Netanyahu’s Northern Tightrope Act
JNS.org – Over the past two years, Hezbollah has displayed an increasing presence in the area stretching south of the Litani River to the Israeli border with Lebanon, often times positioning themselves mere yards from IDF soldiers.
In the Shtula area, which is one of the sectors where the IDF is currently operating to destroy Hezbollah’s tunnels, what looks like a watchtower can be seen opposite an IDF outpost. When an IDF patrol approaches the security fence, an act which the enemy perhaps construes as an irregular event, within five minutes or less Hezbollah operatives arrive in a white civilian vehicle to mirror the Israeli patrol.
The IDF’s unfolding operation has raised tensions along the border, without question. However, taking the initiative on the tunnel issue gives Israel an important advantage. We must also wait and see how many tunnels are found and destroyed.
The information provided by IDF Chief of Staff Lt. Gen. Gadi Eizenkot on Tuesday is incredible: The IDF has a map of Hezbollah’s tunnels. Despite the simmering tensions, it’s safe to assume that preemptive blows as delivered by the IDF on Tuesday will help stave off a major war. The goal is to put Hezbollah, Iran, and Lebanon on the defensive. In addition to warning the “Iranian branch in Lebanon,” Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Tuesday also put Lebanon itself on notice.
This operation has been in the works for months. Unlike preparations for destroying Gaza’s tunnels, it goes beyond the ordinary contingent of engineers to include the intelligence branch and Commando Brigade, which has been placed on high alert in the north.
On the operational side, we know from our experience in Gaza that at some point the other side will retaliate. The purpose of the offensive-defensive initiative in the north is to negate one of the more vexing military problems posed by Hezbollah: the need, on the day of battle, to commit a large number of Israeli troops to preventing and countering painful infiltration. In his recent speeches, Hezbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah has spoken in terms of “conquering the Galilee.” He was also referring to the tunnels, perhaps.
Eizenkot and Netanyahu are on the same page. They both believe in waging consistent, yet calculated, offensive measures. This approach has been implemented in Syria, and now Lebanon. For the past few years, the prime minister has supplemented the military effort with constant diplomatic initiatives. Today, Israel undoubtedly has legitimacy from the international community to combat the Hezbollah threat as it sees fit.
Hezbollah’s repeated complaints that Israel violates UN Resolution 1701 have been to no avail, evidently, on the ground. But they have certainly hammered home the point. The IDF’s current operation in the north is well-backed by international law.
All told, there is a type of undeclared balance of power between Israel and Hezbollah/Lebanon. When a certain threat oversteps the accepted, familiar balance — for instance, the presence of invasion tunnels along the border — Israel will act, even if doing so could lead to war. Apparently, Israel will adopt the same approach to eliminate the precision missile factories in Lebanon. This too can be done in a manner that doesn’t spark a conflagration.
Still, Netanyahu is walking a tightrope in the north.
Amnon Lord is an Israeli journalist with the daily newspaper Makor Rishon.