(February 2, 2023 / JNS) Why is a Lebanese environmental NGO locating shipping containers, prefabricated buildings and observation towers on the border between Israel and Lebanon? The U.S. and Israel both say Green Without Borders is not a legitimate NGO but is a Hezbollah operation to observe, threaten and plan for attacks against the Jewish state.
At a Security Council meeting this fall, U.S. Deputy U.N. ambassador, Richard Mills, said the proliferation of the group’s outposts along the border obstructs UNIFIL access and is heightening tensions in the area, further demonstrating that this so-called environmental group is acting on Hezbollah’s behalf.
Over the last few years, Hezbollah operatives and civilians have routinely been walking up to the border fence, reminiscent of actions taken by Hezbollah in 2006 before the kidnapping and killing of three Israeli soldiers ignited the Second Lebanon War. The 2006 Second Lebanon war was initially considered an Israeli failure, but it has created 17 years of relative calm between Israel and the Iranian proxy Hezbollah.
In January, the Lebanese Armed Forces (LAF) and UNIFIL confronted Israeli engineers as they built and fortified the barrier defenses along the so-called “Blue Line” between the countries. The protocol is for Israel to report its work to the U.N. Interim Force, which informs the LAF. Fearing for their lives, they report whatever they learn of Israeli activity to Hezbollah. Israel has completed only about nine miles of the barrier, less than 20% needed to protect more than 20 Israeli communities near the border.
In 2019, Israel discovered at least six tunnels from Lebanon into Israeli territory. The one I visited was over 20 stories deep and more than a half mile long, built over two years through limestone. Its sophisticated stair structure would have allowed hundreds of Hezbollah militia to enter Israel in minutes.
Near the tunnels was a U.N. facility that remained blissfully ignorant of the underground drilling. UNSC Resolution 1701, drafted after the 2006 war, called for only the LAF and UNIFIL peacekeepers to have arms in southern Lebanon, south of the Litani River. Since then, the UNIFIL soldiers have watched Hezbollah rearm to the tune of 150,000 missiles, never stopping the transfer of a single one.
Meanwhile, the LAF is a shadow of its former self and is cowed by Hezbollah. American funds to the LAF are more an exercise in virtue signaling that there is an actual Lebanese army independent of Hezbollah. In fact, Hezbollah has a veto on Lebanese military actions as well as on Lebanese politics. Hezbollah even controls the Beirut airport, bringing in weapons shipments from Iran. It is just a matter of time before Israel strikes the Beirut airport as it has done with the Damascus airport, trying to prevent it from becoming a terrorist weapons transfer center.
According to the Alma Research Center on Israel’s northern border, a Hezbollah observation sight within 275 meters (902 feet) of residential housing in the Israeli border town of Metulla has been harassing civilians with laser pointers. This month, a new 18-meter (59-foot) Hezbollah observation tower was constructed over the Israeli border town of Shtula. The Israeli daily Yedioth Ahronoth reported that there are at least 20 observation posts operated 24 hours a day by Hezbollah members in civilian clothing. Some of these posts are just meters away from the internationally recognized border between the countries.
UNIFIL, as per usual, has been impotent in confronting Hezbollah, despite their mandate, fearing for their safety. Last month, Hezbollah killed an Irish member of UNIFIL, claiming it was an accident. It was more likely to warn the U.N. forces and the LAF that there would be consequences for challenging Iran’s presence on Israel’s northern border. Strategically and tactically, Israel considers its northern border as an Iranian border, not an Israeli-Lebanese border. With Hezbollah’s help, Iran is trying to reproduce this in southern Syria to encircle Israel.
So, is Hezbollah trying to provoke Israel? Is it planning a preemptive attack on Israeli soldiers and civilians?
The next confrontation between Israel and Hezbollah is not a question of if, but when—especially with the production and transfer of precision-guided missiles, a red line for Israel. And there is always the chance that Israel will preemptively attack the Iranian nuclear facilities, with Iran responding by activating its Hezbollah missile network.
Last year, IDF Chief of Staff Lt. Gen. Aviv Kochavi said, “In the next war, Hezbollah’s array of launchers, missiles, and rockets will be activated at full force…The enemy has chosen to place its weapons, missiles, and rockets among urban areas exploiting the local population as human shields…The IDF will carry out intensive attacks on these missile-launching and weapons-storage sites…It is our duty to attack the tens and hundreds of rocket and missile launchers deployed in or near populated houses. Such an attack will prevent harm to Israeli citizens’ homes and thus prevent the loss of dozens of people’s lives.”
Dr. Eric R. Mandel is the director of MEPIN, the Middle East Political Information Network. He regularly briefs members of the U.S. Senate, House and their foreign-policy advisers. He is a columnist for The Jerusalem Post and a contributor to i24TV, The Hill, JTA and The Forward.
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