It is being dubbed the “largest” military exercise in Hizbullah history. Thousands of guerrillas from infantry, anti-tank and anti-aircraft units are reported to have participated in the three days of maneuvers in southern Lebanon, right under the noses of UNIFIL and the Lebanese Armed Forces. During the exercise, Hizbullah also activated the unit responsible for firing its short- and long-range missiles, which the terror group boasted have a proven ability “to strike any point in the territory of Palestine.”
As everyone expected, UNIFIL is not a match for Hizbullah. A steady flow of armaments from Iran via Syria has continued since the 2006 cease-fire. Israel has chosen to try to keep track of weapons shipments, but has not tried to interdict them. Hizbullah has also rebuilt its fortifications and has installed its own communications networks. The question is not whether there will be another war, but rather when.
But Hamas, too, has been preparing for war, stockpiling arms and explosives and building tunnels and bunkers near the border fence. And it’s obvious that whenever the war in the North happens — whether Hizbullah launches an attack or Israel preempts it — Israel will be fighting on two fronts, with Hamas in Gaza coordinating with Hizbullah.
Recently, Israeli Defense Minister Ehud Barak has suggested that the time is drawing near when Israel will need to mount a large operation in Gaza to stop the continued rocket and mortar fire, as well as attempts to breach the border fence, from Hamas. I’m sure Israeli military planners understand that such an operation will be a cue to Hizbullah as well. So regardless of how it starts, Israel must be prepared for a two-front war.
Deputy commander of the Northern Command during the Second Lebanon War, [Maj.-Gen. (res.) Eyal] Ben-Reuven said that Israel needs to make it clear to the Lebanese government that it will pay a heavy price if it continues allowing Hizbullah to build up militarily.
“I do not recommend going to war today,” he said. “But I do recommend sending clear messages to the Lebanese government that it is responsible for what happens, and that if diplomacy does not work, then it will pay the price.”
I don’t know what to make of this statement. It seems to me that this strategy was tried in 2006, and the lesson should have been learned that the Lebanese government does not control Hizbullah. In addition to failing to stop Hizbullah, it led to a public relations debacle. Maybe it would make sense to threaten Iran and Syria, but not Lebanon!
In a few weeks Prime Minister Ehud Olmert is supposed to travel to Annapolis for a peace summit with Palestinian Authority Chairman Mahmoud Abbas. Upon his return, he will no longer have an excuse for pushing off what the IDF calls “the inevitable large-scale operation” in Gaza. Israel will not want to fight on two fronts simultaneously.
What’s inevitable is that Israel will be fighting on two fronts. Israel should make it totally clear to Iran and Syria — who are driving this conflict — that they will not escape the consequences of the war that they are provoking and perhaps even planning to participate in.