Why Doesn’t Israel Eliminate Hezbollah Now?
Israeli political and military leaders of all levels have been issuing almost daily threats against Hezbollah while claiming that the Israeli army stands fully ready to confront – and even crush – Hezbollah. So, why don’t they destroy Hezbollah now?
Recently, Israel began to step up its verbal threats, “flexing the muscles” of its military. Hardly a day passes without a statement, report, or interview coming from the Jewish state raising alarm about Hezbollah’s military capabilities but affirming at the same time the “might” of the Israeli armed forces and their preparedness for any future conflict involving Hezbollah.
Israeli military commanders have all put their two cents in. The Israeli top brass seem to suffer from a curious case of overconfidence, prompting observers to wonder why Tel Aviv has not already proceeded to wage war and end Hezbollah once and for all, with victory so close at hand given Israel’s allegedly full readiness and unmitigated superiority.
The most recent statement on Hezbollah came from Yuval Steinitz, Israel’s intelligence minister. Steinitz was keen to affirm that Hezbollah does not have chemical weapons, and that it had not obtained any, prior to the deal to dismantle Syria’s arsenal being reached.
Steinitz may have been clarifying remarks made earlier by a senior Israeli officer, who said that it could be neither confirmed nor denied whether Hezbollah had acquired part of Syria’s chemical weapons – an issue that aggravates the concerns Israelis have regarding the losses to be expected in the event of a confrontation with Hezbollah.
In recent days, Tel Aviv resumed its campaign against Hezbollah, raising many questions about its aims with regard to timing. Usually, these Israeli campaigns, often instigated by the Israeli army spokesperson, seek to ramp up the perception of Israel’s deterrence vis-à-vis Hezbollah to dissuade it from carrying out any operations, or to warn it against responding if Tel Aviv decides to launch an attack.
The question is: Does this weeks-long campaign seek to achieve one of these goals, or both?
Colonel Asher Ben-Lulu, commander of the Israeli army’s Kfir infantry brigade, stressed the army was ready to face the worst and most complex scenarios involving Hezbollah, though he acknowledged, “The smartest and most formidable enemy we face is Hezbollah, whether at the level of intelligence, combat techniques, or military doctrine.” In an interview with Maariv, Ben-Lulu said, “Hezbollah is a smart enemy. It possesses a network of underground tunnels and has professional fighters and state-of-the-art combat techniques.”
Regarding scenarios for a future conflict with Hezbollah, Ben-Lulu warned, “The conflict will not involve convoys of armored vehicles or legions of soldiers, but [will involve] guerilla warfare and hostilities originating from civilian areas.” The Israeli colonel then stressed the need for additional troops on the ground, and said that the Kfir brigade would be suitable for the job.
Ben-Lulu continued, “The next war will see forces brought in to control the areas where rockets are launched. We at the Kfir brigade train on combat behind enemy lines to inflict heavy losses on the enemy.”
The commander then remarked that Israel’s enemies, especially Hezbollah, are fully aware of Israel’s air superiority, intelligence capabilities, and precise firepower, and said, “Hezbollah will operate underground, will not rely on communications, and will try to invalidate our superiority as a conventional army.”
In the same vein, Raafat Halabi, commander of the Israeli army’s Herev (Sword) battalion, said that his unit was prepared to move from “zero to one hundred” in a matter of seconds. In an interview with the website Israel Defense, the officer in charge of the Druze battalion specialized in combat in Lebanon revealed that preparations had been stepped up recently, with the build-up focusing on training and increased readiness for contingencies along the northern front. He said, “We must be ready in a matter of seconds.”
“Hezbollah members patrol the border in four-wheel drives or disguised as shepherds, who are sometimes seen carrying scopes,” he added.
Concerning whether Hezbollah’s intervention in Syria serves the interests of the Israeli army, Halabi said, “On the one hand, this hurts Hezbollah. But nevertheless, it allows its fighters to accumulate operational experience on how to carry out attacks.” Halabi reckoned that “offensive combat is new to Hezbollah, which has so far played on the defensive.”
Herev’s commander then pointed out that the members of his unit are frequently posted along different border positions with Lebanon to maintain their readiness, saying that in the next war, they will spend a long time inside Lebanese territory and reach the areas where Hezbollah’s rocket-launching platforms are deployed.
According to Israel Defense, a specialized military affairs website, the Herev battalion has developed new techniques to fight Hezbollah. Israel Defense indicated that the Northern Command in the Israeli army is currently considering transferring Herev’s techniques to other units that must also be ready for war.
The website also stated that the soldiers in the battalion were training to fight inside Lebanon in a third Lebanon war and to defend settlements in the Galilee, as Hezbollah Secretary General Hassan Nasrallah had promised “surprises” in any future conflict, for example, in the form of a Hezbollah incursion into northern Israel.