There is much talk in the Levant, in Syria and Lebanon, that Israel, and more precisely Prime Minister Benyamin Netanyahu, is seriously contemplating a large-scale cross-border battle that could escalate into war to ensure his re-election. Notwithstanding his claims of a “tremendous success in “Operation Northern Shield” (ONS) launched last December, Netanyahu is sending the Israeli Army to look for other tunnels, away from the media spotlight.
The Prime Minister’s premature announcement of the success of the ONS shows that he has become the hostage of his own optimism, which he would like to invest in his forthcoming re-election. Netanyahu has managed to create serious panic among the Israeli population bordering Lebanon, and further inland, by confirming that Hezbollah possesses precision missiles capable of reaching any chosen target.
Meanwhile, the secret underground infrastructure between Lebanon and Israel is not entirely under Israeli control and could be decisive in any future war involving the use of infantry for the purpose of abducting Israeli soldiers or officers or attacking settlments. Hezbollah has modern excavation equipment and the tunnels will be essential for moving any war that Israel might start out of south Lebanon into territory controlled by Israel’s enemy.
According to well -informed sources, the chances are strong that Israel may start a large battle against Lebanon, potentially leading to war. These sources believe that “Netanyahu may opt to use guided missiles and air force bombing with the goal of limiting Hezbollah’s missile capability. In that case, infantry would not be required and the Israeli army would be limited to protecting its borders and ensuring that no infiltration is possible through underground cross-borders tunnels”.
Prime Minister Netanyahu believes Sayyed Hassan Nasrallah, Hezbollah’s leader, is embarrassed by Israel’s tremendous success in dismantling its underground infrastructure, and he is confident that he has completely deprived Nasrallah of this important asset (the tunnels) over the last six weeks.
Israel discovered four tunnels so far; Hezbollah’s leader has not denied this. Nevertheless, Netanyahu is misleading the Israelis by claiming he has destroyed all tunnels. According to well-informed sources, the Israeli army is “sending trained dogs into the newly discovered cross-tunnels despite their great depth, with the aim of clearing them of explosives or attacking those working in these tunnels”.
There is nothing new in Israeli officials lying to their citizens. Sayyed Nasrallah said one of the tunnels is old and Moshe Ya’alon, the ex-Israeli Defence Minister, agreed: “We lied in order to preserve the security of the state. We did it to mislead the other side”. Nasrallah’s message has created division among the Israeli population, between those trusting their army (not their politicians) and others who trust Nasrallah.
Hezbollah considers the tunnels an essential asset in any forthcoming war against Israel. The Israeli army has been digging tunnels between one to fifty meters deep in a 10 to 13-kilometre wide area in an inland zone near Ayta al-Shaab and Kfarkila (Metula). There is a much a larger area of 107 km, extending to the Lebanese coast, which Israel has not excavated.
Consider the Lebanese border city of Aita al-Shaab, where there are hills on both sides of the borders with a mountain on top of the border hundreds of meters high. Is Israel equipped to look for tunnels in this area? Today, Hezbollah may indeed have the use of silent compressors and excavation equipment capable of reducing construction time for tunnels from two years to only 4-6 months. The necessary engineering, planning and modern excavating equipment are not lacking, despite Netanyahu’s belief that Hezbollah is in serious financial difficulties and incapable of digging more costly tunnels.
In many locations, Israel controls the air with drones and the borders with high definition long-range thermal imagery multisensory radars and cameras, Pulsed Doppler, Frequency Modulated Continuous Wave and visible light intelligent imaging systems providing advanced warning. These systems detect and track personnel and all moving objects by their speed and direction. Tunnels bypass all these measures and allow forces to attack the enemy from the rear. The tunnels in the south of Lebanon are different from those in Gaza since the Lebanese topography is mainly composed of rocks.
All the sources I spoke to confirmed that “cross-border tunnels are important for surprising the enemy and smuggling troops behind enemy lines. That is the plan Sayyed Nasrallah spoke about when he threatened to occupy Galilee”. According to sources, “the tunnels are important but not the only way to cross the borders”.
“A small quantity of explosive is enough to bring down a 4-6-metre-wide cement wall across the Lebanese-Israeli borders to open a breach big enough for motorised troops, once the decision to cross to the other side has been taken”, said the sources. This scenario maybe plausible only if and when Israel takes the initiative to trigger a war and cross the Lebanese borders with its infantry. Since Israel violates the Lebanese sovereignty on a daily basis, it would not be surprising for Hezbollah to mimic Israel.
The battle of tunnels is an unstoppable nightmare process for any army. Tunnels are constructed to be used only once. The “Galilee plan” aimed to force Israel to pull out of Arab occupied territory (the Golan Heights) or to release Palestinian prisoners in exchange for a withdrawal from Galilee (or any other village or city in Israel) in case of war and a Hezbollah advance into enemy territory. Sources do not rule out the deaths of hundreds of men on both sides should a war break out, were Hezbollah to decide to cross the Israeli-Lebanese border.
Israel is taking Hezbollah’s menace seriously: the “Gates of Fire” battalion was created to counter Hezbollah’s plans to conquer the narrow Galilee panhandle strip. In putting forth their intelligence assessment, Netanyahu and his ex-Chief of Staff Gadi Eizenkot offered Israeli settlers a zombie horror film scenario about Hezbollah plans to push “1000 to 2000 fighters who will carry out border shock attacks” into Galilee border communities. The two Israeli officials thus played into Sayyed Nasrallah’s hand, doing more psychological damage and putting more fear into the local Israeli communities than anyone else could have. Netanyahu aimed to magnify his “achievement” for electoral purposes. But he failed, mainly due to his premature announcement about the end of the tunnels issue, although his forces are well aware of the existence of many more tunnels.
The sources evaluate Netanyahu’s attachment to power as very dangerous for Israel. “He and his team could very well opt for the option of a large battle or a war against Lebanon in order to be re-elected and avoid jail since he is accused of corruption. Netanyahu took over the Defence Ministry and, as a non-expert in military affairs, he needs to prove his skills by doing something against Lebanon. We say Lebanon because the Israeli Prime Minister understands that any future attack against Syria will have counter-productive serious consequences on his political future because Damascus and its allies will respond” and he knows it.
The sources recognise that Israel enjoys unprecedented US support. President Trump would apparently do anything to please and support Israel. US forces are already based in the country training and conducting manoeuvres for a possible future war scenario, and of course offering their immediate military support to Israel. The sources, on the other hand, are confident that “Iraqi security forces, allies of the “Axis of the “Resistance”, will not hesitate to be part of any future war on the Levant”.
“If the US bluntly and overtly participates in any future war against Syria or Lebanon, US forces will be hostages and targets throughout Mesopotamia. The next war will not be similar to any previous one and will spare no one”, said the sources.
Hezbollah would rather avoid war. Sayyed Nasrallah has said “if Netanyahu is pleased to say he has managed to destroy all our missiles (but in fact only a few), then let him be. We won’t contradict him”.
Hezbollah doesn’t want to challenge the Israeli Prime Minister too strongly because it seeks to avoid provoking any future destructive war, which would implicate not only the south of Lebanon but also the suburbs of the capital. In the event of war, they won’t be drinking tea in Beirut, but as Israeli Major General Tamir Yadai put it, neither will they be drinking coffee in Tel Aviv.
Top Photo: Israeli officers under Hezbollah flags, few meters away from the Lebanese borders.
By Elijah J. Magnier
Source: Elijah J. Magnier