[Editor’s note: We have been expecting Netanyahu to launch a third war with Lebanon for a few months now. As the Turkish and Israeli proxy forces known as ISIS/Daesh near defeat in Syria, we are seeing clear signs that the war, rather than drawing to a close, is heating up again, but this time with a revised cast of players.
The Turkish Army is fighting the Kurds in northern Syria and is close to entering into full-scale warfare with Syrian Army forces too, giving us the distinct impression that what has really happened is that the Turkish troops posing as ISIS slipped back into Turkey after their defeat in Aleppo, shaved off their beards, changed their Islamic extremist disguises for Turkish uniforms and returned to Syria under the guise of the ‘Euphrates Shield’ anti-terror operation. In reality, the Turks are aiming to seize large tracts of northern Syria and Iraq and annex them into the Turkish state.
Israel’s strategy appears to be targeted at Hezbollah, the Lebanon-based Shi-ite militia that has long been a close ally of Iran. Netanyahu sees Hezbollah as an Iranian proxy army and therefore, a strike at Hezbollah is a strike at Iran, who he sees as the prime enemy of the Zionists. Currently, there are about 5,000 Hezbollah troops in Syria, fighting alongside the Syrian Army and their Iranian and Russian allies, all of these Hezbollah troops are in the northwest of Syria, the region that borders Lebanon.
Netanyahu has made the bold-faced lie that the Israeli airstrike aimed at Palmyra that was intercepted by Syrian S-200 missiles was intended to strike at Hezbollah forces, a ludicrously transparent lie as there are no Hezbollah within 200km of Palmyra, only Syrian Army and ISIS forces are to be found near Palmyra, so clearly, the Israeli airstrike was in support of IS forces. However, we should take note that Netanyahu claimed Hezbollah were the target.
The significance of Netanyahu’s statement is that it shows us that he considers Hezbollah to be a legitimate target for the IDF, a portent of the assault on Lebanon to come – that too, will be framed as a strike against Hezbollah.
The last time the IDF attempted to invade Lebanon is 2006, they failed miserably, their attacking forces bogged down in carefully prepared defences that the Israeli air force and artillery were unable to neutralise due to the majority of the command posts, supply depots and other key points being buried underground. Southern Lebanon remains one of the most heavily fortified places on earth, therefore we strongly believe that any Israeli invasion would have to use nuclear weapons in order to blast their way through those defences.
I asked VT’s nuclear weapons expert Jeff Smith for his opinion:
VT: Hezbollah and the Lebanese have prepared a very intricate and deep system of defences, largely underground. Therefore we think it is probable that the only way the Israelis could succeed in an invasion against those defences would be to use nuclear bunker busters, which we are sure Trump would be willing to supply.
Jeff: Correct; however Israel already has them. The Iranians have well equipped Hezbollah with the latest wire/laser guided anti-tank weapons and shoulder fired MANPAD-SAMs. They also have the latest anti-ship weapons and speed boats to stop the Israeli navy. Hezbollah learned a lot since the last war. All communications are by secure wire line and all command posts are now mobile. So no bunkers to bust.
VT: Both Israel and Hezbollah have prepared for the next war ever since the last one ended, how do you think this war will differ from what we have seen before?
Jeff: It will be a drone war with high altitude GPS-guided glide bombs and long range artillery. Syria has been a game changer for both sides; new toys to test. Main battle tanks and Apache helicopters are well obsolete in this environment. Drone use is growing by leaps and bounds thanks to cheap Chinese technology. You can see it already in Syria, Iraq and Afghanistan etc.
The WW2 Buzz bomb is back with a smarter brain this time. The Israelis no longer have the technology edge. To quote Stalin in reference to WW2 German technology advancements: “sometimes quantity has a quality all of its own.” This is what the cold war was all about “whoever has more nukes wins”.
VT: Do you think we will see nuclear weapons deployed?
