Defense minister Ehud Barak's tough warning to Beirut Wednesday, Nov. 24, went virtually unnoticed in the overheated Middle East climate. It deserved more attention because he stated clearly that if Hizballah goes on the warpath again and shoots rockets at Israeli towns as it did in 2006, Israel would hold the new Lebanese unity government responsible and target the whole of the country – not just Hizballah strongholds in the south. Barak was addressing a meeting of northern Israel mayors and local leaders representing the towns and villages blasted three years ago.
“We cannot accept the situation created now in Lebanon in which a terrorist militia is part of the government,” he said and went on to underscore pro-Iranian militia's hugely expanded arsenals: 40,000 rockets in place of the 16,000 on the eve of the 2006 war. The Israeli defense minister warned that the Lebanese Shiite group may be taking delivery of game-changing weapons if mobile anti-aircraft SA-8 missile batteries get the green light from Damascus or Tehran to move across the border into Lebanon. These missiles would shield Hizballah strongholds against Israeli Air Force attack. They have been held in Syrian depots for months because Israel notified Damascus via Washington and Paris that they would be bombed if they tried to cross the border.
Who will draw first?
Barak's comments are noteworthy, DEBKA-Net-Weekly military sources say, because they lift the veil from the IDF's new military doctrine for Lebanon in the light of its changed circumstances: This month, after seven months of crisis, Saad Hariri managed to form a unity government which also embraces the greatly empowered Hizballah without requiring its militia to disarm and disband.
The Eisencott Doctrine, as it is called after the Northern Command chief Gen. Gadi Eisencott, would avoid engaging Hizballah forces on the ground, as the IDF did in 2006, but go straight for their missile batteries and stockpiles and destroy them. By destruction, the general means the entire environment of those batteries and stocks would be ground to dust, like the Shiite Dahya borough of Beirut which a three-week Israeli bombardment flattened three years ago because it was the seat of Hizballah's headquarters and offices.
Since then, Hizballah has spread its thousands of missiles across Lebanon. According to the Eisancott Doctrine, a Hizballah attack would therefore cost Lebanon dear. Israel would hit its missiles wherever they may be located – even at the cost of destroying much of Lebanon's civilian and military infrastructure.
Barak was giving Beirut advance warning because of the widespread belief that Hizballah will loose a missile blitz against Israel as Iran's first response to a possible Israeli attack on its nuclear sites. At the same time, Hizballah is certain Israel will precede such an attack by hitting Lebanon first to save its own population from retaliatory punishment.
Lebanese pro-Western bloc wins elections, abdicates power
With both poised ready to draw on the instant, it is hard to see how a military confrontation can be prevented.
Lebanon's two-week old national unity government is made up of prime minister Saad Hariri's pro-Western March 14 bloc (14 cabinet posts, two of which are held by Druze members who are not committed to line up with the bloc in votes) and the pro-Hizballah, pro-Syrian bloc (10 ministers).
The first bloc's ability to govern is more or less neutralized by the veto power held by the second. The third bloc is made up of five “neutral” ministers, who are appointed by the pro-Syrian president Michel Suleiman.
Hariri's national unity government has been dubbed “the government of national paralysis” because it is quite incapable of coming together on any major diplomatic or military policies – certainly not on a decision to disarm the belligerent Hizballah, as stipulated in two UN Security Council resolutions, or indeed restrict it in any way any more than before.
The Hariri grouping which won the last Lebanese election may appear to head a pro-Western-led administration. But that is only on paper. The truth of the matter is that Hariri was press-ganged jointly by Saudi Arabia and Syria to deliver the real power over Lebanon's fate to Iran's surrogate, the warlike Hizballah, bringing the next outbreak of hostilities closer than ever before.