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Wednesday, July 19, 2006
A Strategic Assessment of the Hizballah War: Defeating the Iranian-Syrian Axis in Lebanon

Jerusalem Issue Brief
Institute for Contemporary Affairs
founded jointly at the Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs
with the Wechsler Family Foundation

Vol. 6, No.2 - 19 July 2006

A Strategic Assessment of the Hizballah War:
Defeating the Iranian-Syrian Axis in Lebanon

Maj.-Gen. (res.) Yaakov Amidror and Dan Diker

Israel's current military operations to uproot Hizballah and to destroy it
as a formidable military and terror organization is not merely an operation
against another determined terror group like Hamas in Gaza. Hizballah has a
disciplined, well-trained army with sophisticated weaponry, backed directly
by Syria and Iran.

A high-level Iranian official recently emphasized to Western diplomats in
London Hizballah's importance to Iran: "Hizballah is one of the pillars of
our security strategy, and forms Iran's first line of defense against
Israel." Walid Jumblatt, the Lebanese Druze leader, shares this perspective:
"The war is no longer Lebanon's...it is an Iranian war. Iran is telling the
United States: You want to fight me in the Gulf and destroy my nuclear
program? I will hit you at home, in Israel."

Iran's Revolutionary Guards provide the majority of Hizballah's weaponry,
financing, instruction, and strategic command and control. Hizballah's
short- and medium-range missiles are manufactured in Iran and exported to
Lebanon via the Damascus International Airport. Iranian officers from the
Revolutionary Guards are on the ground in Lebanon, playing active roles in
supervising terror actions and training Hizballah operatives to launch
rockets against Israel.

The only way to defeat an insurgency is to first isolate it from external
reinforcement. Israel is seeking to cut off Hizballah from Syria and Iran
and isolate it from the rest of Lebanon. Syria appears undeterred from
continuing its wartime supplies to the Hizballah insurgency, as it has been
undeterred in supplying the Sunni insurgency in Iraq.

Israel must carry out its current military operation against Hizballah until
it is fully neutralized, isolated, and disarmed. It would be nothing short
of catastrophic for both Israel and the international community if
diplomatic efforts result in Israel being forced to end its military
operation prematurely.

Hizballah Has No Red Lines

The current war being waged against Israel by Hizballah and its Syrian and
Iranian patrons is in large part the result of Israel's long-time, hands-off
policy with regard to the Lebanon-based fundamentalist terror group. Since
Israel's overnight unilateral withdrawal from Lebanon in May 2000, Hizballah
built itself into a deterrent military force possessing 13,000 to 15,000
short- and medium-range missiles. The terror organization exploited Israel's
political preference to maintain the relative quiet for the residents of its
northern border communities instead of uprooting the Hizballah terror
infrastructure and risking war. As a result of Israel's skittishness to
confront it, Hizballah leader Hassan Nasrallah assessed that he could
determine when to launch hostilities against Israel completely on Hizballah's
terms.

Hizballah - the "Party of God" - has no red lines. Any strategic strike that
it can execute, it will execute, limited only by its ability and the
conditions permitting it to carry out an attack at any particular moment. In
that regard, Hassan Nasrallah lives in his own bubble in which he judges
democratic Israel the same way he judges the Lebanese or those in Hizballah.
Nasrallah recently called Israeli resolve "weaker than a spider's web."

Nasrallah's decision to kidnap two Israeli soldiers on July 12 was made
partly in reaction to Hamas' kidnapping at the Israel-Gaza border of Cpl.
Gilad Shalit. Nasrallah said in a speech shortly after the terror attack and
kidnapping of the two Israeli army reservists that he wished to negotiate an
exchange for Samir Kuntar, a Lebanese terrorist, and other "prisoners and
detainees held by Israel."1 Israeli intelligence assessed that Nasrallah
meant he would also negotiate for Palestinians as well, and thereby assume a
leading role on the Palestinian issue, even ahead of Hamas.