Jeff: Expect to see the next generation nuclear weapons being tested. Basically nuclear flash bangs. Nuclear triggers or you can call them neutron multipliers or Micro-nukes. This is what they tested in Turkey when they made that flash bang by dropping a very small nuclear trigger with minimal fissile material added outside the parliament building in Ankara during the supposed coup attempt. Also, today Turkey’s Erdogan is talking about going nuclear. Where did they all of the sudden get the nukes from?
Just when Israel will launch it’s invasion of Lebanon is unclear, but we are confident in predicting that it will be the near future as we are certain that Netanyahu received the full backing of Trump when the two met recently. If Bibi wants to go into Lebanon, the US has his back. In fact, I believe that one of the main reasons why the Zionists installed Trump in the first place was because he would be a pliable puppet and unwavering in his support of Israeli military ventures.
What the Russians make of all this is unknown, they have been close to silent recently, although Putin has asked the Israelis to explain why their aircraft carried out an airstrike on Syrian territory. We have to ask – just when are the Russians going to stand up to Turkey and Israel? Or perhaps we should ask – are they ever going to stand up to them? Ian]
Is Israel prepared for Hezbollah’s rearming?
The most important event to take place during Israel’s second war in Lebanon (2006) was a phone call between Prime Minister Ehud Olmert and President George W. Bush’s secretary of state, Condoleezza Rice, at the start of the hostilities.
Lebanon was then ruled by Fouad Siniora’s government. While Rice gave Olmert a “green light” to attack Hezbollah, she asked him not to cause any damage to Lebanon’s national infrastructure to ensure that Siniora’s pro-Western government survived.
Olmert agreed. In retrospect, this was considered to be a seminal moment that caused the war to drag on for a relatively long time and end without any final resolution (then-Defense Minister Amir Peretz resigned following reports that the war was not well-orchestrated). If the Israel Defense Forces (IDF) and the Israeli air force had destroyed vital Lebanese infrastructure during the early days of the fighting, the Lebanese government would have probably pressured Hezbollah to stop firing rockets at Israel much earlier.
It has been 11 years since then, and the situation has changed dramatically. A significant part of Defense Minister Avigdor Liberman’s talks in Washington on March 7 was devoted to a war in Lebanon that could erupt at any given moment. According to top Israeli defense sources, this war, if it takes place, must be completely different from the last one. It must last a shorter amount of time and squeeze much greater destructive capabilities into smaller units of time.
The first important difference is the Lebanese army. At a March 6 meeting of the Knesset’s Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee, Liberman said that the distinction between the Lebanese army and Hezbollah forces has been blurred considerably over the past few years, as has the distinction between Hezbollah — which also operates on the political level — and the sovereign state in which it resides.
The IDF’s working assumption is that the Lebanese army will play an active role against Israel in the next war on Lebanon, operating under Hezbollah’s command. Alternately, it will perform select tasks assigned to it by Hezbollah as part of the campaign. Today, even the Lebanese government regards Hezbollah as part of the armed infrastructure vital to defending the country.
The new president, Michel Aoun, said as much recently in interviews he gave to the Arab media. While the participation of the Lebanese army alongside Hezbollah in the fighting during the next war will not upset the balance of power — which clearly favors Israel — it could impact the nature and shape of the war.
Another difference anticipated in the next campaign is the balance of terror. While during Israel’s second war in Lebanon, the devastation to Israel was limited; today Hezbollah is capable of striking any given point in the country.
In a video clip released Feb. 16, Hezbollah Secretary-General Hassan Nasrallah gave a list of strategic targets in Israel and announced that he would attack them in the next round of fighting. These include the ammonia plant in Haifa, the nuclear reactors in Dimona and Nahal Sorek, Rafael Advanced Defense Systems weapons development facilities and more.
