Opinion

Israel Dare Not Allow Hezbollah to Strike First

The question is whether the army will receive orders to strike first – before Iran-Hezbollah demolishes our cities while destroying defense and economic infrastructure

Hezbollah supporters watch a reenactment of an attack on an Israeli tank to mark the anniversary of the end of the Second Lebanon War, in southern Lebanon, August 13, 2017.
Hezbollah supporters watch a reenactment of an attack on an Israeli tank to mark the anniversary of the end of the Second Lebanon War, in southern Lebanon, August 13, 2017. MAHMOUD ZAYYAT/AFP

There’s a reason why some people call Israel’s army the “Israel Containment Forces.” For many years, including (or especially) the Second Lebanon War, the IDF did not truly aspire, as an army going to war must aspire, to defeat the enemy once and for all, in other words to neutralize its capacity to further endanger the lives of Israel’s citizens, soldiers and infrastructure.

This week, “unconnected to the threats issued by Hezbollah,” the army began conducting wide-scale and widely reverberating maneuvers, the objective being to preparing the army to contend with the Lebanese terrorist organization. This time, the military commentators wrote and broadcast, the “intention” is clear: to finish (the word expressly used by the exercise’s commander) the enemy.

Are we really facing a strategic turning point? In other words, will the next round bring the enemy to the point that it can no longer endanger Israel (an achievable goal with regard to this terrorist organization), or will we make do, as in earlier rounds in Lebanon and Gaza, with a “finishing” that brings temporary relief without neutralizing the enemy’s ability to go on the attack again.

The main question is: When will the army set forth on this decisive campaign? Before Iran-Hezbollah launch missiles at Israeli population centers and infrastructure, as threatened recently by Hezbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah – in another words, with a preemptive strike? (This used to be the doctrine of the IDF, which was victorious so long as it adhered to it.) Or will it strike only in response to an enemy attack, which will cause numerous deaths among civilians and soldiers, wreaking great destruction and chaos?

No one doubts the IDF’s capability of devastating Hezbollah. But since the enemy is equipped with thousands of accurate missiles, some of which cover the entire country, the question is whether the army will receive orders to strike first – before Iran-Hezbollah demolishes our cities while destroying defense and economic infrastructure. People in the know say that even though these issues have been discussed in the relevant forums, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu was vague in addressing this crucial question. Based on the statements of Chief of Staff Gadi Eisenkot, he should not be expected to recommend such a move, either.

If that’s how things stand – with Israel’s battle doctrine for the last generation conceding the first strike option to the enemy – an extensive reorganization is required. The Home Front Command and civilian organizations must be newly empowered to deal with the mass casualties and chaos that will ensue before the army recovers from the initial blow and sets out to “finish” the enemy.

As long as we haven’t crossed the psychological hurdle and understood that we have a duty to strike first to prevent mass civilian casualties, much of the preparation for the battle threatened by Nasrallah should focus on providing maximal protection to the home front, much better than was given in the past.

The IDF claims it has learned the lessons of the Second Lebanon War. One certainly hopes so. But in places where missiles landed, the civilian population – and this subject is not much discussed – also failed, along with their elected officials and other public figures. Civilians cannot be trained like an army. If the IDF allows the enemy to launch its missiles first, it is reasonable to assume that the flight and abandonment in the north in the Second Lebanon War, and the Negev in Operation Protective Edge, will be repeated. This time, due to the significant improvement in the enemy’s capabilities, there will be more panic and hysteria. This is one more reason – the main one – why the government should instruct the army to use it’s acknowledged ability to prevent the enemy from firing the first, decisive salvo of missiles.