Part 1 of security assessment
Security and intelligence chiefs are expected to present a discouraging assessment at the cabinet meeting Wednesday. In recent months, Hizbullah has been able to establish a military presence north and south of the Litani River that is already prepared to a large extent to fire rockets and missiles on northern and central Israel – while at the same time hindering the IDF ground forces who would enter Lebanon to curb the fire.
In principle, Hizbullah’s rockets and missiles (estimated at 40,000) are found on both sides of the Litani. Yet the heavy arsenal, made up of several hundred rockets with warheads weighing hundreds of kilograms and featuring a range of up to 250 kilometers (roughly 160 miles) is found underground north of the Litani and is well-fortified in land bought by Hizbullah. In south Lebanon, the group established a fortified underground system that would be used to fight the IDF armored corps and infantry troops that advance towards the rocket arsenal north of the Litani. Meanwhile, the logistical and training center of Hizbullah, which has been boosted with thousands of new fighters, is in the Beqaa Valley region in Lebanon.
Yet the most worrisome development has to do with a new component that Hizbullah is attempting to set up in Lebanon with Syrian assistance. We are talking about an anti-aircraft system that is aimed at limiting Israel’s ability to gather intelligence above Lebanon, and later make it more difficult for the Israeli Air Force to strike in Lebanon and Syria. Should Iran, Syria, and Hizbullah be able to establish a massive anti-aircraft system in Lebanon, this will fundamentally change the strategic balance of power.
Hizbullah already possesses old models of anti-aircraft missiles and cannons; our Air Force has an answer for them. Some of them have already been deployed in the Second Lebanon War. Yet what the Syrians and Iranians may give Hizbullah at this time poses a different danger and is of a different scope than anything we have known so far (it should be noted these weapons have not yet been received by Hizbullah.) In fact, this system is supposed to provide aerial defense to the entire Syrian-Iranian rocket and missile arsenal in Lebanon and western Syria. Israel cannot reconcile itself to such development alongside Hizbullah’s rocket arsenal and ground fortifications.
Therefore, Jerusalem has embarked on a diplomatic-PR offensive in Europe and in the United States under the leadership of the army chief and defense minister, who recently visited Washington. Meanwhile, Olmert spoke about this with Sarkozy in Europe. The message to Syria, which is also being conveyed via Wednesday’s cabinet meeting and through other means, some of them clandestine, is as follows: Israel would not accept the establishment of an advanced anti-aircraft system in Lebanon; should it be set up, Israel will not hesitate to act against it.
Israel is also warning Lebanon against granting Hizbullah the freedom to act, in light of the latest government decision in Beirut that in fact defines Hizbullah as part of the national army. And the third issue: A warning to Hizbullah to refrain from carrying out acts of revenge for the killing of Imad Mugniyah; such acts would meet a “disproportional response.” The Israeli government is attempting to convey all these messages at this time to Lebanon, Syria, Iran, and the international community. Israeli officials hope that exposing the Syria-Hizbullah intentions will deter Damascus and Tehran and stop them from implementing their plans in Lebanon.
Part 2 of Ron Ben-Yishai’s security assessment, “A warning to Hamas,” to be published Tuesday night.