The discovery of Hezbollah’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 discovery robbed them of the ability to surprise Israel through an offensive (under)ground assault into Israeli territory, which was to be a central element in creating a shock to the Israeli psyche and challenge to the country’s security. It is compelling Hezbollah and Iran to reassess their perception of the entire conflict.
In addition, it has again embarrassed Iran and its proxies because it exhibits Israel’s superior level of intelligence once more, following the exposure of Iran’s nuclear archive, which was brought to Israel.
The question right now is to what extent Israel will succeed in leveraging this intelligence disclosure and towards creating the framework within which the conflict in the northern front will be conducted, with an emphasis on the following objectives:
- Teaching Lebanon and the international arena to understand that Hezbollah, as an Iranian proxy, is not the “shield of Lebanon,” but is a huge danger to that country. This is because Hezbollah is developing strong offensive capabilities against Israel from within Lebanese civilian facilities and is even working beyond the international border (inside Israeli territory) to serve Iranian interests only. Hezbollah acts in a manner that is a clear violation of Israeli sovereignty and justifies a sharp Israeli response that will cause harm to the country of Lebanon and its citizens. Israel’s caution in preventing the situation from deteriorating should also be presented as an Israeli effort to prevent damage to Lebanon. The ones putting Lebanon in danger are Hezbollah and Iran, while the one who is looking after it is Israel.
- Increasing the deterrence against Iran and Hezbollah against a backdrop of Israel’s penetration of their intelligence and communications so that they will be reluctant to continue their attempts to develop other elements threatening Israel (such as improving the accuracy of their rockets and building infrastructure on the Golan Heights).
- Educating Europe that any attempt to differentiate between the military wing and the political wing of Hezbollah is ridiculous. Does anyone really believe that a handful of rebellious, diligent Hezbollah terrorists decided independently to dig a complex system of tunnels, which demanded so many resources and extended into Israeli territory? It is amazing to see how the Europeans have confirmed the existence of the tunnels and have expressed their support of Israel’s right to destroy them, yet they refuse to blame Hezbollah and to acknowledge that there is no distinction between the military and political wings of this organization. A change in the European position would lead to a significant shift in Hezbollah’s ability to manipulate the Lebanese system, and would penalize it with the heavy and appropriate price they should pay for their violation of Israeli sovereignty.
- Encouraging UNIFIL to finally implement U.N. Resolution 1701, asserting that only the Lebanese army is allowed to operate in southern Lebanon, and to make use of the extension of its mandate that it received in 2016. So far, UNIFIL has confirmed the existence of the tunnel, but it has refrained from asserting that Hezbollah has thereby significantly violated Israel’s sovereignty.
- The intensified focus on Iran’s role as the master dictating Hezbollah’s activities. It is clear that the buildup of Hezbollah’s forces, especially since the Second Lebanon War, including the invasion tunnels that cross into Israel, is intended to serve Iranian purposes and to enable Iran to strike at Israel in circumstances where its nuclear program is threatened. This is the reason why Iran is investing so many resources into digging the tunnels and improving the accuracy of the rockets, as well as dedicating its Iraqi proxies to Hezbollah’s ground offensive.
The high media profile that Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and IDF Chief of Staff Gadi Eizenkot have given to this operation is intended to influence international, Israeli, Arab, Lebanese and Iranian consciousness in this context. However, it needs to be accompanied by diplomatic activity to achieve these objectives.
Evidently, the problem is that European cynicism is creating a significant obstacle to realizing these goals, and the tense relationship between the United States and Europe is eroding the power of American leverage in this regard.
Brig.-Gen. (res.) Yossi Kuperwasser is director of the Project on Regional Middle East Developments at the Jerusalem Center. He was formerly director general of the Israel Ministry of Strategic Affairs and head of the Research Division of IDF Military Intelligence.