In July 2006 mortars and rockets were fired from Lebanon at Israel’s cities and infrastructure. At the same time, Lebanese militants crossed the border and attacked Israeli soldiers – killing three and abducting the bodies of two others to the Lebanese town of Ayta a-Shab. More Israelis were killed as they chased the attackers into Lebanese territory. Despite this, Israel did not retaliate against Lebanon.
Following a request by the US, Israel distinguished between Sovereign Lebanon and Hezbollah. As a result, I – and thousands of other Israeli soldiers – found myself trying to stop an Iranian paramilitary organization using only tweezers. After weeks behind enemy lines, I can tell you: it is impossible to fight like that.
Lebanese President Michel Aoun’s recent comments on Egyptian television make it clear he sees no distinction between Hezbollah and the Lebanese government. Hezbollah’s weapons “are essential, in that they complement the actions of the army and do not contradict them,” he said, and noted: “They are a major part of Lebanon’s defense.”
Now that Lebanon has made it clear it is Hezbollah and Hezbollah is Lebanon, it is time for Israel and the world to let the Lebanese public know: if a rocket or mortar is fired from Lebanon at Israel it will be considered an act of war conducted by the Lebanese government; if Lebanon allows and enables terrorists to stage attacks from its sovereign territory, Israel will hold it accountable.
Unlike last time, if we defend ourselves against a future Lebanese attack we will not use tweezers to search for a needle in a haystack: we will neutralize the haystack.
In the decade since 2006 Iran strengthened Hezbollah as its well-trained and well-equipped proxy. Its arsenal now contains more than one-hundred-thousand rockets, and many of its members have gained combat experience fighting for Syria’s Bashar al-Assad in the civil war. Moreover, even as it lost hundreds of fighters helping Assad butcher other Syrians, Hezbollah readied itself for a potential war with Israel, stocking itself with advanced weaponry and fortifying its positions and command centers throughout Lebanon.
But Hezbollah is not only an Iranian-trained army stationed in Lebanon. It is part and parcel of the Lebanese government, boasting 12 seats in Parliament and two ministers in Cabinet. In fact, Aoun made it clear he no longer views the group as an alternative but as part of his government and strategy: “It is no longer an urgent matter to discuss the need to strip Hezbollah of its weapons,” he said in Cairo, hinting that Hezbollah is part of his army’s strategic planning.
This leads to a simple conclusion: if Hezbollah attacks Israel, it is tantamount to a Lebanese declaration of war against Israel.
If we are forced to fight – and to be clear, we have no desire to go to war – we will view all Lebanese governmental institutions as potential targets: any place used as a launch site for rockets at Israel a military post; any village hosting munition storages or command centers a military base; any Lebanese building or infrastructure used to attack Israel would become a valid military target for us to strike.
The results would be tragic for the Lebanese people.
However, the Lebanese people are the only ones who can make sure this scenario never becomes reality.
By removing Hezbollah’s rocket launchers from their backyards, hundreds of Lebanese families can save their homes. By stopping Hezbollah from using their schools as command centers, principals can protect their pupils. So long as Hezbollah is a welcome guest, the hosts are responsible for its actions.
Hezbollah’s power stems from its being embedded in Lebanon, and from Lebanon not being held accountable for Hezbollah’s acts of terror. Aoun made it clear this separation was artificial and irrelevant. As a result, Israel must let the world, and especially the Lebanese people, know Hezbollah is Lebanon.
Naftali Bennett, a Major in the IDF (reserves), is Israel’s Minister of Education and a member of the Inner Security Cabinet.