Israel's Response

According to Israeli intelligence assessments, Hizballah, Syria, and Iran
were taken by surprise by the sheer magnitude and intensity of Israel's
response to the missile attacks and kidnapping. Nasrallah did not understand
what causes a democratic country to act harshly when its red lines are
crossed and its citizens are threatened, as Israelis are today. Nasrallah
never thought that as a result of kidnapping two soldiers, Israel would
launch such a far-reaching counter-offensive. He failed to understand that
Israel has gone to war because Hizballah has launched a strategic attack
against it, and that Israel views the kidnappings as part of a much greater
threat.

Israel's current military operations to uproot Hizballah and to destroy it
as a formidable military and terror organization is not merely an operation
against another determined terror group like Hamas in Gaza. Hizballah has a
disciplined, well-trained army with sophisticated weaponry, backed directly
by Syria and Iran.

The Role of Iran and Syria

According to a May 11, 2006, Asharq Al-Awsat report, a high-level Iranian
official who held a closed meeting with a small group of Western diplomats
in London emphasized Hizballah's importance to Iran: "Hizballah is one of
the pillars of our security strategy, and forms Iran's first line of defense
against Israel. We reject [the claim] that it must be disarmed."2 Walid
Jumblatt, the Lebanese Druze leader, shares this perspective: "The war is no
longer Lebanon's...it is an Iranian war. Iran is telling the United States:
You want to fight me in the Gulf and destroy my nuclear program? I will hit
you at home, in Israel."3

Hizballah is not an independent actor. Iran's Revolutionary Guards provide
the majority of Hizballah's weaponry, financing, instruction, and strategic
command and control. Most of Hizballah's terrorist weaponry, particularly
short- and medium-range missiles - including the Zalzal missile that can
reach as far as Tel Aviv, 150 kilometers from Israel's northern border - are
manufactured in Iran and exported to Lebanon via the Damascus International
Airport.4 Weaponry and materiel are then openly transported by truck convoys
to Hizballah in Lebanon.

According to Israeli intelligence, Iranian officers from the Revolutionary
Guards are on the ground in Lebanon, playing active roles in supervising
terror actions and training Hizballah operatives to launch rockets against
Israel.5 On July 14, Hizballah fired an Iranian copy of a Chinese C-802
Kowthar missile at an Israeli warship, killing four crew members. These
rockets have been in the Iranian Revolutionary Guards' arsenal for four or
five years.

Some of Hizballah's weaponry is manufactured by Syria and is provided to the
terror organization at the direct order of President Bashar Assad. The
rockets in the first barrage that struck the northern city of Haifa on July
16, killing eight Israelis, were manufactured and supplied by Syria. Other
medium-range Syrian and Iranian missiles are also in Hizballah's stockpile
but have yet to be used against Israel.

Dimensions of the Conflict

On a macro level, there are three dimensions to the current war against
Hizballah:

The first dimension is Hizballah's ability as a highly-disciplined terror
force with approximately 13,000 rockets that have wreaked havoc on hundreds
of thousands of Israelis in northern Israel. Additionally, its ground forces
were previously deployed right up to the Israeli-Lebanese border, oftentimes
within rifle range of public buildings in Israeli towns and villages. In
this regard, it is abundantly clear that Israel cannot allow Hizballah to
return to its former positions in southern Lebanon. The Lebanese army must
be deployed to ensure that southern Lebanon remains free of Hizballah
control.

Second, Hizballah cannot be allowed to be the driving force that decides,
whenever it so chooses, together with its Syrian and Iranian patrons, to
inflame the Middle East. In this sense, Israel's current war in Lebanon is
not punitive; it is strategic. The Israeli air force has struck the main
arteries for the transfer of weapons to Hizballah from Syria and Iran
through Beirut International Airport, all Lebanese seaports, and across the
Beirut-Damascus highway from the east, which has served as one of Hizballah's
main lines of weapons transport. During the present hostilities, Syria has
continued to attempt to resupply Hizballah in the Bekaa Valley, as well.
Syria appears undeterred from continuing its wartime supplies to the
Hizballah insurgency, as it has been undeterred in supplying the Sunni
insurgency in Iraq.

