Hezbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah has on several recent occasions threatened to launch his missiles at the Dimona nuclear reactor, the ammonia storage tank in Haifa Bay and other strategic targets. Yoel Strick, the outgoing head of the Home Front Command, admitted that Hezbollah now has some 150,000 missiles, many of them covering the whole of Israel. We are well prepared, he noted, but “there is no complete response to such a vast arsenal.”
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This is full disclosure, but a rankling one. How is it that the mighty and awesome Israel Defense Forces did not prevent this terrorist organization from acquiring such a large number of missiles? When the organization launches salvoes of thousands of missiles, dozens if not hundreds of them will manage to penetrate defensive measures, causing deaths and injuries, the destruction of homes and infrastructure and the disruption of food supplies, ground and air transportation, medical assistance, the economy and who knows what else.
The Second Lebanon War afforded a small sample of such a scenario. Then, the Israel Air Force did manage to knock out Hezbollah’s long-range missiles, but even the tactical ones achieved strategic damage. They caused losses among the civilian population as well as wreaking much damage, causing panic and the mass and shameful flight of citizens, including mayors and public figures.
In August 1970, after a year and a half of the War of Attrition with Egypt in which 400 soldiers and civilians were killed, a cease-fire was signed between Israel and Egypt. The following day, in clear contravention of the agreement, Egypt started placing Soviet anti-aircraft missiles along the Suez Canal. Israel protested but, out of weariness and in internal conflict, did nothing to prevent this flagrant violation.
Thus began the policy of containment, which ended up with the air force and the rest of the IDF paying a heavy price in planes and lives during the 1973 Yom Kippur War, leading to dangerous erosion in Israel’s capability to carry on fighting. If the air force would have bombed these missiles on their way to the Suez Canal, wrote Egyptian generals in their memoirs, it’s doubtful whether in 1973 they could have advanced the required infantry and armored divisions in order to cross the canal.
The primal sin which now allows Nasrallah to repeatedly utter his threats was United Nations Security Council Resolution 1701 at the end of the Second Lebanon War. Some 15,000 United Nations Interim Force soldiers were stationed in Lebanon in order to prevent Hezbollah from rearming and stopping Israeli incursions. The resolution specifically stipulated that UNIFIL could use force to ensure compliance. However, even before the last Israeli units had left Lebanon the smuggling of missiles resumed, this time in quantities and of a quality Hezbollah did not have previously. UNIFIL just sat there, as it is doing now, totally oblivious.
The country’s leaders, crushed by the enormity of the campaign’s failure (how history repeats itself), did not have the mental energy to instruct the IDF – which also, justifiably, felt defeated – to prevent the smuggling of these missiles, even at the cost of reentering Lebanon. If Israel had prevented this rearmament in time, thousands of Israeli and Lebanese lives could have been saved, people who may die when Nasrallah carries out – when the order comes from Tehran to do so – his threats.
This is the essence of the containment mentality – which by now has become a doctrine – held by Israeli governments and the IDF for decades. Anyone who lauds this mentality under the guise of “responsible policies” is actually acting irresponsibly. Recent Israeli governments which have allowed Hezbollah (and Hamas as well) to arm itself with such huge quantities of missiles have turned Israeli citizens into hostages of Iran. Just like on the eve of the Yom Kippur War, we are again waiting for the enemy to launch its first strike, with its numerous casualties and damage. This strike, in view of events in Iran, Syria, Lebanon and Gaza, will sooner or later arrive.
We will obviously win, but the price of containment may be heavy. Very heavy.