Next Israel-Hezbollah War Will Be Worse, Says U.S. Analyst

Research published by Washington Institute for Near East Policy says future Israel-Hezbollah war would likely draw in Iran and cover much of Lebanon, Israel and probably Syria.

In its next war against Hezbollah, the IDF's Northern Command would use the "Lebanon Corps" and five divisions - the 162nd, 36th, 98th, 366th and 319th, according to U.S. intelligence veteran Jeffrey White in research published last week by the pro-Israel Washington Institute for Near East Policy.

According to White, if another Israel-Hezbollah war breaks out it will not resemble the war of the summer of 2006, but will cover much of Lebanon and Israel, and probably also Syria, and is likely to also draw in Iran, involve major military operations, cause significant casualties among combatants and civilians, and destroy infrastructure.

Site of a Hezbollah rocket strike, AP, 2006

Notwithstanding diplomatic efforts, success in the war will be decided on the battlefield, and White believes Israel is much better prepared for the next round than it was in 2006.

White says that the main aim of Israel in a war would be to impose a fundamental change in the military equilibrium and defeat Hezbollah, although not a "final victory." At the center of the Israeli military strategy will be combined arms operations, land-air-sea, with the aim of quickly destroying Hezbollah's rocket and missile arsenals and the group's land forces in southern Lebanon, and seriously disrupting its command and control centers by hitting its infrastructure throughout Lebanon.

Israel will seek to prevent the war from expanding to involve Syria, with threats, mobilizing reserves, moving forces and "flexing muscles," but will not hesitate to attack Syrian forces, infrastructure and Iranian elements that will come to Hezbollah's assistance.

White says that Israel will seek to deter Iran from directly attacking its territory through warnings and preparing strategic attack elements - airborne, missiles and naval units.

Hezbollah's plan will be to fire volleys of missiles and rockets against Israel's homefront in an effort to strike at the IDF forces moving toward Lebanon, in the hope of causing massive casualties. The Syrian air force will try to prevent Israeli fighters and reconnaissance aircraft from crossing through Syrian airspace, and possibly try to intercept them over Lebanon, in view of the proximity of the Syrian capital to the area of the fighting.

If Syria finds itself involved directly in the fighting, its main efforts will be to preserve the Assad regime in Damascus, with less emphasis on helping Hezbollah in Lebanon and its ability to strike at Israel, or restoring Syria's military presence in Lebanon and defeating Israel in order to restore the Golan Heights to its control.

Iran's reaction will begin with the flow of arms to Hezbollah and Syria, and Iran will step up the presence of advisers, technicians and light combat forces, aimed at carrying out attacks against Israeli targets, increasing tension in the region (with hostile actions in the Strait of Hormuz ), and possibly launching missiles against Israel.

There is no certainty that Hamas will join the fighting, especially because Israel may use the opportunity to bring about the collapse of its hold in the Gaza Strip, he added.

White says that in his assessment, the IDF will occupy parts - possibly significant portions - of Lebanon within weeks, and possibly all the Gaza Strip. He says that it will be the most serious war Israel has been involved in since 1973, and Israel must emerge victorious.

If Israel is determined in its actions, and willing to pay the price in casualties and damage incurred, it will succeed militarily, break the military power of Hezbollah and weaken it politically, White says. The Syrian regime will be weakened, and Iran's activity in the region will be contained because of the downfall of its allies. If Iran does not assist its allies, it will also lose much of its influence.

Hamas, if it becomes involved directly in the war, will lose its military power in the Gaza strip and at least some of its political power.

The former Defense Intelligence Agency analyst says the U.S. should not rush to contain Israel, but give the IDF the time and space necessary to complete its operations against Hezbollah and Syria.

White says that the U.S. role will be to deter Iran from becoming involved in support of Lebanon-Syria or in the Persian Gulf.