Israel is now preparing for what IDF officials believe is an “inevitable” new Lebanon War to pre-empt Hezbollah attacks on Israel that could include ground incursions into the north of the country by the Lebanon-based Shi’ite militia. Gen. Aviv Kochavi, who was the head of the Israeli Military Intelligence Directorate (Aman) until mid-September has been assigned to head Israel’s Northern Command. Kochavi had come under criticism for failing to provide in-depth advance intelligence on Hamas’ elaborate underground maze of Gaza tunnels that enabled the group to survive Israel’s “Operation Protective Edge” largely intact. In his defense, Aman officials argued that they placed much greater priority on dealing with the Hezbollah threat to the north. Kochavi is recognized as one of Israel’s pre-eminent specialists on Hezbollah.
According to Israeli intelligence estimates, Hezbollah has amassed as many as 26,000 advanced Iranian missiles capable of striking targets throughout Israel.
During the 70-day “Operation Protective Edge” in Gaza, the biggest fear for Israeli war planners was that Hezbollah might join the fight by launching simultaneous strikes from the north. Although Israel’s Iron Dome missile defense system functioned during the Gaza war, there are, according to Israeli sources, only 10 Iron Dome batteries and a two-front attack would compromise the missile defense shield. In preparation for a war in the north, Israel would have to re-target Iron Dome.
The just-concluded Egyptian-brokered unity agreement between Hamas and Fatah, which had been nearly wrecked by reports of a Hamas plot to overthrow the Palestinian Authority in Gaza, is seen by Israeli officials as a prelude to a resumption of talks between Israel and the Palestinians, now expected to begin in October. If Israel were, indeed planning for a new Lebanon war, it would be invaluable to reach a binding cease-fire agreement covering Gaza and the West Bank.
Israeli planners are aware that Hezbollah is, for the time being, in a weakened situation. Many Hezbollah units are still in Syria, playing an important role, along with the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps, in leading Syrian government counterinsurgency operations against rebel forces. And the Al Nusra Front has continued to conduct insurgency operations inside Lebanon along the Syrian border, putting further pressure on Hezbollah. Islamic State forces have also been engaged in operations on the Golan Heights, resulting in Syrian Army forces leaving the area. This puts a further strain on Hezbollah, but also poses a potentially far greater threat to the security of northern Israel.
For all of these reasons, Israel is contemplating pre-emptive attacks on Hezbollah while the Lebanese group is still vulnerable. Reportedly, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is now making almost all of the critical security decisions in consultation with Defense Minister Moshe Ya’alon and a small handful of trusted Likud insiders.
An Israeli Air Force delegation was in Washington last week, meeting with Pentagon officials, seeking further hardware in preparation for a looming war against Hezbollah. American stockpiles of missiles and other equipment were reportedly shared with Israel during the summer Gaza war. Israel hit an estimated 150 bombing targets per day during “Operation Protective Edge,” depleting much of the Israeli arsenal as well as the American stockpiles. With tensions mounting in Eastern Europe, the Baltics and Ukraine, and NATO bolstering its eastern front deployments, European-based US stockpiles are also now running low, and the US is now engaged in an air war over Iraq and Syria which is putting further strains on the US Pentagon’s resources and budget.