RESPONDING TO HEZBOLLAH ATTACK TUNNELS & INCREASING TENSION ON BORDER, IDF LAUNCHES “NORTHERN SHIELD”

Israel Catches Hezbollah in the Act, and the UN Looks Away: Vivian Bercovici, National Post, Dec. 13, 2018 — Earlier this week, on Sunday, IDF Chief of Staff, Lt. Gen. Gadi Eisenkot, had a chat with Maj. Gen. Stefano Del Col, the head of the UN peacekeeping force in southern Lebanon, United Nations Interim Force in Lebanon.

Israel’s Blitz of Hezbollah’s Terror Tunnels Will Help Win the PR War: Benny Avni, New York Post, Dec. 10, 2018 — Israel prizes stealth and surprise in battle.

As Syria’s Civil War Winds Down, Israel, Iran and Hezbollah Pivot to Lebanon: Frida Ghitis, WPR, Dec. 13, 2018— After seven years of civil war, Syrian President Bashar al-Assad looks set to emerge victorious thanks to the support he received from Russia, from his patrons in Iran and from Iran’s Lebanese ally Hezbollah.

Lebanon’s Strategic Symbiosis: Maj. Gen. (res.) Gershon Hacohen, BESA, Dec. 10, 2018— The question of Lebanon’s responsibility for acts of aggression emanating from its territory has long preoccupied Israeli decision-makers.

On Topic Links

Inching Towards War: Aaron S, Jerusalem Online, Dec. 12, 2018

Operation “Northern Shield” Could Reshape the Northern Front: Brig.-Gen. (res.) Yossi Kuperwasser, JCPA, Dec. 10, 2018

The Mole Inside the Hezbollah Tunnel: Dr. Mordechai Kedar, Arutz Sheva, Dec. 5, 2018

Washington’s Silent War Against Hezbollah in Latin America: Joseph M. Humire, The Hill, Oct. 8, 2018

 

ISRAEL CATCHES HEZBOLLAH IN THE ACT,

AND THE UN LOOKS AWAY 

Vivian Bercovici

National Post, Dec. 13, 2018

Earlier this week, on Sunday, IDF Chief of Staff, Lt. Gen. Gadi Eisenkot, had a chat with Maj. Gen. Stefano Del Col, the head of the UN peacekeeping force in southern Lebanon, United Nations Interim Force in Lebanon. Since August 2006, UNIFIL has been mandated, pursuant to UNSC Resolution 1701, to ensure that all militia forces are kept behind the Litani River in south Lebanon, which flows four kilometres north of the border with Israel at its closest point. In other words, 1701 intends for a reasonable buffer to be maintained separating Hezbollah and IDF forces.

The Lebanese villages of Kafr Kila and Ramya are a literal stone’s throw from the Israeli border. A small, ordinary structure in Kafr Kila, said to be a “cement block factory” turned out to be anything but. There was significant and unusual activity for an agricultural village of 10,000. With airborne devices, the IDF noticed an awful lot of heavy truck traffic going to and from the little factory. They all arrived empty and left loaded with dirt. Israel knew what it was looking at — the site of a major tunnelling operation.

All this busy work seems to have gone unnoticed by the approximately 10,500 UNIFIL soldiers working in the area. To suggest that this strains credulity is putting it mildly. What it also clearly does is raise the issue of the neutrality of the UN force. Hezbollah, backed by the IRGC and Iran, effectively controls south Lebanon and is the de facto government. As terrorist militias often do, Hezbollah commandeers civilian homes and buildings to serve also as a base for storing weapons and, clearly, enhancing military infrastructure and capability

This particular tunnel had reached 600 meters from Kafr Kila, burrowing very close to the northernmost Israeli town of Metulla. A beautiful village where 2,000 Israelis reside, Metulla is perched at the tip of a narrow jut of land, “the finger,” it is sometimes called, and surrounded on three sides by Lebanon. (It is also home to the only indoor regulation-size hockey arena in Israel, named Canada Centre.)

