Hizballah advances 20,000 troops to Israeli border
Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu keeps on vowing that Iran will not be allowed to establish an outpost on Israel's borders, but he has not lifted a finger to stop this menace ensconcing itself in the north. He cannot realistically expect feeble UN reprimands and the puny French contingent of UNIFIL to blow away the 20,000 Hizballah troops dug in in 160 new positions in South Lebanon, backed by a vast rocket arsenal – even though this is a gross violation of UN Security Council resolution 1701.
Iran's proxy has therefore won the first round of its drive to recover the forward positions lost in the 2006 war and stands ready for the next. Israel has reinforced its border defenses against this massed Hizballah strength just a few hundreds meters away.
How could Jerusalem let this to happen?
The answer is by a misguided policy of misdirected reliance on international players and diplomacy, as though the military menace existed only in documentary form, instead of real armies led by single-minded terrorists with utter contempt for the rules of international diplomacy.
The guns Israel invoked for dealing with the Palestinian Hamas in Gaza – President Barack Obama and the European Union – were too big for their target and the Middle East Quartet's envoy former British premier Tony Blair had to be roped in. The guns Israel relied on to deal with Hizballah – the UN and France – are too small and ineffective for the job.
Following a French complaint, the UN Security Council convened Friday, July 9 and passed a resolution "strongly deploring the recent incidents involving UNIFIL peacekeepers which took place in southern Lebanon on June 29, July 3 and July 4." All parties in Lebanon were urged "to respect the safety of UNIFIL and United Nations personnel."
The UN was not even asked to address Hizballah's illegal redeployment in new positions in the South – only the harassment of peacekeepers – nor did it do so. In one instance last week, French troops on patrol were pulled out of their armed vehicles, their weapons snatched and they were beaten with sticks, rocks and eggs.
This was no spontaneous outburst. debkafile's military sources report that the "villagers" were instructed by Iran's new Iranian commander in Lebanon, Hossein Mahadavi, to hit on the French contingent to punish Paris for supporting the UN Security Council's expanded sanctions for its nuclear violations, while at the same time blocking the peacekeeper's access to the "closed areas" where the new Hizballah bases have been set up.
Tehran nominated a high-ranking officer to Lebanon – Mahadavi's former job was commander of Iran's Overseas Division – indicating the importance it attaches to this volatile borderland. Indeed, if Hizballah gets away with its new deployment in the South and is allowed to make it permanent, the UN force will have lost even this scrappy foothold and Hizballah will be free to carry on its preparations for war without the slightest hindrance.
So much for Netanyahu's pledge, reiterated during his talks and interviews in the United States last week, that in negotiations with Arabs, especially the Palestinians, Israel will never accept any accommodation that permits Iran to set up military and rocket bases on its borders.
The fact is that since he entered the prime minister's office, he and defense minister Ehud Barak have done nothing to hold back the stream of armed Hizballah militiamen flooding South Lebanon, although they are now actively endangering the one-and-a-half million Israelis living just across the border.
If they imagined that UN peacekeepers would suddenly stand up and start repelling this southward tide of men and war materiel, they need only to take note of the tepid UN reprimand last Friday to understand that the Elysee Palace had no intention of letting French troops pick up the Hizballah ball and chase the Shiite terrorists back to their former positions.
Tehran and Hizballah therefore felt they could safely issue a new spate of threats: Israelis traveling anywhere in the world faced kidnap or death in response to a series of hits attributed to their clandestine agencies, such as the assassination of a key Hizballah commander Imad Mughniyeh in Damascus in 2008, the deaths of the Iranian nuclear physicist Prof. Massoud Ali Mohammmadi in the middle of Tehran in January of this year, and the Hamas operative responsible for Iranian money transfers to the Gaza Strip Mohammed al-Mabhouh in Dubai nine days later.
Israel responded to the verbal escalation on July 7, by doing something it has never done before: Col. Ronen Marli, chief of the northern border's Western Brigade – the unit which will have to hold off the enemy in the early hours of attack from Lebanon – exhibited to the public aerial photos and intelligence maps recording the new spread of Hizballah forces: He reported 20,000 armed men scattered through 160 village and towns – only in the South, where its presence is prohibited by the UN-mediated ceasefire of 2006. The images did not include the substantial strength Hizballah maintains in central Lebanon and the Beqaa Valley to the east, or its estimated 40,000 rockets and missiles.
The Israeli colonel was of the opinion that an "event (a military attack or terrorist operation) could erupt today or in a year." He admitted it could be a surprise. Adding: "But we are working in different ways to thwart any event and if happens, we'll know how to handle it."
The IDF backed him up with an announcement that Israel is beefing up its strength along the Lebanese border and, the next day, July 8, the Jerusalem center for terrorist threats, published a warning to Israelis abroad, including the United States, to beware of abductions and murderous attacks.
Saturday, a Hizballah spokesman responded: "All three (UN, France, Israel) are preparing something, but we are ready," it said. "Our forces in the South are on the highest level of war preparedness."
The next conflagration may be just a single lighted match away. It could be ignited by some local incident, a terrorist event outside the Middle East or an order from Tehran.