There is so much bad news coming out of the Middle East that it is hard to keep up. Omri Ceren writes from The Israel Project to fill us in on a preview of coming attractions featuring the proxy forces of President Obama’s Iranian friends. Where precisely does Hezbollah fit in Obama’s vision of Iran as a friendly regional power? Too bad Jeffrey Goldberg didn’t riddle Obama that particular question.
This is Omri’s email message verbatim, complete with the URLs of footnoted stories. I thought that readers who have found Omri’s reports helpful might find this of interest as well:
Variations of this story have been bouncing around for the last few weeks. Two weeks ago there were major recent pieces in the NYT and AP articles, where journalists got to look at IDF aerial photography showing that Hezbollah has moved the vast majority of its military infrastructure into Shiite villages . They’ve taken their arsenal – 100,000+ rockets including Burkan rockets with half-ton warheads, ballistic missiles including Scud-Ds that can hit all of Israel, supersonic advanced anti-ship cruise missiles, anti-aircraft assets, drones and mini drones, tunnels, etc. – and embedded it across hundreds of villages and probably thousands of homes.
The Syrian war has been good for Hezbollah in that respect. They’ve cleaned out Assad’s depots and brought the goods back to Lebanon.
The Israelis can’t afford a war of attrition with Hezbollah. The Iran-backed terror group has the ability to saturation bomb Israeli civilians with 1,500 projectiles a day, every day, for over two months. They will try to bring down Tel Aviv’s skyscrapers with ballistic missiles. They will try to fly suicide drones into Israel’s nuclear reactor. They will try to detonate Israel’s off-shore energy infrastructure. They will try to destroy Israeli military and civilian runways. And – mainly but not exclusively through their tunnels – they will try to overrun Israeli towns and drag away women and children as hostages. Israeli casualties would range in the thousands to tens of thousands.
And so the Israelis will have to mobilize massive force to shorten the duration of a future war. One of the things they’ll do is immediately is move to eliminate as much of Hezbollah’s vast arsenal as possible. Hezbollah is counting on the resulting deaths of their human shields – and they’ve guaranteed to that the body count will be significant – to turn Israel into an international pariah. But the Israelis can’t let Hezbollah level their entire country with indiscriminate rocket fire and advanced missiles, just because no one in Lebanon is willing or able to expel the group from Shiite villages.
This weekend’s round of stories actually came from Hezbollah’s side. As-Safir – a Lebanese daily and a major Hezbollah mouthpiece – published a series of puff pieces about how Hezbollah has turned all of southern Lebanon into a vast military complex. I’ve pasted the full AP/TOI write-up at the bottom [omitted here, [this is the story], but it’s what you’d expect:
According to the reports, based on a tour of Hezbollah facilities given to the newspaper, the group has built a sprawling underground array of tunnels, bunkers and surveillance outposts along the border with Israel, which it is manning at peak readiness for battle. The tunnels are said to be highly-advanced, with durable concrete, a 24-hour power supply via underground generators, a ventilation system to prevent damp from damaging military equipment and a web of secondary escape shafts in case of attack. The tunnels are said to be housing tens of thousands of rockets ready for launch, themselves wrapped in protective materials in order to preserve them.
None of this is new. In early 2013 veteran Israeli war correspondent Ron Ben-Yishai did a deep dive into Hezbollah military posture . He revealed among other things that Hezbollah had given away thousands of homes to poor Shiite families, on the condition “that at least one rocket launcher would be placed in one of the house’s rooms or in the basement, along with a number of rockets, which will be fired at predetermined targets in Israel when the order is given.” Then in 2014 air force chief Major-General Amir Eshel gave a speech outlining how Hezbollah has embedded its military assets in “thousands” of residential buildings, emphasizing that Israel would have no choice but to target that infrastructure in a war. Reuters picked up the speech under the headline “Hoping to deter Hezbollah, Israel threatens Lebanese civilians” .
But there’s a lot of chatter in the Middle East about a summer war between Israel and Lebanon, so you’re seeing a new round of stories about what it might look like. On one hand the Israelis and Hezbollah are saying the same thing: all of southern Lebanon is now one big military compound. But only the Israelis are pointing out that Hezbollah has made sure that in that compound there are tens of thousands of civilians.