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The Hizbullah Threat-  Unresolved

September 5, 2006
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The War

First of all, let’s not forget the trigger that began this war: the Hizbullah attack across the border into Israel and the kidnapping of two Israel Defense Forces (IDF) soldiers. Most of the world agrees with this point, and even several Arab nations, including Saudi Arabia, publicly blamed Hizbullah for the escalation. Despite this, much of the world came against the way Israel responded to Hizbullah.

Hizbullah intentionally and indiscriminately fired rockets, provided to them by Syria and Iran, at Israeli civilian population centers with the aim of killing as many Jews as possible. We know that was their goal because Hizbullah apologized whenever they “accidentally” killed Arabs. In contrast, Israel was forced to attack Lebanese villages because that’s where Hizbullah was operating from. They hid weapons, rocket launchers, and more inside the villages and fought from inside homes and along every street. Fortified bunkers were found by IDF troops deep under Lebanese civilian homes.

Israel sent numerous warnings to the Lebanese civilian population before each operation to avoid the loss of innocent civilian lives. The term “innocent civilian lives” included ordinary people who supported Hizbullah, received money and social services from them, knew that they were building bunkers and hiding weapons in their villages, but they themselves weren’t carrying the weapons and actively fighting against Israel––“innocent,” but complicit.

Despite all of this, all it took was one attack by the Israeli Air Force on the village of Qana to turn the world against Israel. The IDF knew that rockets were being fired at Israeli cities from Qana and even released a video identifying the building where the launcher was. Afterwards, the Red Cross stated that only 28 bodies were pulled from the rubble of the building, not the 56 and more claimed by Lebanese sources. Investigations have revealed that numerous photos from that scene appear to have been staged. However, all of the new evidence came too late. Once the earlier images were out in the media, the world had made up its mind that Israel was just a bunch of killers.

As for the battle itself, Israel’s efforts seemed disjointed and lacking a unified plan. The use of air power at the beginning of the conflict failed to instill “shock and awe,” and the IDF’s on-again-off-again ground campaign seemed confused. Israel also waited too long to commit their ground forces into Lebanon. By the time they fought their way past the border villages and into the meat of Hizbullah’s positions, the cease-fire went into effect. Israel did achieve some important military gains and managed to set back Hizbullah by several years, but the victory was far from total. As IDF Chief of Staff Lt. General Dan Halutz put it, “The war in Lebanon did not end in a knockout, but it was clearly a victory by points.” However, the goals of the campaign were not met, the IDF soldiers remain Hizbullah prisoners, and Hizbullah still exists.

Hizbullah, on the other hand, achieved only minor tactical gains but managed to score a great strategic victory. The immediate damage done by Hizbullah rockets and fighters was, in the big picture, limited: some 150 Israelis killed and several homes and buildings damaged. However, the strategic victory that Hizbullah claimed was almost complete. Israel’s economy in the north took a tremendous blow, and citizens are now questioning the actions and competency of their political and military leaders.

On the world stage, Nasrallah and Hizbullah elevated themselves to a status greater than or equal to Al-Qaeda in global terrorism. They managed to get the UN to reopen the debate concerning the Shabba Farms region (Har Dov), and although more UN peacekeepers will deploy to Lebanon, they won’t try to disarm Hizbullah. On the ground after the war, Hizbullah has already handed out cash to many Lebanese civilians, whose homes were damaged or destroyed by Israel, ensuring that they retain a wide support base for the future.

The Cease-fire

While it may be somewhat unclear who won the war, the cease-fire is a clear victory for Hizbullah. In the preamble to the United Nations Security Council (UNSC) Resolution 1701, the Hizbullah attack on July 12th is identified as the cause of the current escalation of hostilities, but later in the action points, the onus is on Israel to withdraw, respect the international border, etc. Since the UN has no power over terrorist organizations, the pressure to act falls upon nations and governments. Since Israel failed to eradicate the threat of Hizbullah during its war of self defense, Israel is now required by the UNSC to withdraw from Lebanon and place their trust in the government of Lebanon and the UN to deal with Hizbullah. In other words, if you live in northern Israel, keep your bomb shelters stocked with provisions.

Hizbullah has said that they will not willingly disarm, and both the Lebanese government and the French commander of United Nations Interim Force in Lebanon (UNIFIL) have said that they will not force Hizbullah to disarm. Thus, Resolution 1559 gives the requirement to disarm all militias in Lebanon––read as Hizbullah––while Resolution 1701 gives UNIFIL the authority to act with the necessary force to do so. However, the UN has decided to once again ignore its own Security Council resolutions––or at least the parts of the resolutions that actually require them to do something. They are content to sit on the sidelines, watch, and do nothing. They can’t even be called referees in the dispute, because referees are impartial parties with clear authority who, when they see a foul, call it. When it comes to Israel, the UN is none of these things.