Israel’s northern reaches have experienced horrific incidents too often. Among the more surreal were two brutal terrorist operations that infiltrated Israel through the Lebanese border and targeted civilians: in 1974, terrorists from the Democratic Front for the Liberation of Palestine took hostage more than 115 schoolchildren and murdered 25; and in 1980, when Kibbutz Misgav Am was attacked by commandos from a radical splinter group under the Palestine Liberation Organization umbrella, who took hostage infants and babies with their caregivers, murdering two. An IDF soldier died in their ultimate rescue.

In early 2014, shortly after I arrived in Israel to serve as Canada’s ambassador, rumours were swirling about tunnels having been dug in Gaza. One particularly surreal version, described in a write-up circulating at the time on Facebook, warned of multiple tunnels being dug from the Gaza Strip right under Israeli homes. The nightmare scenario told of terrorists popping straight into Israeli homes in the midst of family gatherings for the Jewish New Year in early fall. At the time, it was dismissed; the crazy stuff of an overheated sci-fi imagination. Until, several months later, it was proven to be true, during the war between Hamas and Israel in the summer of 2014. The tunnels were terrifyingly real.

Shortly after, residents of northern Israel spoke of hearing digging sounds, just as their compatriots living on the border with the Gaza Strip had done in previous years. Their fears were dismissed publicly, but we now know that they were true. The 2018 version of Misgav Am and Ma’alot is far more sophisticated, engineered and financed by Iran and its proxy, Hezbollah. Apparently, the plan was to have hundreds of fighters emerge from numerous tunnels (to date three have been exposed but the IDF states that there are more), ambush and encircle Metulla and distract IDF attention and response from the regular Hizballah forces that would then, according to Nasrallah, surge the border and conquer northern Israel.

Operating within Israeli borders, the IDF has neutralized tunnels exposed thus far with explosives, but clearly intends further action. Residents in the villages hosting Hezbollah operatives have received repeated warnings from the IDF since Sunday urging them evacuate their homes, clearly signalling an imminent intention to destroy the structures used as bases for tunnel construction.

In his meeting with Maj. Gen. Del Col, IDF Chief Eisenkot made it very clear that Israel considers the tunnels to be a blatant violation of UN Resolution 1701. Based on official statements, UNIFIL’s response seems to have been a flurry of meetings with Lebanese and other officials. What UNIFIL has yet to do is explain, at all, how such significant Hezbollah military activity could continue, presumably for years, unnoticed, right under more than 10,500 noses.

Incredibly, UNIFIL seems to be questioning the obvious — whether Hezbollah is responsible for the tunnels. Following a meeting yesterday with Lebanese President Michel Aoun and Speaker Nabih Berri, Maj. Gen. Del Col issued a statement regarding the seriousness of the tunnel situation, but tempering it with a peculiar warning: “At the same time rumours and speculations should be avoided.” Presumably, this somewhat cryptic admonishment invokes the Israeli claim that Hezbollah operatives dug the tunnels.

For the UN, it would appear, Hezbollah’s culpability is anything but certain. It’s an absurdist denial and, regrettably, exactly why Hezbollah has become so entrenched in south Lebanon in spite of Resolution 1701. This is no whodunnit. It will be interesting to see what alternate theory of reality UNIFIL suggests as to who, other than Hezbollah, might have the resources, motivation and tenacity to burrow through hard rock from Lebanon into Israel.

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ISRAEL’S BLITZ OF HEZBOLLAH’S

TERROR TUNNELS WILL HELP WIN THE PR WAR                                 

Benny Avni                        

New York Post, Dec. 10, 2018

Israel prizes stealth and surprise in battle. Yet it’s now conducting a highly publicized military operation, destroying Hezbollah attack tunnels snaking under its border with Lebanon. Why? True, tunnels are a major threat, but what worries Israelis even more is Hezbollah’s ever-growing missile arsenal. The Shiite terror group’s patrons in Tehran are busy modernizing those missiles while building indigenous rocket-manufacturing factories on Lebanese territory.

