Everybody and their brother thinks that 2010 will witness a second round between Hezbollah and Israel. I hope, for Lebanon’s sake, that this will not be the case and I’m not as convinced as some that a conflict is inevitable in the near term. The current situation benefits both sides, in my opinion: Israel gets a quiet northern front and Hezbollah gets to re-group, re-arm, and weigh their options while certain relevant regional powers weigh theirs.
But just for argument’s sake, I thought I’d ask several well-known Lebanon-watchers for their opinion on the question of how the next war, la sama7a Allah, would likely start. I agreed to publish their comments anonymously, but trust me: they have something like 489 years of experience studying Lebanon, they’ve had university chairs and graduate programs named after them, and there’s a move afoot to chisel their faces into Mount Sannine. Here are their thoughts:
Commentator 1: I think the most likely trigger is the old 1982 scenario. Hizballah takes some action outside the conflict zone which Israel then uses as an excuse to “finish the job” north of the border.
Commentator 2: I still think the trigger is going to be: the muqawama shoots down a jet on overflight. This is followed by botched search and rescue à la Mogadishu except it ends with not only a day-long gunbattle but around 11 IDF hostages that trigger a full bore invasion.
I pick this one because it’s the scenario most likely to benefit Hezbollah, while simultaneously wrecking Lebanon. Say what you will about Nasrallah but things tend to break his way.
Commentator 3: Three potential triggers and in no particular order:
(1) Commentator 2’s suggestion, which for Hezbollah is probably the best as they can explain it within the role of defending Lebanese sovereignty against Israeli aggression. “We gave the UN and international community a chance to stop the overflights by diplomacy, but they did nothing so we decided to act”. But they would have to be damn sure of a successful hit first time around. If they fire a missile from a newly installed SA-8 and it misses, the game is up.
(2) Mughniyah revenge: an Israeli embassy goes up in smoke or someone important gets assassinated. No claim of responsibility, but everyone knows who it is and the Israelis attack Lebanon. Hezbollah can claim “Hey it wasn’t us. We’re the only enemies Israel has?” to offset domestic backlash.
(3) Something related to an attack on Iran – the Israelis hit Lebanon before hitting Iran/Hizb retaliates to an attack on Iran/Iranian retaliation to an Israeli attack sparks regional conflagration etc etc.
To me, the situation is similar to the 2000-06 period: it was obvious there was going to be a war between Hezbollah and Israel; the unknowns were when and what would spark it. We found out the answer on July 12, 06. Now, however, although again it’s clear there will be another war, both sides are much more wary. Israeli strategists are talking about the Dahiyah doctrine and the concept of punishment, not dissimilar to Ops Accountability and Grapes of Wrath in 1993 and 1996. Next time, they say, we won’t bother try to defeat Hezbollah, instead we’ll smash Lebanon to demonstrate to the Lebanese the folly of tolerating them.
In my point of view, it won’t work. With the specter of the Goldstone Report hovering above their heads, the Israelis are looking for a swift and violent campaign that can be waged and completed before the international community can mobilize. By the time, the UNSC is being badgered to take action, Israel can declare the operation over and wag a finger at the Lebanese and say “Now, don’t do it again”. That might work if the Lebanese crawl from under the rubble and say “Gee, thanks Israel for stopping the bombing”. But what happens when Hezbollah continues firing rockets into Israel and starts sending their boys across the border even as the Israelis are declaring mission accomplished? The Israelis will have to react, and that’s where they face getting sucked into a massively destructive and prolonged conflict, with the international community sharpening its pencils for Goldstone II. Hezbollah’s boys seem to genuinely believe that the next war will be the final one with Israel. In 2006 they fought defensively and reactively. Next time, they say, they are going offensive with all that entails for both sides.
So there you have it. Feel free to weigh in, in the comment section. Also, along the same lines is an opinion piece by Emile Hokayem from a couple of days ago.
I agree that the current stand-off benefits both sides, and neither side wants to be the one that goes on the offensive.
The problem with Israel’s “everyone will suffer for Hizbullah’s misdemeanors” means that it might not even take a Hizbullah offensive to spark another bombardment.
Tel Aviv has said last year that if ANYONE kills an Israeli citizen abroad, Hizbullah (read: Lebanon) will be held accountable. And, like you said, Israel is not left wanting on the enemies front.
This week we saw LAF guns open fire on Israeli aircraft. While it was more of a “sod off” gesture, rather than a genuine attempt to down the jets, it was a risky maneuver nonetheless.
Hizbullah might not need to be the one to act, defensively or otherwise, for Israel to shoehorn an offensive into the “retaliation” category.
Hezbollah’s boys seem to genuinely believe that the next war will be the final one with Israel. In 2006 they fought defensively and reactively. Next time, they say, they are going offensive with all that entails for both sides.
Please explain to the forun how the Hezzies fought “defensively” when when they started the war firing missiles and taking out 2 armoured vehicles on the Israeli side of the border?