In bombing Hizballah's Dahiya stronghold in the southern suburbs of Beirut,
Israel is seeking to separate it from Hizballah forces further south. Thus,
Hizballah is being cut off from Syria and Iran and isolated from the rest of
Lebanon. Hizballah has waged an insurgency against Israel from the
mini-state it has created inside of Lebanon. The only way to defeat an
insurgency is to first isolate it from external reinforcement. That is what
Israel is seeking to do. In a second phase, the insurgency must be disarmed.
In this regard, the international community must enforce UN Security Council
Resolution 1559 that imposes the obligations of state sovereignty and
responsibility on Lebanon to force the Hizballah to disarm, as even French
President Jacques Chirac has demanded.

The third and broader dimension of the escalating conflict is that Hizballah
is nothing less than an extension of Iran's Revolutionary Guards. Iran has
taken a strategic decision to activate Hizballah terror against Israel in
order to preclude the United States and its Western allies from stopping
Iran's nuclear development program. The uprooting of Hizballah's military
capacity will neutralize one of Iran's most dangerous and valuable deterrent
threats against any country that attempts to act against Tehran's nuclear
weapons program.

The Stakes for Israel and the West

Israel must carry out its current military operation against Hizballah until
it is fully neutralized, isolated, disarmed, and unable to serve as Iran's
long "arm" that can bring terror upon Israel and destabilize the Middle East
region at will. The current Israeli victims of Hizballah terror will not
have sacrificed their lives in vain if Israel conducts its war to an
uncompromising victory. However, if Hizballah is allowed to remain a
military force in Lebanon or even an armed presence in southern Lebanon,
Israel will have indeed sacrificed its soldiers and citizens in vain, and
will also suffer similar attacks in the future.

Furthermore, it is a primary interest of the international community that
Hizballah be fully neutralized as a military extension of Iran. Only a full
victory against Hizballah will allow the possibility for Lebanon to emerge
as a free and democratic country. This is also in line with the Bush
Administration's vision of helping the peoples of the Middle East to free
themselves of tyrannical and fundamentalist elements and prevent the threat
to the region of a nuclear Iran. This underscores the regional and
international importance of Israel's current mission.

Any Syrian or Iranian forces or advisors in Lebanon are legitimate targets
for Israel. Israel must send a clear message to Bashar Assad that it will
not accept any Syrian interference in Lebanon. While Israel should not open
up a front against Syria at this juncture, if Syrian forces show any type of
movement, Israel must be ready to engage them.

The duration of the current war depends on Israel, Lebanon, and the
international community. If the Lebanese realize that with every passing day
the accumulating losses are taking too great a toll, if the international
community continues to allow Israel to uproot Hizballah without pressuring
Israel for a cease-fire, and if the UN stays out of the fray, the war does
not have to last very long. But if Israel is pressured to stop its
operations, this acute conflict will indeed last a long time.

This is a war in which Israel is acting primarily through its air force,
which is a new approach. However, if Israel's air force fails to stop
Hizballah rocket assaults, Israel may be forced to send in substantial
ground forces to control the areas from which rockets are being launched.
This real possibility would have far-reaching implications in terms of
potential losses for the IDF and for the citizens of Lebanon.

No less significant is Israel's readiness to absorb damage to its home
front. This requires a much higher degree of national resilience than that
of the first Iraq war when Saddam Hussein fired 39 Scud missiles at Israeli
cities. This time there is much more damage and loss of life on the home
front, but Israel is showing great fortitude and national will.