So why the tunnels first? Two such tunnels have been eliminated since the Israeli Defense Forces launched operation Northern Shield last week. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said the work will last as long as it takes to destroy all tunnels. Maybe months. They’re dug deep under the rocky terrain of the border region. Some are reportedly wide enough to transport tanks and other heavy military equipment. IDF briefers say one tunnel, destroyed last week, would have allowed terrorists to seize a major Israeli highway, cutting off Metula and other northern Galilee towns and, presumably, slaughtering residents.

Israel’s known about the tunneling activity for months. Galilee residents have complained about underground noises at night, and intelligence officials have reportedly used Lebanese sources to map tunneling and follow the digging process. Hezbollah has seized several southern Lebanese villages, taking over residential homes and using the locals as human shields against possible air attack. The terror outfit was apparently unaware of the wealth of intelligence Israel has gathered.

Those details, and others, emerged from press briefings the IDF has conducted regularly during Northern Shield. Netanyahu, similarly, took foreign ambassadors to the border for a detailed presentation. And on Sunday the IDF Chief of Staff, Lt. Gen. Gadi Eisenkot, hosted the commander of the United Nations Interim Force in Lebanon, Maj. Gen. Stefano Del Col of Italy, at his Tel Aviv headquarters. The south Lebanon-based UNIFIL, charged with overseeing the ceasefire between Hezbollah and Israel, has to date mentioned no tunneling activity in its periodic reports to the Security Council. Now Del Col readily admits the Hezbollah tunnels are a serious violation of the ceasefire terms.

And as tunnel destruction is conducted entirely inside Israel’s territory (though officials darkly hint they may at one point need to enter the other side of the border), even the toughest critics — including the UN — can’t blame Jerusalem for defending itself. But if so, again: Why the publicity blitz? Why brief the press, foreign diplomats and the UN?

Part of the answer has to do with Israel’s recognition that in the past it has won decisive military victories while losing the public relations wars. As before, in the next war “Hezbollah will hope to survive to fight another day while delegitimizing Israel in the eyes of the world,” says a new report by the Jewish Institute for National Security of America. But according to JINSA, a think tank comprised of top retired US military officials, the next war will be much bloodier than past skirmishes, as Hezbollah now threatens Israel with up to 140,000 rockets, up from about 10,000 in 2006.

True, most of those rockets are primitive, but some Iranian deliveries of high precision missiles through Syria manage to evade IDF air attacks and are now housed in Lebanese villages. Over the weekend Hezbollah’s second in command, Naim Qassem, warned those rockets can reach any point in Israel.

Worse: In September, Netanyahu showed the UN photos of factories being erected near Beirut, where precision missiles are to be manufactured — bypassing the need to transfer them from Iran. Israel “knows what you’re doing, Israel knows where you are doing it and Israel will not let you get away with it,” Netanyahu said. Those factories can be a major game changer, but if the IDF wants to eliminate the threat, it must at first neutralize other menaces — like tunnels designed to slaughter Israeli civilians in retaliation for an attack on Hezbollah. And destroying those tunnels in full public view, highlighting how Hezbollah takes Lebanese villagers hostage and uses them as human shield, is a bonus in the PR battle — a major component of modern warfare.

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AS SYRIA’S CIVIL WAR WINDS DOWN, ISRAEL,

IRAN AND HEZBOLLAH PIVOT TO LEBANON

Frida Ghitis                            

WPR, Dec. 13, 2018

After seven years of civil war, Syrian President Bashar al-Assad looks set to emerge victorious thanks to the support he received from Russia, from his patrons in Iran and from Iran’s Lebanese ally Hezbollah. The war is not over, but the focus on what comes next is already underway, and one change is now plainly visible: Iran, Damascus and Hezbollah are pivoting their attention to Lebanon’s future—and so is Israel.

In recent days, a flurry of military and political activity has shifted to Lebanon, confirming that the tiny country—which has for so long been caught in the vice of regional tensions, often with disastrous consequences—is once again feeling the pressure. Lebanon has been listening to the threats and counterthreats exchanged by Hezbollah and Israel, watching military activities along its borders, tracking mysterious flights by Iranian aircraft, and following a fraught political drama that shows no end in sight.

