Four years after the end of the Second Lebanon War, the Northern Command of the Israel Defense Forces did something unusual on Wednesday: A great deal of valuable intelligence information about the Lebanese town of al-Hiyam, presumably gathered over a long period of time, was sacrificed for a much greater purpose. The command presented to the media, in great detail, Hezbollah military preparations in the southeast Lebanon town, including accurate maps, photographs and information about Hezbollah military installations situated near civilian buildings such as schools and hospitals.
The move was not solely in the service of Israel's public relations. The head of the Strategic Division of the IDF Planning Branch, Brig. Gen. Yossi Hayman, presented it in June at United Nations headquarters. This is a battle for political legitimacy and credibility. Israel is planning for the next round of fighting in the north and assumes that it will involve hard combat with Hezbollah, which has moved most of its bunkers, command centers and rocket stores in southern Lebanon out of fields and into the 160 Shi'ite villages and towns in the area. In doing so the organization is implementing lessons that came out of combat in Lebanon in 2006 and the Gaza Strip in 2008.
The publication of detailed information about Hezbollah's intentions sends the organization a clear warning of what it can expect to face if it starts a war while preparing the international community for the measures the IDF is likely to take. The optimists believe that Hezbollah will think twice before starting a provocation (in part because it is now aware of the extent of Israeli intelligence penetration of its ranks ).
The pessimists assume that at the very least the international community will have a head's-up about what Israel is confronting and its need to act forcefully against an enemy that operates from within civilian population centers while targeting Israel's own civilian population.
The disclosures could expose Israeli intelligence-gathering techniques. They will also cause Hezbollah to change its preparations, at least in al-Hiyam. The IDF apparently concluded that in view of what is at stake, the price was one worth paying. The issue is directly linked to statements during a recent lecture by GOC Northern Command Maj. Gen. Gadi Eizenkot. He said that Israel's enemies have come to believe that Israel's rear bases and its civilian population are the weak point that balances out its military superiority.
One could draw an indirect connection with the recent report of the Military Advocate General of investigations into alleged violations of the laws of war during Operation Cast Lead. The IDF is investigating itself and trying individual soldiers and officers for violating combat doctrine, insisting all the while that its combat methods are legitimate.
At that same lecture, Eizenkot presented the IDF's program for countering the Hezbollah threat: warning civilian populations in accordance with international law and giving them time to leave the war zone, followed by a broad, massive attack on Hezbollah targets together with precision targeting of the organization's rocket and missile launch sites.
The various declarations do not necessarily mean that war will erupt in the north this summer. Military Intelligence assessments, too, suggest that Syria and Hezbollah are not interested in a confrontation at this time. The Northern Command, however, must prepare as if war will break out any minute, and it must consider that it may not get a head's-up from MI.
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