Over the past two years, Hezbollah has displayed an increasing presence in the area stretching south of the Litani River to the Israeli border with Lebanon, often times positioning themselves mere yards from Israel Defense Forces’ soldiers.
Simultaneous to the reports of digging sounds, the IDF noticed lookout posts adjacent to the border, disguised as belonging to environmental organizations. In the Shtula area, which is one of the sectors where the IDF is currently operating to destroy Hezbollah’s tunnels, what looks like a watchtower is in plain sight opposite an IDF outpost. When an IDF patrol approaches the security fence, an act which the enemy perhaps construes as an irregular event, within five minutes or less Hezbollah operatives arrive in a white civilian vehicle to mirror the Israeli patrol.
The IDF’s unfolding operation has raised tensions along the border, without question.
However, taking the initiative on the tunnel issue gives Israel an important advantage. We must also wait and see how many tunnels are found and destroyed. The information provided by IDF Chief of Staff Lt. Gen. Gadi Eizenkot on Tuesday is incredible: The IDF has a map of Hezbollah’s tunnels. Despite the simmering tensions, it’s safe to assume that preemptive blows as delivered by the IDF on Tuesday help stave off major war.
The policy is to dismantle this war and put Hezbollah, Iran and Lebanon on the defensive. In addition to warning the “Iranian branch in Lebanon,” Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Tuesday also put Lebanon itself on notice.
The tunnel demolished Tuesday was known and it was decided the time was right to do so. This operation has been in the works for months. Unlike preparations for destroying Gaza’s tunnels, this operation goes beyond the ordinary contingent of engineers to include the intelligence branch and Commando Brigade, which has been placed on high alert in the north.
On the operational side, on the ground, we know from our experience in Gaza that at some point the other side will retaliate. Due to the bothersome incendiary balloons and periodic clashes along the Gaza border, we’ve forgotten that over the past two years the IDF has consistently taken steps to destroy tunnels. For Hamas ,this has been a net loss. Hamas is currently very close to losing its entire array of underground terrorist tunnels, which had greatly troubled the IDF. Hamas’s response was to launch a border fence intifada and burn Israeli fields.
The purpose of the offensive-defensive initiative in the north is to negate one of the more vexing military problems posed by Hezbollah: the need, on the day of battle, to commit a large number of troops to preventing and countering painful infiltrations. In his recent speeches, Hezbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah has spoken in terms of “conquering the Galilee.” He was also referring to the tunnels, perhaps.
Eizenkot and Netanyahu are on the same page. They both believe in waging consistent, yet calculated, offensive measures. This means walking on the ledge without falling off.
This approach has been implemented in Syria, and now Lebanon. For the past few years, the prime minister has supplemented the military effort with constant diplomatic initiatives. Today, Israel undoubtedly has legitimacy from the international community to combat the Hezbollah threat as it sees fit. Although portions of the Opposition in Israel don’t like Netanyahu’s public presentations based on the clever use of intelligence information, this method works on the global stage. Hezbollah’s repeated complaints that Israel violates U.N. Resolution 1701 have been to no avail, evidently, on the ground. But they have certainly hammered home the point. The IDF’s current operation in the north is well-backed by international law.
All told, there is a type of undeclared balance of power between Israel and Hezbollah/Lebanon.
When a certain threat oversteps the accepted, familiar balance—for instance, the presence of invasion tunnels along the border—Israel will act, even if doing so could lead to war. Apparently, Israel will adopt the same approach to eliminate the precision missile factories in Lebanon. This, too, can be done in a manner that doesn’t spark a conflagration.
Amnon Lord, is an Israeli journalist with the daily newspaper Makor Rishon. His articles and essays about media, film and politics have been published in The Jerusalem Post, Mida, Azure, Nativ and Achshav.