Thousands of terrorists emerge at dawn from dozens of tunnels along Israel’s border. They storm adjacent communities, massacring men, women and children and taking hundreds of people hostage. They raise Hezbollah flags in all the nearby communities and announce the “liberation of the Galilee.”
At the same time, all of Israel is hit with a barrage of thousands of rockets fired from Lebanon and the Gaza Strip.
The Israel Defense Forces would certainly overcome such a horrific scenario, pushing the enemy out of Israeli territory and dealing it a powerful blow. But for this victory, we would pay an unbearably bloody price. In such a nightmare scenario, Israel would be forced to contend with the greatest threat it has faced since the 1948 War of Independence. Hezbollah’s operative plan was, in fact, a viable scenario until the IDF embarked on “Operation Northern Shield” with the aim of thwarting the Shiite terrorist group’s goals.
For some reason, many of us downplay the achievement, even opposing the use of the term “operation.” This is an engineering operation, they explain, that is being carried out inside our territory, and tractors and bulldozers do not an operation make.
Do we need to send our troops into enemy territory for this activity to deserve the title of operation? What are the preconditions—an aerial attack or daring raid by an elite IDF unit deep into enemy territory? Israel’s combat theory prioritizes the avoidance of war. It is only when that goal is not met and war breaks out, then and only then, do we aim for a decisive victory. The greatest victory in war is avoiding one altogether. Can there be any greater achievement than winning without losing soldiers or even shooting a single bullet?
That is the aim of “Operation Northern Shield,” and it is not at all simple. It relies on intelligence collected over a span of four years. This impressive intelligence operation was carried out under a fog of denial in order to ensure we would catch the enemy by surprise. The fact that IDF commanders and members of the political echelon succeeded in keeping the existence of the tunnels a secret for four years, up until the day of the operation, is a notable achievement. This is also an impressive technological achievement.
This mission is complex and dangerous, and it could quickly deteriorate—so much so that we could find ourselves at war. That is why the most stringent operational discipline is required to avoid such an escalation. At the same time, there is also a need for a mass deployment of forces to ensure we can respond as necessary should the enemy react.
“Operation Northern Shield” is also of political significance in that it proves Lebanon violated U.N. Security Council resolutions and exposes Iran’s activities against Israel through its operational arm, otherwise known as Hezbollah.
The commanders, planners and executors of the operation, both political and military, deserve praise. Not only is there no justification for mocking or deriding the operation, but the criticism that the IDF and the government did not take local residents’ claims of hearing digging underground seriously is unjustified.
Had the nightmare scenario played out, commissions of inquiries would have called for heads to roll. In reality, the opposite has happened. It turns out the supposedly dismissive treatment of the problem stemmed from operational considerations of field security.