July 12, 2006, 9 A.M. Another beautiful, clear morning in Israel’s coastal resort city Nahariya. As an IDF liaison officer, I sat with my UNIFIL counterpart over coffee to discuss heightened tensions on the Lebanese border. The situation was already tense in the wake of the Gilad Shalit kidnapping two weeks earlier by Hamas, the ideological comrades-in-arms of Lebanon’s Hezbollah.
The coffee wasn’t yet finished when I received an urgent call ordering me back to base immediately. Two IDF soldiers had been kidnapped, several others killed and wounded in an unprovoked Hezbollah attack 20 km from where we sat that violated Israeli sovereignty and sparked the Second Lebanon War.
Ten years later the Middle East continues to be rocked by violence and instability, and Hezbollah is still here and more powerful.
If, in 2006, Hezbollah was known to possess 12,000 projectiles, and, by 2012, had 40,000, today it has more than 110,000 rockets and missiles hidden in Lebanese towns and cities and pointed at Israel’s civilian population centers. The numbers are very significant because over the years in subsequent confrontations with Hamas in Gaza we learned these rockets have a deadly reach and we also know that Hezbollah has no regard for international law. The rockets are intended to kill as many civilians as possible. Hezbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah has plainly stated his goal of hitting the chemical storage tanks in the Haifa area to produce “the same amount of death as an atomic bomb.” Defense experts estimate such an attack would kill hundreds of thousands of Israelis.
The global spread of radical Islamic-Jihadist terror is an urgent issue, but this too is linked to the effects of Iran’s growing hegemony across the region. Both the Islamic State and the Islamic Republic of Iran must be confronted since Nasrallah declared openly that Hezbollah receives its funding and weapons from Iran. There is no longer any doubt that Hezbollah has become what it is today thanks to Iran. Iran and Hezbollah are one. With thousands of its fighters deployed in support of Tehran’s ambitions in Syria, Iraq, Yemen and beyond, Hezbollah has lost its ability to claim it is Lebanese.
Since 2006, Hezbollah deliberately moved its arsenal and military installations away from open areas into built-up population centers in cities, towns and villages. And Hezbollah’s old arsenal of small 20 km range rockets aimed at Israel’s north has been upgraded to include hundreds of large rockets with 500 kg warheads that Nasrallah boasts can hit any city in Israel. His track record shows he intentionally uses Lebanese urban areas as launching pads to target Israeli civilians.
The expected results of Hezbollah turning civilian areas into military targets and directing its firepower at Israeli cities are not difficult to foresee. Simply put, the next Lebanon war will be catastrophic.
Every week Nasrallah talks about Israel and rattles his sabers. After years of denials he is now self-admittedly Iran’s mouthpiece and he talks of war in a region where such words are put into action more often than not.
Hezbollah regularly advertises its desire not for peace, but for armed conflict with Israel. At the recent INSS conference on the Second Lebanon War, institute head Amos Yadlin coined a new term: MAP, “Mutual Assured Pain.” Former IDF Strategic Planner Assaf Orion warned that “two generations in Lebanon will live under the rubble… and no one will be able to pay to fix the damage.”
In 2014, then IDF Chief of Staff Benny Gantz also warned that in any future conflict started by Hezbollah, Israel would take “Lebanon and knock it and everything in it 70-80 years back, and then see what happens.” In 2006, I too warned in every meeting with my UN colleagues of the disastrous consequences of a conflict with Hezbollah if it dared to follow through on its threats and attack Israel and kidnap soldiers.
The repercussions a future war instigated by Hezbollah would have on a Lebanon, already flooded with more than 1.5 million Syrian refugees, are not hard to predict. Such a conflict would threaten to topple Lebanon, which is already crippled by Hezbollah with a barely functioning government, no president, degenerating basic services and the Syrian civil war edging over its border.
With Hezbollah openly admitting its militant aims and rejecting any notion of peace, it is time to declare in no uncertain terms that an Iranian funded and armed militia operating on sovereign Lebanese territory is not acceptable. The international community has to stop simply accepting the regular reporting in the UN that Hezbollah refuses to comply with resolutions 1701 and 1559. Steps must be taken to compel Iran and Hezbollah to comply.
Educated estimates predict with high certainty that when Hezbollah starts another war there will be much more suffering and destruction in a region already torn by chaos. The additional millions of refugees and reconstruction of Lebanon will add to the enormous financial burden the world is facing. The international community needs to work to pre-empt the war that Hezbollah is espousing, enforce UNSC resolutions that will promote peace, and hold Hezbollah and its masters in Iran accountable.
Stéphane Cohen serves as the Head of the Diplomatic Outreach at The Israel Project (TIP) and during the second Lebanon War in 2006 served on the Lebanese border, liaising between UN and IDF Forces.