Israeli officials believe that a future war with Hezbollah, with its advanced Iranian-supplied rocket arsenal, could lead to “thousands of civilian deaths,” a white paper published by the Foundation for Defense of Democracies revealed.
The paper, authored by Jonathan Schanzer, Tony Badran, and David Daoud, explores the history of Hezbollah’s conflict with Israel, the possibility of a future conflict, the consequences of a potential war, and policy recommendations to prevent such a war.
After the last war between Hezbollah and Israel ended in 2006, “gradually and intensively, Hezbollah was able to rebuild itself into a more lethal and dangerous force, far surpassing its previous capabilities,” Brig. Gen. (ret.) Yakov Shahrabani, the former head of intelligence for the Israeli Air Force, wrote in the paper’s foreword. Hezbollah is now believed by Israel to possess about 150,000 rockets, which exceeds the combined arsenals of all non-U.S. NATO countries and is ten times larger than its arsenal before the 2006 war.
Hezbollah forces are currently bogged down in Syria and can ill-afford to open a new front with Israel, and a mutual understanding between the two sides apparently exists, by which Hezbollah will not attack Israel (outside of the Golan) as long as Israel doesn’t target Hezbollah in Lebanon. However, the researchers wrote, “Every skirmish, however small, runs the risk of sparking a larger conflict that neither side intends. Senior Israeli military figures refer to this as the ‘slippery slope’ scenario in which relatively minor tactical strikes can lead to reprisals, which in turn may escalate into a larger conflagration.”
Because of Hezbollah’s advanced capabilities, its threats to strike Israeli civilian centers can’t be discounted. For example Hezbollah leaders have threatened to make a push into the Galilee “and beyond.” Hezbollah likely doesn’t have the capability to hold any territory, so “most likely, its aim will be to seize, even if for a few hours, a small town or a kibbutz on the border, to score a psychological and propaganda victory.”
Given Hezbollah’s arsenal and its threats to strike at Haifa, Tel Aviv, and other sites inside Israel, the Israeli government and military “is preparing for large numbers of rockets, not to mention heavy casualties and damage, and is talking in terms of thousands of civilian deaths.” Because of Hezbollah’s threat, especially to Israel’s north, Israel is preparing to evacuate whole communities in the event of a future conflict.
On the other side, Hezbollah’s tactic of embedding its military infrastructure, including a sophisticated maze of tunnels to hide military assets, in civilian areas means that Lebanese civilians are also likely to suffer. The report quotes Maj. Gen. Yair Golan, the IDF’s deputy chief of staff, who predicted in April that Hezbollah’s purposeful endangerment of civilian lives would have devastating consequences. “There is no other way to take out this threat without … creating large damage to the Lebanese infrastructure, to Lebanese houses and other civilian facilities,” he said.
Because of the threats to Israeli civilians, the report concluded, in any future war with Hezbollah, “the IDF will immediately deploy overwhelming force in a combined arms operation” in order “to bring the war to a quick, decisive end.” There are many actions the United States could take in order to delay the war and weaken Hezbollah so that it can end quickly, the researchers wrote. They recommended, among other things, that the United States should use diplomatic channels to make clear to Iran that it must stop arming Hezbollah; continue targeting Hezbollah with international sanctions; and be aware of Israel’s military needs before and during a war, including providing “increased funds for additional interceptors for missile defense systems like Iron Dome and David’s Sling, as well as tunnel detection and destruction technology.”
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