Israel will launch a brutal war against Lebanon if provoked by Hezbollah, senior Israel Defense Forces officers warned Thursday.
Though the northern border has remained mostly quiet since the end of the Second Lebanon War six years ago, Northern Command officers remain leery of hostilities breaking out again, especially as tensions with Iran remain high and Syria continues to spiral out of control.
“We will fight in a very aggressive way,” said Brig. Gen. Herzi Halevi, the commander of the IDF’s Galilee Division, charged with defending Israel’s border with Lebanon. “Any village from which rockets are fired – will be destroyed.”
However, he acknowledged that another war would not be a cakewalk for Israeli troops or civilians.
“The next war will be different than the ones over the last 60 years. Civilians all over Israel will face a very tough war. There will be heavy fire on all the cities of Israel,” he said.
Speaking from divisional headquarters, several hundred meters from the border with Lebanon and overlooking the village of Bint Jbel, where the last war’s fiercest battles were fought, Halevi and other officers described both sides of the border as flourishing during the six years since the war. “For Lebanon it is the best period in the last 40 years,” he said.
Israel’s neighbor to the north, an inherently unstable country of mixed and often warring ethnic groups, is currently more stable than Egypt or Syria, he said. “The six years since the Second Lebanon War have been the quietest time in Lebanon in the last 40 years.”
Halevi was atypically complimentary of the United Nations Interim Force in Lebanon, saying that they were “doing a great job” and that Hezbollah “does not like their presence.”
The peacekeeping troops were installed in southern Lebanon as part of the cease-fire agreement, UN Resolution 1701, that ended the Second Lebanon war in 2006.
The UN force, he said, continually tries to precisely mark the border with blue barrels and recently built a wall at Kafr Kila, preventing rock throwing between Israelis and Lebanese. “I hope one day we can take it down, but for now it is good fence that makes good neighbors,” he said.
Yet UN Resolution 1701, he acknowledged, “is not enforced on Hezbollah.”
The resolution, reached at the end of the war, bans all armed Hezbollah presence south of the Litani River and prohibits the import of all weapons to militia groups in Lebanon, among other things.
Officers in the command said they know of “thousands of homes” south of the Litani River where “one wall divides the kids’ room with the toys and the missiles and rockets.”
Though the border is relatively placid, things could spiral out of control quickly, according to Halevi. Hezbollah could get frustrated with its unsuccessful efforts abroad to exact revenge for its military commander Imad Mughniyeh’s death and decide to carry out an attack on Israeli soil; it could “mistakenly try to find a solution to the situation in Syria,” or it could serve “as an Iranian tool.”
But any decision by Hezbollah to attack and trigger war, a senior officer in the Northern Command said, would bring about destruction “that will take a few decades for them to get over.”
The officer also voiced concern over Syria’s chemical weapons. “All I can say are the facts: Syria has many chemical weapons. Their officers have strong relations with Hezbollah officers. They have given Hezbollah many rockets. If they start to lose control, it will be that much easier for them to put their hands on those products.”
The officer stopped short of saying such a transfer would be a cause for war, but did say “it would contribute to a rise in tension.”
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