OpinionIsrael at War

Waiting for war in Haifa

Israel must preempt Hezbollah if it wants to save the north.

An Israel Air Force helicopter flies over Haifa during Israel's 75th Independence Day, April 26, 2023. Credit: Flash90.
An Israel Air Force helicopter flies over Haifa during Israel's 75th Independence Day, April 26, 2023. Credit: Flash90.
Gidon Ben-Zvi
Gidon Ben-Zvi contributes to The Algemeiner, The Times of Israel, The Jerusalem Post, CiF Watch and blogs at Jerusalem State of Mind.

Metula, Shlomi, Kiryat Shmona, Margaliot. These were small quaint towns before Oct. 7. Today, they are virtual moonscapes, where abandoned farms are inhabited only by livestock and chickens. The people are almost all gone.

Since Oct. 8, the Iranian proxy Hezbollah in Lebanon has been attacking Israeli communities and military posts along the border on a near-daily basis. 60,000 civilians have been evacuated, including 14,600 children.

In Israel’s far north, an eerie quiet has replaced the hustle and bustle of everyday life.

But Hezbollah isn’t content with merely destabilizing the border. Since Jerusalem’s muted response to Iran’s unprecedented attack overnight on April 13-14 when Tehran launched more than 300 drones and missiles at population centers all over Israel, Hezbollah has steadily expanded the depth and scope of its operations.

On June 2, a barrage of rockets launched by Hezbollah at Katzrin, the largest Israeli community in the Golan Heights, set off dozens of wildfires that engulfed 2,500 acres of land. On June 5, the Iranian proxy wounded at least 11 people in an armed drone attack on the Druze Arab village of Hurfeish.

Israel’s reaction to this escalation has been to attempt to contain the growing Hezbollah threat with strong words and predictable action.

Israel is prepared for “very intense action in the north,” Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said.

IDF Chief of Staff Herzi Halevi added that the military is “approaching a decision point.”

Despite the pledges to act, Israel’s attempted containment of Hezbollah—the same failed policy implemented for years to cope with Hamas—has little support up north. A growing number of towns that don’t share a border with Lebanon are now being bombed.

Israelis sitting in front of their television screens can’t help but notice that the Home Front Command’s list of areas where red alert alarms are going off is increasing daily.

And with Hezbollah’s theater of operations expanding, Israel is effectively shrinking.

As a result, residents of Haifa—Israel’s third largest city, with a population of close to 300,000—believe that it’s only a matter of time before they are ordered to evacuate their homes.  

I moved to Haifa with my wife and four children from Jerusalem two years ago. The skyrocketing cost of living in Israel’s capital, the city’s limited job base and an eternally expanding real estate bubble forced our family’s hand: It was Haifa or bust.

We got a second lease on life in Israel when we moved to Haifa. It’s a lovely place on the Mediterranean Sea where Jews, Muslims and Christians intermingle easily. People here are grounded by the things that matter in the long run: earning a living, supporting their families, enjoying an occasional day at the beach, planning for the future.

If Jerusalem is where tensions always seem to be at a boiling point, this is where you can get away from it all by visiting the Hecht Museum at the University of Haifa if you’re into archeology, exploring the gorgeous Baháʼí Gardens or taking in the stunning view of Israel’s largest port from Louis Promenade on Mount Carmel.

Haifa is now next in line to be attacked by Hezbollah. It lives a life in limbo. We continue to work. Our children go to school. But the red alerts are multiplying. My cousin in the northern coastal city of Nahariya—about a 30-minute drive from Haifa—now regularly hears bombs overhead, forcing her and her family to run to their home’s safe room. My wife and her workplace colleagues in Acre—25 minutes by car from where we live—are constantly hearing sirens. Virtually every afternoon, my kids come home from school with updates about another classmate whose father has been called up for a second tour of reserve duty, this time in the north.

We have entered a period of threat and waiting. What the people of the north are experiencing today is not unlike the hamtanah the “Waiting Period” before the 1967 Six-Day War. During the three weeks of the hamtanah, Arab nations were poised to annihilate Israel. Jerusalem mobilized the IDF reserves. In this tension-filled time, Israeli morale plummeted, catalyzing a political crisis that led to the formation of Israel’s first unity government.

Three weeks. Today, it’s a bit less than three weeks before Tisha B’Av, an annual day of mourning for tragedies that have occurred throughout Jewish history.

The hamtanah ended when Israel responded to the imminent threat to its survival by launching a preemptive strike that destroyed more than 90% of the Egyptian air force. A similar assault knocked out the Syrian air force. 

Should Israel’s political and military leaders choose to act boldly and launch a sudden preemptive strike against Hezbollah bases in Lebanon and Syria, Israel will be able to reestablish the deterrence against Iran that it lost on April 14. This deterrence is crucial to Israel’s long-term security and viability.

Based on Hezbollah’s modus operandi, anything short of a rapid reestablishment of the preemption doctrine could well lead to Israel having to abandon the Galilee and other parts of the north. At this rate, people will soon be talking about a Kfar Saba envelope in addition to the one around Gaza.

It would be a damned shame to have to leave it all behind.

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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