Disarming Hezbollah no longer an option
Israel’s failure to fully pursue Hezbollah in the region below the Litani River in southern Lebanon as well as in southern Beirut and the Bekaa Valley is a model of what not to do when fighting terrorist organizations. The Israeli government’s strategy of over reliance on air power during the first two weeks of the campaign, which was then followed by overly conservative ground campaigns in southern Lebanon, allowed Hezbollah reach its desired goal of a negotiated solution which would essentially allow it to maintain its power in the country.
Last week, the Jerusalem Post reported “Israel [has given] up on disarming Hizbullah,” as the terror group’s power and popularity still remain strong in Southern Lebanon. “Senior Israeli officials have made it clear in recent days during talks with foreign governments that Israel realizes a Hizbullah presence south of the Litani River is unavoidable, if for no other reason than because the organization is so well rooted there that the only way to get rid of Hizbullah would be to evacuate the entire region,” reports the Jerusalem Post. Israel had a short window of time to hunt Hezbollah in southern Lebanon, as international pressure for a ceasefire grew exponentially as the conflict dragged on.
The recent discovery of a Hezbollah bunker highlights the sophistication of Hezbollah’s bases in the south. The bunker contained “‘shooting positions of poured concrete,’ and that the combat posts inside were equipped with phone lines, showers, toilets, air ducts, and emergency exits, as well as logistical paraphernalia for Hizbullah.” A question remains as too how many of these bunkers still exist and are under the control of Hezbollah. Hezbollah is also clearing out equipment from some bunkers, according to Haaretz, and moving them to regions outside of the control of the Israeli forces. “According to the report, the militant organization blocked entry to the outposts using bulldozers. Trucks removed rockets, weapons and other munitions from the area. Vehicles also cleared furniture and equipment from the outposts. Eyewitnesses have said that Hezbollah vehicles were making their way north loaded with the arms and equipment, according to the report.”
Lebanese troops are said to be moving to the Syrian-Lebanese border to interdict weapons shipments into the country. But, like troop movements into southern Lebanon, there is no assurance the Lebanese Army will confront Hezbollah. Hezbollah’s military, by all external appearances, effectively stood up to the Israeli Defense Force, the most powerful army in the Middle East. And Hezbollah is increasing its stature in the international community. Kofi Annan “held separate talks with a Hizbullah cabinet minister in Beirut on Monday during a visit to Lebanon to shore up a truce between Israel and Hizbullah,” according to Ynet News. Hezbollah remains a state-within-a-state.
The movement of the Lebanese Army into southern Lebanon actually poses problems for the Israelis. If further Hezbollah strikes occur against Israel, the Israelis will have to move through Lebanese positions, and their actions will be perceived as a direct affront to Lebanese sovereignty. The proposed 15,000 large United Nations peacekeeping force has yet to materialize and there are questions if the force can reach the size mandated by UNSC 1701. The French and Italians are sending troops, but the numbers are about 5,000 combined, far below the target,
Regardless of the deployment of Lebanese and UN troops into southern Lebanon, Hezbollah still maintains its power bases in southern Beirut and its military bases and training camps in the Bekaa Valley. Israel’s failure to aggressively deal with Hezbollah has allowed the terror organization to consolidate its power with Lebanon, raise its international profile and keep its essential power bases. Israel’s hesitation and unwillingness to take casualties has allowed the country to be viewed as weak, and will only embolden Hezbollah and the Palestinian terrorist organizations.
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