IDF head says Hezbollah remains Israel’s main priority
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IDF head says Hezbollah remains Israel’s main priority

Chief of staff says Second Lebanon War brought a decade of quiet for Israel’s north

IDF Chief of Staff Gadi Eisenkot speaks at a service commemorating the 11th anniversary of the Second Lebanon War, June 7, 2017. (Screen capture: IDF video)
IDF Chief of Staff Gadi Eisenkot speaks at a service commemorating the 11th anniversary of the Second Lebanon War, June 7, 2017. (Screen capture: IDF video)

IDF Chief of Staff Gadi Eisenkot said on Wednesday that although the Hezbollah terrorist organization suffered a massive blow during its conflict with Israel and in the years since, the group remains Israel’s top security priority.

“Israel’s northern border and Hezbollah are our top priorities,” Eisenkot said, speaking at an event marking 11 years since the Second Lebanon War.

Eisenkot’s comments come despite the greater attention that Israeli policy makers usually give to Iran and to the Hamas rulers of the Gaza Strip, who continue to work on digging attack tunnels into southern Israel.

The military chief detailed the losses suffered by Hezbollah, both in its 2006 war with Israel and in its subsequent involvement in the Syrian war.

Eisenkot said the Shiite terror group lost 1,300 to 1,400 fighters during the Second Lebanon War, describing it as a “severe blow” to the infrastructure of the organization.

Though Hezbollah has grown since the end of that 34-day conflict, the group went on to lose up to 25 percent of its fighters to the conflicts in Syria, Iraq and Yemen in the past three years, seeing some 1,700 fighters killed and 7,000 wounded.

The group is suffering too, he said, from budget cuts and low morale.

“This is in addition to the loss of two of its senior commanders in the last seven to eight years: Imad Mughniyeh, who was killed in Damascus, and another senior Hezbollah commander who was assassinated a year ago by his superiors,” Eisenkot said.

Still, Eisenkot highlighted the extensive battle experience that Hezbollah has gained fighting in these conflicts.

“The organization is in a difficult situation, currently fighting in Syria, but don’t let that fool you. Israel’s northern border and Hezbollah are our top priorities. We have defensive plans, offensive plans, and a high level of readiness.”

Eisenkot said that looking back, the war proved to be a success for Israel with the north of the country having experienced its quietest decade since the establishment of the state.

“Children grow up in Kiryat Shmona and Nahariya without sirens, without Katyusha missiles exploding and terrorist infiltrations, phenomena that had characterized the north for decades,” he said.

At the time, the war was heavily criticized in Israel for the heavy losses suffered by the army and its inability to completely halt the rocket fire that continued to rain into Israel throughout the conflict.

The 2006 conflict erupted after Hezbollah captured two Israeli soldiers and killed three. Israel responded with massive force in an attempt to get the soldiers back and it quickly spiraled into a full-fledged war, during which Hezbollah fired thousands of rockets into northern Israel, and Israel carried out devastating strikes across Lebanon ended. The conflict after 34 days with a United Nations-brokered ceasefire.

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