Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu invited 25 foreign ambassadors to the northern border on Thursday, Dec.6, for am on-the-spot briefing on the IDF operation against Hizballah tunnels. This step, the first by an Israeli leader just two days into a military operation, gave him the stage for using the operation for two wide-ranging goals:
- Hitting at Iran’s military presence in Syria.
- Isolating Hizballah on the political and economic scene of Beirut.
These objectives threaded through Netanyahu’s comments in his briefing to the diplomats, DEBKAfile’s military and intelligence sources note, although some of the information he used to make his points may be politely described as questionable.
These are the points:
- There is a “reasonable possibility” Israel will have to “operate in Lebanon” to neutralize Hizballah’s attack tunnels. I deploy our strength prudently and responsibly.” The ambassadors were evidently invited to provide international legitimacy for any future operations that may be necessary.
- “We are removing our enemy’s tunnel weapon in a systematic, determined manner and we will do whatever it takes,” he said.
- “This operation is just the beginning, but when it ends, the tunnel weapon Hizballah invested in will no longer be effective.”
- Hizballah and Hamas know that whoever attacks us, “his blood is on his head.” He asked the ambassadors to unequivocally condemn their aggression and strengthen sanctions.
- Operation Northern Shield was timed to take place before Hizballah found out from leaks “how much information we had on its tunnels.”
- Everything happening is combining to slow down the program for adding precision guidance to Hizballah’s rockets. Parts of this project were destroyed, said the prime minister. “We are taking action against the precision-guided rockets.”
- “Hassan Nasrallah’s plans for developing an arsenal of thousands of precise weapons have gone awry. Action we have taken has significantly slowed down the work and “no more than a few dozen enhanced rockets were produced.”
- In an effort to strip Hizballah of all legitimacy for its actions, Netanyahu stressed: “They have intruded on our sovereign territory, violated UN resolutions and now face UNSC condemnation. We will squeeze the Lebanese terrorists hard, just as we did Hamas – and not just against its tunnels, but by showing them up as terrorists dedicated to murdering civilians.
- “Our operations” precipitated “a reduction in Iranian forces in Syria by several percent.” Netanyahu elaborated: “We struck their militias and blew up their bases. The IDF is the only army in the world to have fought the Iranian army.
- Iran counted on these wide tunnels as an entry point to inserting battalions into Israel for a rampage of murder and kidnapping.
DEBKAfile’s military and intelligence analysts see little benefit in another UNSC draft resolution or much chance of depriving Hizballah of legitimacy any more than in the past. Russia and the Europeans grasp that the Israeli operation is fully coordinated with the Trump administration’s campaign against Iran and are unlikely to lend a hand to it. It is also hard to see how Hizballah’s position at home will be readily undermined, when it reigns over Beirut as the central pillar of strength and maintains Lebanon’s strongest military force with effective control over the national army. The prime minister’s claim to have substantially slowed Hizballah’s precision-enhanced rocket program and brought it down to a few dozen rockets is problematic. This upgrade is irrelevant for most of its arsenal of 130-150,000 short-range rockets, and those of longer range anyway number no more than 700-1,000. Hizballah’s leaders would like to see faster upgrading, but are taking it slow so as not to provoke Israeli attacks.
Due to this slowdown, Tehran is seriously considering stationing its own precise medium-range rockets in Iraq for shooting at targets inside Israel, much like the rocket attack Saddam Hussein staged against Israeli town streets in the first Gulf War of 1991.
Our sources also question the prime minister’s assertion that Israel military operations led to a reduction of several percent in the number of Iranians in Syria. The total number, they say, remains steady. However, their composition has changed in recent weeks, when Iran began enlisting for the first time thousands of Sunni Syrian soldiers, many of whom had past combat experience in fighting the Assad regime in cooperation with the United States and Israel. These recruits are commanded variously by Iranian, Syrian or Hizballah officers and are gradually relieving some of the Iranian forces which are being withdrawn.