What Nasrallah tries to do is to create parity. He has no air force, but he does have tens of thousands of rockets and missiles, some of them long-range and all of them more accurate than the ones he had in 2006. In the second Lebanon War, he had no choice but to stand helpless before the ruins of the Dahiyeh suburb of Beirut, where Hezbollah has its command center. This time, he thinks, Israel will have to contend with similar images of its own.
Israel is aware that at present, it has no real answer to the rocket threat. Sending special infantry units to search for rocket and missile launch sites on the ground is a lot like looking for a needle in a haystack. Israel tried to do this in the second Lebanon war with no real results. What this means is that the only option left to Israel is an immediate, dramatic and aggressive attack against all of Lebanon’s vital infrastructure, or as Israeli officers and senior Israeli officials have been describing it for the past decade, “sending Lebanon back to the Stone Age.”
Since the distinction between Hezbollah and Lebanon per se has been blurred considerably, the possibility of wreaking destruction on the country could serve as a deterrent, as far as Nasrallah is concerned. He can no longer hide behind the central government, since he himself is the central government. In order to launch such an attack, however, Israel will need prior approval from the United States.
According to defense sources in Israel, it has already received such approval, or at the very least, can expect to receive it in the near future. If Israel does find itself launching an aggressive campaign to destroy Lebanon’s infrastructure in the next round, it will need the aerial umbrella of US support, which will allow it freedom of action, at least in the first few days of the fighting.
In the second Lebanon War, the IDF ran out of targets to attack within just a few days, because Hezbollah fighters avoided direct contact with Israeli forces. This time, however, the entire country of Lebanon will be a strategic target. Bombing runs will target power stations, airports, important factories, and major roads and intersections. All Lebanese army bases will be destroyed as will the army’s armored vehicles, and so on. Given these circumstances, the IDF estimates that the next campaign will be shorter but much more destructive.
Over the past few years, Israel boosted its special forces and created specialized commando brigades. In the next round, it will try not to avoid various land maneuvers, even though the operations on land in the last Lebanon conflict turned out to be a dismal failure. In this era, in any case, it makes no sense to talk about “victory.” All that is left is to try to create a deterrent and ensure that it is etched deeply in Lebanon’s consciousness. That is what Israel will try to achieve in the next war.
When would this war break out? The Israeli assessment is that Nasrallah has no reason to get into a conflict with Israel in the foreseeable future. The IDF claims that as long as a significant part of his forces is over-extended and exhausted in Syria, Nasrallah will try to avoid a clash with Israel.
At the same time, however, signals from Beirut over the past few months indicate that Nasrallah’s patience is starting to wear thin. According to foreign sources, the rules of the new game that Israel has imposed over the past few years, in which it feels free to attack arms convoys making their way to him from Syria, are unacceptable to Nasrallah.
According to recent intelligence from the West, the Iranians have established rocket-manufacturing facilities in Lebanon in order to “circumvent” the wall of intelligence and Israeli bombings, which prevent the unhindered supply of rockets to Hezbollah. In any event, Nasrallah’s armories are full.
There is very little chance that “these missiles will get rusty,” as former IDF Chief of Staff Moshe Ya’alon once predicted. Israel knows that if there is a missile on the table in the first act, it will be fired in the third act. At some time or other that is going to happen.
The army has improved training, and the air force is cooperating better with Military Intelligence. But the pounding of the Home Front will only be greater next time. Critiques of the Second Lebanon War 10 years later have taken a different tack. Analysts and TV reporters have wondered that maybe the war wasn’t so terrible after all.
The passage of time can indeed put things in perspective. The war that broke out on July 12, 2006, didn’t cause a calamity on the scale of the 1973 Yom Kippur War. The enemy turned out less ferocious than the efficient monster portrayed in the Israeli media.
The Israel Defense Forces had fought Hezbollah and Palestinian groups before, but this time it faced an enemy that avoided direct clashes while tailing it at every opportunity and firing Katyusha rockets at the Galilee until the war’s last day. The fact that the IDF couldn’t bring the campaign to a decisive conclusion created great frustration in the government, among the public and in the army itself.