The latest chapter in Lebanon’s struggles is unfolding as the quest to form a new government in Beirut remains stalled more than six months after the latest elections. Lebanon remains vulnerable as ever, with President Michel Aoun warning that if an agreement on a new government is not reached soon, “the risks are greater than we can bear.” Lebanon’s dire economic problems are only one of the reasons why the country’s stability remains so fragile.

With Assad now reinvigorated by battlefield victories and his gradual emergence from the tent of ignominy back into the Arab fold, Damascus, in coordination with Iran, is again aiming to rebuild its dominance in Lebanon. Observers have noted that one of the reasons Prime Minister-designate Saad Hariri’s efforts to form a new government have proven so daunting is Damascus’ involvement. The Syrians, according to the scholar Joseph Bahout, have made it clear to Hariri that he will not be confirmed by parliament unless he commits to “reestablishing the ‘privileged relationship’” between the two countries. That relationship started to unravel in 2005, even before the Syrian war, after Rafik Hariri—Saad’s father, a former prime minister and a determined foe of Damascus—was assassinated, most likely by Hezbollah agents working on Syria’s orders.

While the younger Hariri wrestles with pressure to hand powerful ministries to Hezbollah loyalists, tensions are escalating along Lebanon’s southern border. Last week, Israel launched an operation to destroy tunnels it said Hezbollah had been building beneath the border and into Israeli territory, advising Lebanese residents in Arabic to temporarily leave their homes while the demolition unfolded, lest the collapse of the tunnels and the possible ammunition within them trigger uncontrolled explosions.

For years Israelis living near the border had complained that they were hearing ominous sounds of activity under their homes. Israeli authorities had downplayed the threat, concealing the fact that they knew of and were monitoring Hezbollah’s tunnel construction. But this time they made no effort to conceal the information, in an apparent push to deter more construction. They even released photographs and videos apparently showing Hezbollah operatives caught by surprise by the Israelis while working inside what the Israeli Defense Forces, or IDF, called “attack tunnels.”

Neither Hezbollah nor Israel are particularly keen on going to war right now, but circumstances could easily escalate. The demolitions, according to the Israeli Defense Forces, could take weeks, as the IDF reported finding tunnels going deep inside Israel. Israel protested what it described as a flagrant violation of the United Nations Security Council resolution that ended the most recent war between Israel and Hezbollah in 2006.

Some questioned the timing of the campaign, claiming Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu launched it in an effort to protect himself from his growing legal troubles. But the general consensus among security experts in Israel is that the Hezbollah threat is real and must be challenged. The IDF said the decision to destroy the tunnels was made now because the tunnel construction, which it had been monitoring for months, had crossed into Israeli territory but had not yet become fully functional.

Hezbollah chief Hassan Nasrallah has threatened that the next war between the two bitter enemies will be fought in Israel, with the entirety of Israel’s territory within the reach of Hezbollah rockets and the “the boots of resistance fighters.” Israel takes the threat seriously and is trying to crush the underground paths so that there will be no Hezbollah boots on Israeli soil the next time the two sides go to war—an eventuality that seems all but assured. The operation to destroy the tunnels continues, but the IDF says it intends to remain on the Israeli side of the border.

Neither Hezbollah nor Israel are particularly keen on going to war right now, but circumstances could easily escalate. After sending his Lebanese militia to fight and die to save the Syrian dictator, Nasrallah needs to maintain his credibility as the protector of Lebanon. And however embattled Netanyahu is, Israelis across the political spectrum agree with the country’s security red lines…

[To Read the Full Article Click the Following Link—Ed.]

 

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LEBANON’S STRATEGIC SYMBIOSIS

Maj. Gen. (res.) Gershon Hacohen          

BESA, Dec. 10, 2018

The question of Lebanon’s responsibility for acts of aggression emanating from its territory has long preoccupied Israeli decision-makers. During the Second Lebanon War, for instance, Prime Minister Olmert rejected the demand by Chief-of-Staff Halutz to attack Lebanese national infrastructures in response to Hezbollah’s sustained missile attacks on Israel’s population centers.