Despite the potential pitfalls of a weak UN and an even weaker Lebanese government, Israel––as a sovereign democratic state and member of the UN––had to accept the cease-fire. The only question now is what will Israel do the next time Hizbullah rockets begin to fall in the north? In the end, the Hizbullah will not be disarmed. This means that as long as they can get fresh weapons in their hands, nobody will take them away. In the Arab world, a cease-fire, or hudna, is only a temporary cessation of hostilities. They are allowed to accept a hudna when they are in a weaker position than their enemy, then use the time to rearm and rejuvenate their forces until they are in a stronger position and can resume the offensive.

The Future

This is probably an easy prediction to make, but the cease-fire will not hold. Sometime after the multinational force has arrived in southern Lebanon and after the deployment of the Lebanese Army in the area, I believe that the Hizbullah will resume hostilities with Israel. Nothing major, an occasional rocket here or there, small scale shooting attacks focused at Israeli forces “occupying” Har Dov. Not enough to force the UN into action, or to elicit a response by Israel, such as we saw in the recent war. Rather, just enough to keep their names in the headlines and their popularity in the Arab world high. The immediate future will be used by Hizbullah to hide behind the shield of the Lebanese Army and the UN in order to rearm itself and gather recruits for the next great battle with Israel. The timing depends on how fast Syria and Iran can effectively rearm Hizbullah.

However, what Israel should be most concerned about are the lessons that this war has taught other Arab and Muslim parties surrounding them, namely Syria and the Palestinians. The pretense for Hizbullah attacks against Israel is over the Israeli “occupation” of the Shabba Farms area. Previously, the UN said that this area was part of Syrian territory before 1967 and certified a full Israeli withdrawal to the Israeli-Lebanese international border in 2000. Despite this, the issue of Shabba Farms was raised several times during the conflict, and UNSC Resolution 1701 even requested that the Secretary General look into the issue.

By initiating a limited conflict with Israel over an area of land that the UN said doesn’t belong to Lebanon, Hizbullah managed to get the issue reexamined in the UN. In other words, if you have a land dispute with Israel and feel that negotiations are getting nowhere, pick a fight and have the UN come to your rescue with a cease-fire and a call for more Israeli withdrawals.

Syrian President Bashar Assad made several comments, during and after the war, about how Syria was prepared to “liberate” the Golan Heights. Syria even beefed up its military alert level and sent tanks and troops to the border with Israel. Additionally, Assad was personally attacked in papers throughout the Arab world for talking a big game about resistance being the only path, but doing nothing about the Golan since 1973. Assad may soon be looking for anything that could even halfway be perceived as an Israeli aggression in order to respond against the Golan. Again, nothing major, just enough to save face in the Arab world and have the UN come in to negotiate a cease-fire and force talks that would lead to a “comprehensive peace” (Israeli withdrawal).

Much like Hizbullah in Lebanon, Syria’s fight against Israel could be carried out through proxy. A recent report, first published in World Net Daily, said that there is a group in Syria determined to form their own guerrilla-style organization to fight Israel in the hopes of regaining the Golan Heights. A group like this would be perfect for Assad, as he could support their efforts while denying any official Syrian government or military responsibility.

As for the Palestinians, the IDF noted that, during the 34 days of fighting, rocket attacks against Israel from the Gaza Strip reached an all-time high. Abu Nasser, commander of the Al-Aqsa Martyrs Brigade in Nablus (Shechem) said, “We learned from Hizbullah that the tools that make a difference are missiles. If we achieve expertise in this field, we won’t make do with the simple rockets we have. There is no doubt that we can subdue Israel.” Numerous suicide bombers were caught during the fighting, with three Hamas members killed in Jenin while preparing a suicide belt less than a week after the cease-fire. Shin Bet Chief Avi Diskin informed the Israeli leadership that the Palestinians had also learned the lesson of preparing fortified bunkers, which will make it harder for IDF troops to go into Palestinian areas and arrest terrorists.

What does it all mean?

Bottom line, the Hizbullah “victory” against the IDF has rekindled the spirit of violent confrontation with Israel in the Arab and Muslim world. Several “wanna be” groups will spring up, and the existing terror organizations will be encouraged to redouble their efforts. The tactical lessons learned will haunt the Israeli military and civilian population in years to come. 7 The war has also effectively killed Prime Minister Ehud Olmert’s plan to unilaterally withdraw from most of Judea and Samaria (the West Bank). One Knesset member and coalition partner even asked, “How, after everything we have seen…could anyone suggest that unilateral steps lead to peaceful solutions?” The government’s handling of the war has also come into question, and an investigative committee is probing its actions.

Without a clear victory, the war has generated in Israel more questions than answers. However, one answer is clear, that especially in uncertain and difficult times, we need to place our faith in God. “The LORD is my rock and my fortress and my deliverer; the God of my strength, in whom I will trust; my shield and the horn of my salvation, my stronghold and my refuge; my Savior, You save me from violence. I will call upon the LORD, who is worthy to be praised; so shall I be saved from my enemies” (2 Sam. 22:2–4).

by Will King, Correspondent, Israel Mosaic Radio

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