13 years later, is the IDF ready for another war against Hezbollah?
BY ANNA AHRONHEIM
Jerusalem has repeatedly slammed UNIFIL for failing to fulfill its duties by turning a blind eye to Hezbollah’s activities in southern Lebanon. Israel accuses the terrorist group of continuously violating the resolution and storing much of its weaponry in villages along the border. SENIOR IDF officers as well as politicians say that Israel’s military has the ability to end any future conflict with Hezbollah as quickly as possible, and will completely destroy the group’s capabilities and infrastructure, even if that means civilian casualties. The IDF hasn’t conducted a full and proper ground maneuver in enemy territory since troops entered Gaza in 2009 during Operation Cast Lead. During Operation Pillar of Defense in 2012 and Operation Protective Edge in 2014, the IDF and political leadership chose to rely mainly on the air force, leaving the ground troops and armored corps to stay out of the Strip or in the border area, to neutralize Hamas tunnels. The military knows that in a war in the north, it will not be able to rely solely on the air force, and has publicly boasted about the preparedness of the ground troops, showing off major drills simulating war with Hezbollah to journalists. The military states that the next war will be more lethal, and it has shown off new technology and techniques which it says will destroy the group and send Lebanon “back to the Stone Age” if need be. With the help of Iran, Hezbollah has rebuilt its arsenal since 2006 and has hundreds of thousands of short-range rockets and several thousand more missiles that can reach deeper into Israel. It is believed that in the next war the terrorist group will try to fire some 1,500-2,000 rockets per day until the last day of the conflict. With more than 40,000 fighters organized in battalions and brigades, Hezbollah fighters have gained battlefield experience from fighting in Syria on the side of President Bashar Assad.
But many of the group’s capabilities and infrastructure are intertwined with the civilian infrastructure of Lebanon, a country that receives millions of dollars in military aid and equipment from the United States and other Western countries. “Contrary to what the Americans think, the LAF is not an alternative to Hezbollah,” Zehavi said. “They coexist side by side in Lebanon, and in the next war the LAF will, of course, in my opinion, have to fight shoulder to shoulder with Hezbollah because they have to show the Lebanese population that they are protecting them. Otherwise, what good are they?”
She believes that the IDF is “as ready as it can be,” having undergone a big change in the amount of drills and operations (including the exposure and destruction of Hezbollah cross-border tunnels), but the civilian population will be greatly affected. “It’s hard for them to accept dead bodies. Can we beat Hezbollah? Yes. But at what price? Who knows? The Hezbollah we met in 2006 is different from the Hezbollah of 2019.” Former OC Northern Command Maj.-Gen. (res.) Amiram Levin told the Post that “the price on both sides will depend on the number of days the war lasts.”
“You hear about all sorts of words from the army: ‘lethality’ and ‘maneuvers.’ But that’s all garbage because, at the end of the day, the IDF and Hezbollah have specific numbers, be it of ground forces, missiles, everything. The IDF has one mission: to defeat Hezbollah as fast as possible, even if that means a high cost on both sides,” he said. Levin told the Post that since 2006 there has been a major change with the enemy on the other side of the border.
“There is a very big difference with the enemy. In the past Hezbollah was a terrorist group, and then they morphed into guerrilla terrorism, which saw them carry out a mix of guerrilla attacks and terrorist attacks. But now they are an army, even though they still target civilians,” he said. According to Levin, another change since the war is the understanding that Hezbollah has understood that it cannot defeat the IDF militarily. Therefore, “defeating Israel and the IDF means defeating the civilian population and politicians.” “Their war, from the beginning, will see them targeting the civilian population, because they know they can’t defeat the IDF,” he said.
Levin believes that the military must have strong defenses along the border in order to prevent any ground infiltrations into civilian communities by Hezbollah, an incident that could turn into a major psychological defeat for the Jewish state. Phillip Smyth, the Soref Fellow at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy, told the Post that both the IDF and Hezbollah have had the time to develop countermeasures to the opposing side’s strengths.
“Like chess, there’s always an opening and a counter – this time from both sides,” he said.
“One is in the cyber realm. Just as Hezbollah has performed before, it’s in the asymmetric fashion. Israel is loaded with a lot of great tech-based responses, so Hezbollah and Iran are stepping up ways to get information and go after what they need using social media, hacking and other means. They’re also practicing for future attacks by targeting the Saudis and other regional states.”
to Smyth, “Hezbollah is also looking for more access within Israel
itself. I would guess they are attempting to create future local cells
to create problems ‘behind the lines’ in a future conflict.”
WHILE THE primary threat posed by Hezbollah remains its missile arsenal, the IDF believes that the next war will see the group trying to bring the fight to the home front by infiltrating Israeli communities to inflict significant civilian and military casualties.