Israel's Next War in Lebanon Is a Matter of Time

After the Syrian army’s collapse, the Iraqi army’s evaporation and the Egyptian army’s turning into a friend, Hezbollah is today the sole conventional factor that poses a significant threat to Israel.

Israeli soldiers carry an Israeli flag followed by a column of troops as they cross a fence marking the border between Lebanon and Israel, in this Aug. 15, 2006.
Oded Balilty, AP

The Second Lebanon War had many failures. Since the security cabinet conducted itself sloppily and the army acted clumsily, an ingenious sub-state organization managed to extort a draw from a regional power armed with superior technology.

But the war also had one major achievement. It has delayed the outbreak of a third Lebanon war by more than a decade. The 2006 conflict is not the only reason for this delay, though. For five years Hezbollah held its fire because its Iranian masters ordered it to preserve its capabilities for time of need. For five more years Hezbollah held its fire because it had become mired in a blood-soaked Syrian war. So two strategic events that are not associated with Israel at all have stabilized the Lebanon border and kept the Galilee calm.

But one cannot ignore the fact that the damage Israel did to Lebanon and its leading Shi’ite organization in the summer of 2006 seared its enemies’ consciousness. The bottom line of that damnable war was not as bad as it seemed when it ended.

Still, even if it takes its time – and it will – the third Lebanon war is on its way. After the Syrian army’s collapse, the Iraqi army’s evaporation and the Egyptian army’s turning into a friend – Hezbollah is today the sole conventional factor that poses a significant threat to Israel. And since the Second Lebanon War was conducted the way it was – this threat has intensified sharply in the past decade. Every year of quiet on the northern border has been a year of increased strength north of the border.

What was once a terrorist organization has become a medium-sized army. Its tens of thousands of combatants (some of them trained in Syria) and its tens of thousands of rockets could astound the satiated, sleepy and complacent Israeli public. Hezbollah cannot beat the IDF (which has also become considerably stronger since 2006). But in the next confrontation Hassan Nasrallah’s army will totally disrupt Israel’s routine life, nationwide. It will damage national infrastructure, deal a blow to the economy and cause profound trauma. Is Israel prepared for that?

The IDF is doing what it should. The chiefs of staff who followed Dan Halutz internalized the failure, learned its lessons and built an optimal answer to the northern threat. In the future not only will Hezbollah surprise Israel, Israel will surprise Hezbollah. The government is also doing the right thing to maintain Israel’s deterrence and prevent any unnecessary escalation. In recent years several challenging situations were handled wisely, with balanced, restrained resolve.

The largest achievement of all was made by the defense industries, which changed the equation against the rocket launchers by giving us Iron Dome and David’s Sling. But are the Israeli defense systems adequately funded? Are they given the resources to expand and renew themselves and protect the sky above us? It is not inevitable that the ongoing quiet is deceiving the decision makers and making them dangerously complacent.

But the main problem is internal. One of the most impassioned struggles in Israel is waged between those advocating a civilian-social agenda and those advocating a military-defense related agenda. But these two agendas are deeply linked. Without a strong society there is no national security and without a powerful civilian system there’s no military power. We learned that when hundreds of thousands of Israelis fled from their homes in the Second Lebanon War and the government’s helplessness made masses of people feel abandoned to their fate.

The third Lebanon war, whether it breaks out in a year or in 10 – the third Lebanon war will put us to a much more serious test. So the preparation for the only external threat we have (until Iran goes nuclear) must first of all be domestic. The calm years we have been granted must be used to unite a ruptured society, mend an inferior state system and rewrite the story of Israel’s place and purpose.