OpinionIsrael at War

The destructive hidden war

The incessant attacks by Hezbollah on Israel’s north are devastating.

Smoke rises after rockets fired from Lebanon hit the northern Israeli city of Kiryat Shmona, May 5, 2024. Photo by Ayal Margolin/Flash90.
Smoke rises after rockets fired from Lebanon hit the northern Israeli city of Kiryat Shmona, May 5, 2024. Photo by Ayal Margolin/Flash90.
Douglas Altabef
Douglas Altabef
Douglas Altabef is chairman of the board of Im Tirtzu and a director of the Israel Independence Fund. He can be reached at: dougaltabef@gmail.com.    

Israel’s war against Hamas is justifiably receiving tremendous attention and focus. This is a war of righteous retribution in which our goal of dismantling Hamas dovetails with our goal of securing our hostages.

The world’s attention—by and large hypocritically—has been on our strategy, tactics and, ultimately, insistence on victory.

But there is another war—or, more accurately, another front in the same war—that has received less attention both here and abroad. Nevertheless, I would suggest this conflict is at least as impactful and requires Israel to devise and execute a winning strategy.

This, of course, is our ongoing conflict with Hezbollah. While Hezbollah thankfully missed the opportunity to pile on with the Oct. 7 pogrom in the south, they have been diligent in continuing to send, on a daily basis, attack drones, missiles and rockets into northern Israel.

The result has been quietly devastating. “Quietly” only in the sense of the attention that the war there has (or has not) received, but not at all quietly for the residents of the Galilee and the Golan Heights.

Hezbollah’s attacks have wrought havoc with the status quo ante, the supposed deterrence of pre-Oct. 7. They have succeeded in replacing the preexisting security buffer zone of southern Lebanon—from the border to the Litani River—with a security buffer zone that consists of the Upper and Western Galilee.

Knowing how ill prepared we would have been to have repelled a land invasion a la Oct. 7 from the north, the IDF encouraged/ordered the evacuation of dozens of northern cities, towns, kibbutzim and moshavim.

It is estimated that some 60-80,000 residents have been displaced and that hundreds of buildings and homes have been destroyed. There has been havoc wrought upon farmers who are afraid to tend to their fields and, if they nevertheless do so, are wildly shorthanded.

Businesses have been closed and ruined. Tel Hai College, a rising academic star in Israel, has been locked shut. There is only a semblance of life in communities like Kiryat Shmonah, the largest city in the north.

Most distressingly, there seems to be no willingness to change the ongoing tit-for-tat shoving match that adequately describes the current situation.

Yes, there are the obligatory expressions of empathy and support, and occasional empty statements of resolve. All of this, however, fails the basic litmus of what a sovereign nation is obligated to do: protect its citizens.

The difficult question that all of this raises is: Why are we “backburnering” this conflict? Is this a matter of capability; i.e., that we can’t fight a two-front war? Or is it capitulation to American exhortations not to raise the temperature of the conflict for fear of…What? Annoying Iran? Inflicting damage on Lebanon?

Certainly, our leaders must understand that this conflict will not go away from its own lack of momentum and that Hezbollah’s capacity to inflict damage will, in the absence of preemptive attack, incentivize them to keep harassing us until they get certain concessions.

This might very well be the American perspective: Appease Hezbollah/Iran, keep the genie locked up in the bottle, do not unleash its fury and “take the win.”

Except, of course, that this is the antithesis of a victory.

Right now, the message is that the north is expendable. Would we tolerate daily missile attacks on Rishon LeZion or, heaven forfend, Rothschild Boulevard in Tel Aviv? Of course not. These would be seen, appropriately, as existential threats to the nation.

To not see and say the same for the north is to invite existential despair. These are communities that define the Zionist dream of love of the Land and creating fertile breadbaskets from desolate country. These are communities that proudly send their sons and daughters to defend the nation by serving in the IDF.

The history of modern-day Israel is intimately bound up with the history of our northern communities. Right now, however, residents there feel abandoned, expendable and akin to collateral damage.

Yes, Hezbollah has enormous arms supplies and capabilities. We have tolerated that growth since the 2006 Lebanon War damaged them tremendously. They have become the premier forward proxy of the Iranian mullahs, who have invested billions in arming and training their terrorist operatives.

We have ceded the agenda and the pace and scale of conflict to Hezbollah. They are the actors and we are only the reactors. Our surgical strikes against key operatives have not changed the course, intensity or initiative of the conflict. It is still very much being led and directed by Hezbollah.

It is very likely that if we were more assertive and aggressive towards Hezbollah, they would relent. Why? Because their Iranian masters probably do not want them expending all their materiel at this point.

This, of course, inevitably raises the question as to what to do vis-a-vis Iran—but that is another subject. Suffice it say, the Iranians likely do not want a full-blown conflict in Lebanon right now.

This should lead us to ask why we are cooperating with their low intensity conflict/waiting game.

The irony is that the IDF has never been stronger but we are acting as if we have never been so disabled and constrained. Far lesser provocations have prompted far more assertive responses from us in the past.

While we dither as to timing and tactics, there is one ineluctable reality: Northern Israel is being eviscerated.

The opinions and facts presented in this article are those of the author, and neither JNS nor its partners assume any responsibility for them.
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