UN Security Council Resolution 1701 of August 11, 2006, which ended the war, reflected the international hope that the Lebanese government would reassert its authority throughout the country, including the disarmament of all Lebanese armed groups and the prevention of any armed groups, apart from the Lebanese army and the UN’s force in Lebanon (UNIFIL), from operating in southern Lebanon.

Nothing of the sort happened. Not only was Hezbollah not disarmed as envisaged by the UN resolution, but it has substantially expanded its military capabilities, both quantitatively and qualitatively, and has done so with the tacit support of the Lebanese army and government. So much so that it is arguable that over the past decade, a new strategic symbiosis has evolved between the Islamist group and the institutional state of Lebanon, with a useful division of labor in numerous fields.

Thus, for example, Lebanese army soldiers, as the official state representatives, are responsible for security checks and the general protection of the Dahiya district in Beirut, home to Hezbollah headquarters; whereas the Islamist group’s fighting in Syria has served Lebanese interests (apart from those of Iran, Hezbollah’s founding patron). A high level of operational collaboration between Hezbollah and the Lebanese army was manifested in their joint fight against ISIS forces in the Qalamoun Mountains on the Syrian-Lebanese border.

No less important, Hezbollah has been the moving spirit behind the Lebanese army’s adamant objection, voiced in its monthly meetings with the IDF under the UNIFIL’s auspices, to the erection of a security fence on the Israeli side of the border.

In these circumstances, it is impossible to preclude the possibility that in a future war between Israel and Hezbollah, the Lebanese army may play an active role in helping the Islamist group to rebuff IDF operations deep in Lebanon. This is at a time when this army has been the recipient of US arms and military training over the past few years.

By skillfully exploiting this hybrid reality, Lebanon has successfully conducted itself between two opposing poles: close economic and military cooperation with the Western nations (France and the US in particular) on the one hand, and tight association with Syria and Iran (via Hezbollah) on the other. This delicate balancing act helps explain both Lebanon’s success in weathering the turbulence that has rocked the Arab world since 2011 and its ability to evade international censure for its symbiotic relationship with Hezbollah.

Given this symbiosis, and the unprecedented scope of Hezbollah’s offensive and defensive deployment throughout Lebanon, Israel needs to rethink its strategic doctrine vis-à-vis Lebanon without delay. PM Netanyahu’s warning that Lebanon would be held accountable for any acts of aggression emanating from its sovereign territory is a necessary, but by no means sufficient, step in the right direction. What is required is a sustained Israeli-led international effort to clarify to the Lebanese government (and Hezbollah) in no uncertain terms the devastating consequences to the Lebanese state of a new Hezbollah-induced war with Israel.

 

Contents

On Topic Links

Inching Towards War: Aaron S, Jerusalem Online, Dec. 12, 2018—Analysts have been saying for years that it was only a matter of time until Israel and Lebanon’s Hezbollah terrorist militia were again engaged in open conflict. The events of the past several days have finally woken most Israelis up to the seriousness of those warnings.

Operation “Northern Shield” Could Reshape the Northern Front: Brig.-Gen. (res.) Yossi Kuperwasser, JCPA, Dec. 10, 2018 —The discovery of Hizbullah’s invasion tunnels has removed a critical component of the organization’s and Iran’s plan for war against Israel, expected to break out at some time.

The Mole Inside the Hezbollah Tunnel: Dr. Mordechai Kedar, Arutz Sheva, Dec. 5, 2018—This week, for the first time, Israel made public its discovery of the tunnel constructed by Hezbollah and reaching into Israel’s sovereign territory.

Washington’s Silent War Against Hezbollah in Latin America: Joseph M. Humire, The Hill, Oct. 8, 2018—On July 11, 2018, the government of Argentina took its first action against Hezbollah by freezing the financial assets of 14 individuals belonging to the Barakat clan in South America.