The IDF is following the situation in Lebanon with concern, as the country is on the brink of economic collapse and its leaders are losing their grip on power.
Senior Israeli security officials have said that while the chance of a large-scale war in Lebanon remains low, they do not rule out the possibility that the country's continued economic, social and political instability will directly impact its security, which could lead to an escalation. At the same time, Israel and Hezbollah are preparing for the possibility of smaller events that could lead to a deterioration between the sides.
Military officials say that despite Lebanon’s dire economic situation, it is unlikely that Hezbollah Secretary General Hassan Nasrallah will want to launch a war against Israel. He understands that war with Israel will do considerable damage to Lebanon, and rebuilding efforts would be difficult. In addition, Israeli security officials say that after such a war, Nasrallah would be the one to take responsibility for rebuilding the country, which is an outcome he does not want.
The IDF is trying to persuade Israel's politicians that in contrast to the last round of hostilities with Hamas in May, any war with Hezbollah would demand a ground incursion into Lebanon. This could work in Hezbollah's favor, due to the offensive capabilities it has developed, Lebanon's topography and the heavy death toll a ground invasion would incur.
Striking from the air "would be powerful in the first hours of fighting, but subduing the enemy during the operative stage would require a ground maneuver," Brig. Gen. Dan Neumann, the commander of the 36th Armored Division, which operates on the northern border, told military correspondents on Tuesday.
Israeli security officials believe that Hezbollah is preparing for the possibility of escalation and fears that Israel might stage a surprise attack against it. Hezbollah is studying and trying to learn from the latest round of fighting between Israel and Hamas, especially with regard to Israel’s air defenses.
Despite attempts – attributed to Israel by the foreign media – to undermine Hezbollah’s precision missile project, the organization has managed to develop these capabilities in a way that raises concern for the security establishment in Israel. Hezbollah can launch missiles at any point in Israel, and according to assessments, it now has some 140,000 missiles and rockets that it can deploy against Israel. In one day of fighting, the assessments say, Hezbollah can fire about 3,000 rockets.
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Over the past three years, the IDF Northern Command has drafted a number of operational plans with regard to a war in Lebanon. They span a variety of scenarios and levels of combat, from the first days of battle to an all-out war. All of these operational plans are all expected to be approved within a month.
The IDF says that any future round of fighting in Lebanon would differ from the Second Lebanon War; since then, it has boosted its intelligence-gathering capabilities and obtained advanced weaponry. Since the 2006 war, the military says that its target bank has majorly increased in size and quality.
“If there is another war, Hezbollah will pay a much higher price than it paid in the Second Lebanon War,” said Northern Command chief Maj. Gen. Amir Baram. Baram added that the IDF has given international officials intelligence regarding Hezbollah's weaponry, which is intentionally stored near schools and populated areas in order to deter attacks. He noted that one such weapons depot, located in the village of Ebba near the city of Nabatieh in southern Lebanon, is about 25 meters (82 feet) away from a school.
More than half of citizens below the poverty line
Lebanon's financial crisis is the worst the country has ever seen. International financial officials have presented data showing that this year, Lebanon's GDP has fallen by 25 percent; in less than a year, the value of its currency has decreased by 92 percent, its debt-to-GDP ratio stands at 174 percent and unemployment is at 37 percent and rising. The most worrisome statistic is that more than 55 percent of Lebanon’s citizens live below the poverty line. Economic gaps have grown, with a small group of wealthy people controlling most of the capital and most ordinary Lebanese unable to make ends meet.
According to military officials in Israel, Nasrallah is playing a kind of double game: On the one hand, his organization allows the wealthy in the country to conduct their business unhindered. On the other, he uses funding he receives from the Lebanese government to open clinics, supermarkets and aid organizations for the needy in southern Lebanon and Beirut, in order to preserve his image as a benefactor of the Lebanese people. The country's younger generation is losing its faith in the government and in Hezbollah, viewing both as responsible for the situation.
In addition, more and more Lebanese young people believe that Iran is pulling the strings in Lebanon through Hezbollah, while the country’s leadership is weak and unable to maintain control. The only element still viewed in a positive light in the country is the army, but even there, fissures have emerged within its ranks. This is due to the economic difficulties its soldiers face, and the better conditions enjoyed by Hezbollah operatives. A Lebanese army commander makes $500 a month – the same sum earned by a Hezbollah soldier.
At the same time, the lack of economic, political and social stability in Lebanon impedes the government’s ability to obtain loans from banks abroad. The fact that Hezbollah is part of the Lebanese government further complicates these attempts. Israeli officials believe, however, that Lebanon’s divided population will be in no hurry to take to the streets in violent protest to oust the government, following the lessons learned in Lebanon’s terrible civil war.