Tangling with Hizbollah will be different for Israel - GulfToday

Tangling with Hizbollah will be different for Israel

Michael Jansen

The author, a well-respected observer of Middle East affairs, has three books on the Arab-Israeli conflict.


Photo used for illustrative purpose.

Last week, the Israeli army’s top brass approved a plan to invade south Lebanon, drive Hizbollah northwards 40 kilometres from the border, and occupy the area. During his visit to Beirut, Israeli-born and former Israeli army tank officer, US envoy Amos Hockstein told Lebanese officials the Biden administration would back an Israel offensive if there was no ceasefire within five weeks.

On Friday, senior US officials assured an Israeli delegation that the US would back Israel and provide security assistance if there is full-scale war between Israel and Hizbollah. CNN reported that the Israeli team included Strategic Affairs Minister Ron Dermer and National Security Council Adviser Tzachi Hanegbi. They met US Secretary of State Antony Blinken, regional coordinator Brett McGurk, and other officials.

Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu must be delighted. On Tuesday, Netanyahu publicly accused President Joe Biden of not backing Israel by withholding delivery of 2,000-pound (900 kilogram) bombs.  He said it is inconceivable that in the past few months, the administration has been withholding weapons and ammunitions. “Israel, America’s closest ally, fighting for its life, fighting against Iran and our other common enemies.”

White House Press Secretary Karine Jean-Pierre was the first to reply. “We genuinely do not know what he is talking about. We just don’t,” she stated. Other US officials said the administration was “vexed” and “disappointed” over Netanyahu’s remarks.  Unfazed, Netanyahu repeated his allegations on Friday.

An apologetic Blinken said the administration was working “day and night” to remove “bottlenecks.” To which Netanyahu replied, arrogantly, “I certainly hope that’s the case. It should be the case.”

Blinken insisted weapons deliveries were going ahead as planned — with the exception of 2,000 pound (906 kilogram) bombs which have been used by the Israeli air force to flatten Gazan neighbourhoods, raising the death toll to 37,000, of whom 30,500 are women and children, and 6,500 are-combatant men not counted data gatherers. Wounded number 85,000, the vast majority women and children.

Meanwhile, the administration is set to “sell” (read gift) F-15 warplanes costing $15 billion and transfer billions of dollars worth of other weaponry which could enable Netanyahu to continue to bomb Gaza and at the same time launch an offensive against Hizbollah in Lebanon.

The Biden administration has obstructed Security Council ceasefire resolutions and refuted charges by human rights organisations that Israel is violating the laws of war and humanitarian law. Biden has castigated the International Court of Justice for investigating Israel on charges of genocide in Gaza and exerted pressure on the International Criminal Court not to issue warrants for the arrest of Netanyahu and Israeli Defence Minister Yoav Gallant for war crimes.

The Netanyahu-Biden contretemps coincided with the resignation of the US State Department official in charge of Palestine-Israel affairs Andrew Miller in protest against Biden’s “bear hug” of Netanyahu. He has ignored Biden’s calls to avoid civilian casualties, halt interference with humanitarian aid deliveries, and pause Israel’s offensive in Rafah until civilians have evacuated and have been provided with shelter, food, water, and medical care, and ceasefire.

As the Gaza offensive is winding down without achieving Netanyahu’s “total victory” over Hamas, he appears ready to attack Lebanon to divert Israeli attention from his failure.  Tangling with Hizbollah is distinctly different from fighting Hamas in Gaza. Israel has a long sad, self-destructive history with Lebanon. This began in March 1978 when Israel invaded and occupied south Lebanon after Palestinian guerrillas operating from the region attacked an Israeli bus, killed 48 and wounded 76.  The invasion lasted a week, slaying 1,000-1,200 Lebanese and 20 Israelis, and drove Palestinian fighters north of the Litani river.

When Israel’s occupying forces pulled out they handed over to their South Lebanon Army proxy while a UN force (UNIFIL) attempted to maintain a ceasefire.

Despite an August 1981 mutually agreed Palestinian-Israeli cessation of hostilities, Israeli Defence Minister Ariel Sharon drew up two plans for the 1982 invasion of Lebanon. He sold to Prime Minister Menachem Begin a plan dubbed “Little Pines” for an Israeli occupation of the south below the Litani river.  Given Begin’s go ahead for “Little Pines,” Sharon mounted “Big Pines” by ordering his troops to invade and seize territory as far north as Beirut.

This was a major miscalculation. Although Israel compelled the PLO to relocate from Lebanon to Tunisia, the offensive led to the widely publicised massacre by Israel’s allies of thousands of Palestinians at the Sabra and Chatila refugee camps in south Beirut. The Israeli army and public feared getting stuck in the “mud of Lebanon.” Iran, which had military experts in the Bekaa, helped southern Shias form Hizbollah. In 2000 it drove Israeli troops and proxies out of Lebanon.

Hizbollah provided a pretext for Israel’s July-August 2006 war on Lebanon by killing and kidnapping Israeli soldiers on patrol along the border. This war lasted a month, killed 1,200-1,300 Lebanese and 165 Israelis, devastated Lebanese civil infrastructure, and displaced one million Lebanese and 300,000 — 500,000 Israelis. Hizbollah fought Israel’s army to a standstill, both sides claimed victory.

Cross-border exchanges began on October 8th last year when Hizbollah mounted choreographed strikes on Israel with the aim of opening a limited second front in northern Israel to draw Israel’s troops from Gaza. This was launched on the 7th after Hamas killed 1,139 and kidnapped 250 Israelis.

While Hizbollah has focused on striking Israeli military facilities in northern Israel and the occupied Syrian Golan, Israel has hit civilian targets deep inside Lebanon. Some 90,000 civilians on each side have fled the border region.

In Lebanon, 1,700 houses have been destroyed and 14,000 have been damaged with reconstruction costs estimated at one billion dollars. Orchards, fields, and woodlands have been destroyed and burned.

Hizbollah is not Hamas which relies on smuggled weapons and homemade rockets. Hizbollah has prepared for another Israeli offensive and could inflict considerable damage on Israel if Lebanon is attacked. Since 2006, Hizbollah has advanced strategically and politically. Its fighters are battle hardened from fighting with the Syrian army against insurgents. Hizbollah’s arsenal contains tens of thousands of long- and medium-range rockets, anti-tank weapons, and armed and spy drones. Israeli cities, towns, and kibbutzim are within range. Hizbollah has become a major actor in Lebanon’s self-destructive political drama and could be the kingmaker when parliament finally decides to appoint a new president, setting the stage for reforms and potential economic recovery.

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