Iran's Ongoing War Against the West

Even if Israel is successful in destroying the Hizballah infrastructure,
Iran will not be deterred in its ongoing war against the West, for Hizballah's
attacks on Israel represent Iran's strategic decision to launch what it sees
as a counter-offensive against the West following America's post 9/11
attacks on the regimes in Iraq and Afghanistan. Echoing Iran's perspective,
the conservative daily Jomhour-e Eslami, affiliated with the Islamic
seminaries of Qom, reiterated in a July 17 editorial the charge that "the
conspiracy of bringing down the Twin Towers in New York with one plane,
which was totally dubious, was a pretext for occupying Afghanistan and Iraq,
and for [providing] unqualified support to the Zionist regime in its crimes
against Palestine."6

The Iranian editorial noted that "America's collaboration with the Zionists
in murdering the Palestinian people, destroying Lebanon, and [hurling]
baseless accusations against Iran [regarding] nuclear activity - which is
now coming to a head - is a new phase in America's crusade against the
Muslims. This is exactly the point at which the leadership of the Islamic
nation must play a role."7 This underscores the assessment that if Hizballah
is neutralized in the current conflict, Iran will have lost a major asset in
its ongoing struggle against the West.

The Diplomatic Front

In order to achieve its war objectives, Israel must succeed on the
diplomatic front in addition to the battlefield. It would be nothing short
of catastrophic for both Israel and the international community if
diplomatic efforts result in Israel being forced to end its military
operation prematurely. Furthermore, it is incumbent upon the international
community, which last year demanded that the Syrian army withdraw from
Lebanon, to provide the necessary assistance to Lebanon that will ensure
that Hizballah is disbanded as a military force, and this must be the
highest international priority.

* * *

Notes

1. www.ynetnews.com/articles/0,7340,L-3274616,00.html
2. Middle East Media Research Institute (MEMRI),
http://memri.org/bin/latestnews.cgi?ID=SD120406
3. Anton La Guardia, "Israel Fights West's Cause Against Radical Islam,"
Telegraph (UK), July 17, 2006.
4. See Uzi Rubin, "The Global Range of Iran's Ballistic Missile Program,"
Jerusalem Issue Brief 5-26, http://jcpa.org/brief/brief005-26.htm.
5. An Iranian military source close to the Revolutionary Guards leadership
revealed to the London Arabic daily Asharq Al-Awsat details concerning Iran's
role in training and arming Hizballah. The source said that "in Lebanon,
there are 70 trainers, experts, and technicians, as well as 60 Faylaq Quds
intelligence agents, who assist the Hizballah missile unit and its local
leadership. In addition, there is a secret Revolutionary Guards unit,
consisting of 20 officers, who use advanced means to track the movement of
Israeli forces in the field, and select targets in Israel for the operation
commanders.
http://memri.org/bin/articles.cgi?Page=archives&Area=sd&ID=SP120706
6. MEMRI, July 17, 2006, http://memri.org/bin/latestnews.cgi?ID=SD120806
7. MEMRI, http://memri.org/bin/latestnews.cgi?ID=SD120806

* * *

Maj.-Gen. (res.) Yaakov Amidror, Program Director of the Institute for
Contemporary Affairs, is former commander of the IDF's National Defense
College and the IDF Staff and Command College. He is also the former head of
the IDF's research and assessment division, with special responsibility for
preparing the National Intelligence Assessment. In addition, he served as
the military secretary of the Minister of Defense.

Dan Diker is a senior policy analyst at the Jerusalem Center for Public
Affairs and heads its Defensible Borders Initiative. He also serves as
Knesset correspondent and analyst for the Israel Broadcasting Authority's
English News.

This Jerusalem Issue Brief is available online at:
www.jcpa.org/brief/brief006-2.htm

Dore Gold, Publisher; Yaakov Amidror, ICA Program Director; Mark Ami-El,
Managing Editor. Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs (Registered Amuta), 13
Tel-Hai St., Jerusalem, Israel; Tel. 972-2-5619281, Fax. 972-2-5619112,
Email: jcpa@netvision.net.il. In U.S.A.: Center for Jewish Community
Studies, 5800 Park Heights Avenue, Baltimore, MD 21215; Tel. 410-664-5222;
Fax 410-664-1228. Website: www.jcpa.org. Copyright. The opinions expressed
herein do not necessarily reflect those of the Board of Fellows of the
Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs.

The Institute for Contemporary Affairs (ICA) is dedicated
to providing a forum for Israeli policy discussion and debate.

To subscribe to the Jerusalem Issue Brief list, please send a blank email
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