Middle East Expert: In ‘Inevitable’ Next War With Hezbollah, Israel Will Have to Cope With Tunnel Threat, Like in Last Gaza Conflict
by Barney Breen-Portnoy
A future war between Israel and Hezbollah is “not a matter of ‘if,’ but ‘when,’” a Middle East expert and former Pentagon official told The Algemeiner on Wednesday.
Referring to the massive drill the IDF is currently conducting near the Lebanon border, David Schenker — now the Aufzien fellow and director of the Program on Arab Politics at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy think tank — said, “The Israelis are preparing for what everyone believes is the inevitable. Large-scale IDF exercises are important, not only to train for this inevitability, but to send a clear signal that Israel is ready this time. In 2006, based on the results of the war, Israel was not adequately prepared.”
However, Schenker pointed out, “neither Hezbollah nor Israel are enthusiastic for the next round. Both sides understand the costs, both in terms of blood and treasure, will be enormous. Alas, after the war ends in Syria, the pressure on Hezbollah to return to its mission of ‘resistance’ will be significant. And with so many superfluous young militiamen/terrorists with nothing to do in Lebanon, it will likely be just a matter of time until Hezbollah once again starts probing and provoking Israel. At that point, the slightest miscalculation, like last time, could again spark a war.”
In such a conflict, the IDF — like it did during the last Gaza war in 2014 — will likely have to cope with the threat posed by underground tunnels, Schenker noted.
“In the aftermath of the 2006 Israel-Hezbollah war, the scale of Hezbollah’s tunneling capability became apparent,” he said. “During the conflagration, Israel destroyed several large tunnel systems, complete with ventilation, plumbing, and reinforced concrete ceilings, which stretched miles. One of these tunnels was built within 100 yards of the border and Israeli and UNIFIL observation towers, essentially, right under Israel’s nose. So Hezbollah has a high degree of capability and will.”
“It’s unclear how this compares to Hamas’ capabilities [in the Gaza Strip],” he continued. “To be sure, though, Hezbollah is a valued strategic asset of Tehran, which has undoubtedly transferred its own cutting-edge technology and equipment to the organization.”
In Schenker’s view, the changes made recently by the Security Council to the mandate of the UN peacekeeping force in southern Lebanon — UNIFIL — marked a “symbolic win for Israel and the international community,” but were “unlikely to change anything on the ground.”
“UNIFIL already had all the authorities it required to search for weapons in south Lebanon,” he explained. “It has not done so in a sustained manner. And on the few incidences when it did, these UNIFIL forces — specifically, the Spanish contingent — were attacked, almost certainly by Hezbollah.”
“There is a real disincentive for being aggressive in carrying out the UN mandate,” Schenker went on to say. “Of course, neither the government of Lebanon, nor the Lebanese Armed Forces, have ever adhered to their own responsibilities on this front mandated by UN Security Council Resolution 1701.”