In the decade since, Israel has learned a few things about such confrontations. There are reasons to believe that next time the IDF will better face the challenges, though the difficulty in achieving a decisive victory will probably remain.
The improved analysis on the war is based on two arguments, only one of which is mentioned in public. The first and legitimate reason relates to results on the ground. The relative calm on the Lebanese border since the war is a historical aberration.
The second reason, a political one, is hidden from view. Ehud Olmert, who oversaw the war, was the last prime minister to be supported by the center and left. His failure in Lebanon revived Benjamin Netanyahu’s political career and indirectly spurred his return to power two and a half years later.
As the left’s anger at Netanyahu’s seemingly endless rule accumulates, the tendency to view Olmert’s term through rose-colored glasses increases. When this refers to the bombing of Syria’s nuclear reactor, which the foreign press attributes to Israel, this is understandable. The problem is when many Israelis play down the corruption for which Olmert was sent to prison, and their soft stance on the performance of Olmert, the cabinet and the army during the 2006 war.
The Second Lebanon War remains a resounding failure. Anyone who denies this ignores three reasons for the calm since.
The first is Hezbollah’s embroilment in the Syrian civil war. Ever since that conflict broke out in March 2011, and even more so after President Bashar Assad requested substantial aid from Hezbollah in the summer of 2012, the Shi’ite group has been up to its neck in fighting. Hezbollah has 5,000 fighters in Syria, almost a quarter of its manpower. Around 1,600 have died, with 6,000 wounded.
For the first time Hezbollah has needed a support system for its disabled and the families of the dead. But the first priority of Hezbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah, as of his masters in Tehran, is to preserve the Assad regime in Syria. Embarking on a war with Israel would divert Hezbollah from its current effort. Losses to the IDF would weaken the grip of Assad and the Iranians on areas still under their control in Syria. Such losses would also expose Hezbollah to attacks by Sunnis in Lebanon.
Remember that over the past decade Iran has helped Hezbollah increase its vast arsenal of rockets and missiles, amounting to 130,000, according to Israeli intelligence estimates. Iran has done so for its own strategic reasons.
But in 2006 the Islamic Republic was furious when it learned belatedly of Nasrallah’s orders to abduct an Israeli soldier on the border, an incident that led to the 2006 war. After the fighting the Iranians curbed Nasrallah’s independence. Tehran was chiefly concerned with an Israeli attack on its nuclear installations.
Hezbollah’s accurate rockets aimed at Tel Aviv and Haifa helped deter Netanyahu as he considered a strike on Iran. Since the signing of the nuclear accords last year in Vienna, Iran’s nuclear plan hasn’t been the focus of the region’s attention. But as long as Iran believed Israel might attack, these missiles were kept as a deterrent against Israel. Under the present circumstances, it seems Iran has no interest in another military confrontation with Israel, which would degrade Hezbollah and its arsenal without necessarily achieving a strategic goal.
The third reason for the calm is the mutual deterrence. Israel proved in 2006 that it can badly batter Hezbollah. There was the bombing of Beirut’s Dahiyeh neighborhood, Hezbollah’s stronghold, and the massive damage inflicted on Shi’ite villages in southern Lebanon, which housed command posts and depots. All this apparently made Nasrallah think twice before embarking on another round with Israel.
But the coin has a flip side. Israel knows that Hezbollah can rain 1,500 rockets and missiles down on the home front daily. And it’s aware of the vulnerability of its power stations, ports and airports, and its missile-defense system’s inability to totally protect Israelis.
No war is free of disasters and failures. Still, those 34 days in the summer of 2006 were particularly dismal. Israel’s operations were marred by the low preparedness of the IDF, which had cut down on training and devoted most of its resources in previous years to fighting Palestinian terror.
At the same time, the generals convinced themselves that chasing a Palestinian suicide bomber from Nablus to Tel Aviv was a great way to prepare for Hezbollah’s well-trained and well-equipped fighters in Maroun al-Ras and Bint Jbail.
