Lebanon In Firing Line as Israel Draws Up Plans To Hit Hezbollah
19 December 2023, The Australian / The Times, by Richard Spencer
Israel has drawn up plans to invade southern Lebanon, risking a further escalation in the war in the Middle East and in the face of calls for restraint from its Western allies.
The Israel Defence Forces says it wants to drive Hezbollah forces in the south of Lebanon back to the Litani River, a line of symbolic importance for both sides.
The two sides have exchanged artillery and missile fire since the start of the war in Gaza in early October. Initial fears that the conflict would spread more seriously to other fronts were lowered when Hezbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah said the group would not launch a big offensive unless provoked or unless Hamas was on the verge of an overwhelming defeat.
But Israeli politicians and military strategists say they have decided they cannot accept a simple ceasefire with Hezbollah at the end of the war in Gaza. About 86,000 people have left the border area since the missile exchanges began, and a senior IDF officer said on Sunday (Monday AEDT) that many would be unlikely to return even with a ceasefire.
Given Hezbollah’s much greater strength compared with Hamas, they feared the scale of a potential “October 7-style” attack in the north.
“What happened in the south is nothing compared to what they could do here,” the senior officer said. “Israeli doctrine is to take the war to the other side.”
The decision as to whether to launch a ground force across the border is one for Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu and his war cabinet. But there could be no going back to the “status quo ante” October 7, IDF spokesman Jonathan Conricus said.
“The IDF is prepared, has been preparing. The IDF chief of staff has approved plans and defined schedules for readiness,” he said.
There has been internal debate within the war cabinet as to how seriously to take the threat from Hezbollah, which is both a political and militia force in Lebanon, backed with a large arsenal of weapons provided by Iran.
Some assessments say Hezbollah is afraid of a political reaction inside Lebanon if it became sucked into a conflict with Israel, which has threatened to rain destruction on the country if that occurred.
Hezbollah is dominant due to its own Shia community, which forms a majority in the south, but needs some political cover from Christian, Sunni and Druze communities, which would also be devastated in a war.
But the IDF believes Hezbollah nurses hopes of limited future attacks in northern Israel, and it already regards the abandonment of the border area by its civilian population as a victory.
Of the war cabinet, Mr Netanyahu is said to be the most nervous about starting a war on a new front, even as the IDF continues to face fierce resistance in Gaza and worldwide opposition to the extent of the civilian casualties there.
But Defence Minister and a former general Yoav Gallant has been bullish about the need to deter Hezbollah. Earlier this month he demanded that Hezbollah withdraw its forces north of the Litani, or that Israel would force it to do so.
On Sunday he went on the offensive again: “We want to restore peace and we will do it either through an agreement, or with forceful action, with all its implications.”
The Litani river is significant because at the end of the brief 2006 conflict between Israel and Hezbollah, a UN resolution agreed on the removal of all armed forces in Lebanon to north of the Litani, except for the UN peacekeeping force and the Lebanese army.
Hezbollah has nevertheless made the area a stronghold and missile base, claiming as part justification that Israel has not withdrawn from a small disputed area of the Golan Heights.
Many analysts have assumed that the Israeli rhetoric is an effort to put pressure on countries with ties to Lebanon to force a Hezbollah concession. But there is little sign that Hezbollah would ever withdraw voluntarily. It claims to be the main power resisting Israel.
The Israeli government is also under increasing pressure to take action from residents of the area, keen to return to their homes.
“We are terrified here,” said Benny Pilveri, 62, a manager at an egg farm in Dovev, on the border. “We need to get rid of Hezbollah – get them far away from the border.”
There is concern that the IDF, already seen as having stretched itself in the fight to “eradicate Hamas”, would be running a bigger risk by taking on Hezbollah, a bigger, better-equipped force.
The IDF’s performance in the 2006 war was widely regarded as poor. Troops insist, however, that lessons have been learnt and Hezbollah, now battle-hardened from its role in the Syrian war, will not be underestimated again.
At a watchtower on the border, a sergeant who gave his name as Itai, a veteran of the 2006 war who has been called up again from the reserves, said he was now much better trained for the sort of guerrilla fighting at which Hezbollah excelled. “What happened in 2006 was a total disaster,” he said. “But we will not make the same mistakes.”Article link: https://todayspaper.theaustralian.com.au/infinity/article_popover_share.aspx?guid=d583bcab-4500-4011-84bf-97f98644d29d&share=true
Article source: The Australian / The Times | Richard Spencer | 19.12.23