Israel should preempt Hizballah now

Hizballah rocket launcher. These are dug in throughout southern Lebanon

Hizballah rocket launcher. These are dug in throughout southern Lebanon

As Israel comes closer to a confrontation with Iran, we should note that Iran’s primary strategy is unlikely to be direct conflict with Israel. Iran’s air and missile forces, despite their bragging, are not sufficiently well-developed to support such a conflict.

Instead, I expect that they will depend on their main proxy, Hizballah. Hizballah can be expected to attack with its considerable missile forces and even to attempt ground incursions into Israeli territory. At the same time, Iran will try to leverage Western fears of terrorism and oil-supply disruption into pressure on Israel; so we can also expect to see terrorist attacks against Western targets.

The difficulty of destroying or seriously damaging Iran’s nuclear capability is much-discussed, but I think the neutralization of Hizballah will also be a major task, and one of more immediate importance. In the short term, the number of Israeli casualties and the amount of damage to the home front in a conflict with Iran will be proportional to the time it takes the IDF to end Hizballah’s ability to fight.

Hizballah is also an essential component of Iran’s long-term strategy, whether or not she succeeds in building a bomb. A nuclear Iran is more likely to pursue her interests in the region by threats and low-intensity conventional conflict under a nuclear umbrella than by actual use of atomic weapons, which would expose her to devastating retaliation.

In 2006, the Bush Administration gave Israel a month to finish Hizballah. Israel did not make use of the opportunity because of the incompetence of the government and top military commanders, complacency, lack of planning, poor intelligence, etc. I believe that these problems have been fixed to a great extent.

Although one might expect Obama to be less cooperative, it’s possible that the administration’s closeness with conservative Sunni interests — primarily Saudi Arabia, Turkey, or even Egypt’s Muslim Brotherhood — which are natural enemies of Hizballah, might lead it to wait before lowering the boom.

On the other hand, if Hizballah terrorists are car-bombing buildings in New York, Los Angeles or Washington, there will be enormous pressure on Israel to end the conflict (yes, it’s irrational, but we’ve seen this response before). I don’t think that Israel can count on getting a month this time.

If I were an Israeli planner I would think about  a preemptive attack on Hizballah — separately from and before attacking Iran’s nuclear facilities, for the following reasons:

  • Hizballah is the most immediate threat to Israel
  • Hizballah will be Iran’s major weapon of retaliation if Israel strikes Iran
  • By not attacking Iran, Israel does not give the regime an excuse to disrupt oil supplies
  • The IDF can concentrate on defeating Hizballah
  • It’s always better to initiate than to respond
  • The chaos in Syria makes it easier to isolate Hizballah from its source of supply and keeps the Syrian military too busy to intervene

I would stress the importance of a short campaign, which will probably mean the use of massive force. Hizballah is very well dug-in in southern Lebanon, and an operation aborted by international pressure could be disastrous.

If Israel can be successful in removing Hizballah from the equation, Iran will be greatly weakened, Israel’s security and posture of deterrence will be strengthened, and the chances for future military action (or even diplomacy) to keep Iran from getting the bomb will improve.

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3 Responses to “Israel should preempt Hizballah now”

  1. Shalom Freedman says:

    I don’t say this is a mistaken suggestion but it seems to me it needs to be more detailed, if it is to be convincing. Is it truly possible to knock out Hizbollah in a few days? What will be the cost in Israeli lives? Will we have U.S. backing for such an operation? Is there possible involvement of other actors, even if in some kind of passive way i.e. Egypt breaking relations with us , moving toward a war with us? How much damage exactly can Hizbollah do to our infrastructure? What kinds of weaponry would we have to use to totally devastate Hizbollah? What is the possibility we will be totally isolated by such an action, and make it easier for Iran to go on pushing its nuclear program?

  2. Vic Rosenthal says:

    I don’t know if it’s possible to do it in a few days, but that needs to be the goal. If Israel does not preempt, then Hizballah will strike first. In that case, Israel will have less time because it will need to organize its response, call up reserves, etc.

    What will be the cost? Probably less than if Israel waits for them to attack.

    US backing? Probably for a time. The US understands that Hizballah is a serious threat, and the Saudis (etc.) will want to see them hurt.

    The military questions are for the generals to answer, and they had better have those answers, because one way or another there will be a conflict between Israel and Hizballah.

    Isolation? It will be used as an excuse, just like the anti-Islam video. But they can just make up pretexts, as always. If Israel can really succeed to pull Hizballah’s teeth, it will be worth the diplomatic fallout.

    There is no way that Israel can make itself liked in the Muslim world — and in Europe — so it should just go with being feared.

    Regarding Iran — Hizballah is an Iranian weapon. Without it, Iran will be much weaker in every way.

  3. juvanya says:

    An Israeli strike against Hezbollah might be prudent. How long the operation lasts depends on the end goal (crush Hezbollah?) and the tolerance for loss of Lebanese life. If Israel doesnt care, it can be done quickly and indiscriminately. If Israel does care, it will take time to be surgical and get sufficient intelligence.

    In my opinion, Iran is cracking slowly. Syrias fate is cast. Unless Assad is killed somehow, I am doubtful the rebels would have a complete victory. The civil war will continue for the time being, and may result in a split Syria (which is what I would push for as a solution). With Syria destabilized, Lebanon has reduced influence from Syria. This weakens Hezbollah. Striking might be a good idea as I said. However, Israel and Zionists should learn the concept of patience. We have survived for over 3500 years; we can wait a few more. Israel can sit and watch as the regimes around it collapse one by one and begin to pursue democracy. Israel has been and will continue to be strengthened comparatively by the Arab Spring.

    But there is no time for patience, you say, Iran is building nukes! So? No matter how many they build, what can they do with them? Bomb Tel Aviv? There wont be an Iran within a day or two of doing that. Iranians and Shi’a are not suicidal. The only thing a nuke gives Iran is immunity against direct attacks. I am still not convinced they are actually pursuing nukes. I think they are double bluffing. By acting guilty, they destabilize the region.