The failure was exacerbated by the inexperience of the three men at the top – Olmert, who had suddenly assumed power after Ariel Sharon’s stroke, Defense Minister Amir Peretz, who was persuaded to accept his position without any experience because Olmert feared putting him in the treasury, and Chief of Staff Dan Halutz, the great fighter pilot who upon his appointment explained that “one doesn’t have to be a sheep to lead the herd.”
But during the war Halutz’s cluelessness about ground operations became critical when approving brigade- and division-scale offensives. The trio’s lack of experience was inversely proportional to their arrogance during the fighting, an attitude that collapsed in a roar amid their paltry achievements.
Basically, Olmert’s cabinet approved a massive attack on Hezbollah’s mid-range rocket sites without realizing that this meant a declaration of war. And the ministers weren’t aware of the low preparedness of regular and reserve army units, the limited intelligence and the Northern Command’s outdated operational plans. When the airstrikes ran out of steam after four days, it was decided to continue the war without tweaking the objectives or examining alternate approaches.
Menacing Dahiyeh and Dimona
During the following four weeks, IDF divisions were moved around aimlessly, with the government and army incapable of defining a maneuver that would gain the upper hand. In the end, a cease-fire was achieved through French and American mediation, based on UN Security Council Resolution 1701. But Olmert, Peretz and Halutz insisted on sending troops further in – a final push that cost the lives of 33 soldiers in 60 hours.
This final move was cut short before the cease-fire took effect, without achieving a thing or affecting the final agreement. Israelis’ instincts after the war weren’t mistaken. A total loss of confidence in Olmert and the army’s vigorous repair work since attest to the nature of the war.
The missiles and rockets, whose numbers have grown 10-fold since, remain Hezbollah’s main source of power ahead of a possible future confrontation. In his speeches, Nasrallah stresses his organization’s capability of harming Israel’s home front. He says he can hit refineries and ammonia storage tanks in the Haifa Bay area, as well as power stations, ports and even the Dimona nuclear reactor if the IDF threatens Dahiyeh and civilian infrastructure in Lebanon.
Hezbollah’s missiles and rockets can now reach the entire country, not to mention their improved accuracy, even if this only applies to a few thousand of the projectiles. Hezbollah is also relying on the combat experience gained by its officers and soldiers in the Syrian war, vis-a-vis the IDF’s advantages in technology and intelligence. Fighting alongside Iranian and Russian officers in Syria has also helped Hezbollah improve combat techniques while acquiring experience in employing larger formations that include aircraft, armor and intelligence.
On the other hand, the IDF has intensified training and changed its operational plans accordingly. It has improved armored equipment and vehicles at emergency storage sites, even though a recent report shows a renewed decline in this area.
The main improvement seems to be the integration of the air force and Military Intelligence. Since the 2006 war, much effort has been devoted to deciphering the way Hezbollah conceals and uses its forces in Lebanon. The IDF now has accurate intelligence regarding thousands of targets, and changes in the air force enable attacks at a much higher success rate than a decade ago.
The big question mark is the effectiveness of such moves, impressive as they may be, on Hezbollah’s fighting spirit. The army considers something the public may not necessarily realize – missiles and rocket fire will continue until a cease-fire is achieved, and the damage to the home front will be unprecedented, even if the damage to Lebanon is substantially larger.
There is a school of thought in the General Staff that the response next time should be based on an extensive ground operation that would complement air power. Others, especially in the government, advocate an attack on civilian infrastructure.
Ehud Barak, who as prime minister took Israel out of Lebanon in 2000, advocates a massive acquisition of interceptor missiles of the Magic Wand and Iron Dome variety. He thinks that’s the truly effective answer to Hezbollah’s missiles.
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Posted by Ian Greenhalgh on March 18, 2017, With 2899 Reads Filed under World. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0. Both comments and pings are currently closed.