18 May '12..
This week AFP published an important report that shouldn’t slip under the radar.
It quotes a “senior military official in Israel’s northern command” saying that, while Hizbullah may not want another war with Israel, Iran would order it to attack Israel in case of an Israeli strike on Iran. In that case, says the official, the Israel-Hizbullah clash would go “much faster” than the 2006 Second Lebanon War.
That conflict, which lasted 34 days, ended with Hizbullah somewhat shaken by the prowess shown by Israel’s air force, mainly in the war’s opening days when it took out Hizbullah’s long-range rocket launchers in Beirut.
But it also ended with Hizbullah still essentially in control of southern Lebanon. Since then—despite halfhearted efforts by a beefed-up UNIFIL—Hizbullah has only tightened its grip not only over the south but over Lebanon as a whole.
And most problematically, it has kept importing Iranian rockets, missiles, and other weaponry via Syria, and now—UNIFIL or no UNIFIL—has over 50,000 rockets and missiles that, as Hizbullah leader Hassan Nasrallah boasts, can hit any part of Israel.
Those considerations—the inconclusive results of the 2006 war and the power Hizbullah has amassed since that time—are undoubtedly what leads the senior military official to tell AFP that another conflict would be “much shorter, much faster…. The most important mission today is to win decisively in any kind of war in Lebanon. If you win, you win—everybody sees it.”
The official then cites what he says will be Israel’s “biggest challenge,” namely:
Hezbollah’s positioning of weapons in the heart of civilian areas in around 100 Lebanese towns and villages along the border.
“In the villages there are three-story houses: on one floor there are rockets, then there is a family on the next floor, then a (military) headquarters then another family. The people that live there are human shields….
“Every Shiite village has become such a compound. The great challenge will be to deal with all these compounds.”
Indeed, last year Israel released declassified maps to the Washington Post showing part of Hizbullah’s network of military facilities in southern Lebanon. It was a way of signaling that Israel knows where these are and is capable of hitting them if necessary.
But apart from the operational aspect, what Hizbullah means to confront Israel with—by ensconcing itself in the homes of families, thereby dissolving any distinction between fighters and civilians, gun-toting warriors and mothers and babies—is a “moral” challenge.
Seemingly, an organization so depraved that it turns ordinary houses into military bases on the one hand, and—should such a war break out—a hail of lethal projectiles on all parts of Israel’s civilian population on the other, would conduce to the conclusion that Israel’s only moral responsibility at that point would be to salvage its own people, not those whom its enemy, Hizbullah, has reduced to fodder in a manner that is in no way Israel’s fault.
But the problem is that Hizbullah knows all too well what it is doing, and that when it comes to the blame game, all the precedent will be on its side.
Thus, in the winter 2008-2009 Gaza War, Hamas—while it did not use the human-shield strategy with the utter, systematic depravity now demonstrated by Hizbullah—greatly bolstered its own fortunes by ensconcing its fighters in mosques, schools, and hospitals.
The inevitable result was civilian casualties—and the Western chorus demanding that Israel end the war became monolithic, culminating in the infamous Goldstone Report (later essentially retracted by its main author).
Bowing to the pressure, Israel—while having dealt a significant blow to Hamas—ended the war without defeating the terror group. By now, of course, Hamas too has rebuilt and rearmed, making an eventual further round of war inevitable. But aside from Goldstone himself, there is no sign that this outcome has prompted any reconsideration of knee-jerk condemnation of Israel in such situations and the harm it ultimately causes.
As in the case of AFP’s military official, Israel has been conveying the message (here, for instance) that in the event of a further confrontation with Hizbullah—whether or not in the context of a wider war involving Iran—its goal will be to win as quickly and decisively as possible, not to protect a civilian population—even at the expense of its own population—that has been deliberately endangered by the enemy it is fighting.
If so, the condemnations will come rolling in anyway, particularly from Western countries that cannot even imagine what it means to be under rocket attack by terror organizations on their borders. It’s to be hoped that this time Israel will stay the course. Survival has to come first.
P. David Hornik is a freelance writer and translator in Beersheva, Israel. He blogs at http://pdavidhornik.typepad.com.
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