittee also noted other shortcomings in the Gideon Plan, notably that it does not include the “tectonic shift” of Russia’s dramatic return to the region.
“What can we do, what do we want, what are our options in the coming Hezbollah war?”
These are reportedly among the criticisms increasingly being voiced by many in Israel’s military establishment and among key political decision makers that need to be made quickly in light of fast moving events in the Middle East. All suggesting that other significant fronts may be created by Hezbollah and Iran in Syria, forcing Israel to fight in several arenas simultaneously.
Meanwhile, mainly out of concern for Lebanon’s fate once Israel begins saturation bombing, several of Lebanon’s “leaders” have or soon will visit the Kingdom for the purpose of strategizing ways to confront Hezbollah and Iran. The former they consider is simply a foreign militia implanted by the latter, a claimed hegemonic regime in Tehran some in Lebanon’s government believe is hastily careening toward its own revolution. To date, Lebanese Forces leader Samir Geagea and Kataeb Party chief Samir Gemayel (both parties having participated directly in the 1982 Sabra-Shatila Massacre slaughter), Lebanon’s Prime Minister Saad Hariri, Druze leader MP Walid Jumblat, and anti-Iran/Hezbollah former minister, Maj. Gen. Ashraf Rifi. Others are planning visits.
Some of the visitors are seeking yet another ‘coalition’ to confront what they claim are Iran’s projects to control the region and its threat to Lebanon’s sovereignty. This while hoping to message and ultimately persuade Israel not to destroy Lebanon during its planned less than ten day “short war” which some US Pentagon officials have told Congree they believe will be launched just as soon as Israel’s military and government can both agree that they are ready.
-Franklin P. Lamb, LLB, LLM, Ph.D. is a Fellow at Oxford University-UK, Law Professor, Legal Adviser to the Sabra-Shatila Scholarship Program, Shatila Camp (SSSP-lb.com). As a volunteer with the Palestine Civil Rights Campaign, Beirut and Washington, DC he is committed to help achieving the Right to Work and the Right to Home Ownership for every Palestinian Refugee in Lebanon.