The Obama Administration: gettin’ tuff with terrorists…
why do you or none of your commentators consider the means by which Israel could wage another war on Lebanon? after all, they tried in 2006 and they couldnt get more than a few miles inside Lebanon and they bombed all over the country killing mostly civilians. if theyre going to wage another war anytime soon, what would they do differently this time around? surely they wouldn’t want to experience another embarrassing defeat like 2006, and as someone addresses above, it probably wouldnt be a good idea for them to commit additional war crimes while they already have goldstone to deal with. i think israel was banking on may 2008, which was a scenario that in many ways resembled the mid-70s when internal conflict began in Lebanon and weakened the fidayiin. the big difference of course was that may 08 lasted only 36 hrs and not 15 yrs. so now, with hizballah probably better trained and equipped than ever, what options does israel have? i’m not saying israel wouldnt find an excuse to try 2006 all over again, just that it would be very stupid if they did. hizballah is not going to attack israel unprovoked (shooting down israeli jet in lebanese airspace is defending not attacking), unless something happens in iran which is a scary scenario.
I knew that Turkey/Israel thing was a bad omen…
Great and timely post, QN, but I have to both agree and disagree. First, agree with you that a war is less likely than commonly believed. I think at this point people have a gut reaction whenever they hear sabre-rattling from both sides, believing that to automatically mean there will be a war.
A few problems with that, though. While I don’t doubt at all the expertise of the anonymous commentators, the scenarios they describe seem incredibly unlikely. Commentators 1 and 3 point to potential outside attacks by Hezb as a trigger, but they’ve been out of that game for a while. Moreover, an outside attack would seem to jeopardize the “resistance cred” they’ve worked so assiduously to build. And since Hezb now forms part of the government, there are far fewer issues to an Israeli strike. In fact, a terrorist attack linked to Hezbollah might be the only thing that could tamp down international criticism of an Israeli reprisal, so that’s out.
As for the overflight shoot-down, it’s a real possibility, but as Commentator 3 said, they’re really far up the creek if they miss. And linking an attack on Hezb to an Iran attack is a possibility, but needs an Iran attack to happen. And the recent public comments from the IDF general saying Iran is years away would seem to indicate some division among Israeli leadership about that, which to me lessens the chance of any attack (among other reasons).
The thing is, I think people underestimate just how humiliated the IDF was in 2006. They emerged alright domestically because the rocket fire stopped, so they could still claim a successful op. But their performance said very bad things about IDF capabilities, things that seem to have not been corrected satisfactorily. At least that’s what the new State Comptroller’s report seems to show. And that doesn’t even get into the fear of another Goldstone kind of situation. While that would make a quick strike more likely, I just don’t see it happening, because a quick strike is unlikely to deter Hezb, and as you said, would fall apart if the op ends and Hezb starts launching rockets.
I agree with all scenarios. I think the trigger though would be Iran. Any overflight shooting will most likely result in a limited taking out of a few radar sites…HA would be foolish to ever think that their “divine victory” will be repeated! They will be devastated and the internal hatred towards them that exists currently (which is being sugar coated and covered up with useless reconciliation cheek kisssing)will boil! Iran would not accept another disaster as 2006! They have their internal problems and possibility of an attack is always hanging over their head!
I think we can dismiss the scenarios from commenter 1 and 2.
The 3rd scenario from commenter 3, while unlikely (I personally don’t expect an IASF attack on Iran’s nuclear site(s), nonetheless it represents the most credible scenario.
That said, I wouldn’t expect an Israeli preemption on Hezbollah to precede the Israeli attack. In this scenario, the preemption would probably be limited to IASF attacks on SRBMs such as the ZelZal series and possibly the Fateh-110. I believe the Israelis realize they cannot reliably take out Hezbollah’s SRBMs (as they may have done in 2006), so a first strike would prompt Hezbollah (and the Lebanese nation) to retaliate using these SSM assets. It would be wiser for the Israelis to be in a position of retaliation, rather than vice-versa.
Would Hezbollah strike Israel first in the case of an attack on Iran? Very hard to predict. On the one hand, they have their alliance with Iran. On the other hand, the drastic effects of an Israeli retaliation upon Lebanon as a whole could serve to politically undermine them, nationally. In the end, I’m inclined to think that Hezbollah would not strike Israel after an Israeli attack on Iran. Iran’s MRBMs would consist of the primary response, and Lebanon’s SSMs would not effectively contribute towards a retaliatory effort in that much more a meaningful way. Better to keep these assets as a means of deterrence against a widening ME conflict.
Bottom line: I do not expect any sort of major conflict erupting between Israel and Lebanon in 2010.
What people do not understand is that Israel did not wage a “war” in 2006. In fact, it was not called a war till a few weeks after it started. The Israeli mind set was that of an action like in the West Bank or Gaza. Of course, that was a mistake.
This time around, Israel will wage war from the beginning and it take over all of South Lebanon to the Litani.
Since 2006 there are brigades and division that have been solely practicing for this task. Israel intelligence efforts regarding Hezbollah and Lebanon have grown substantially. Israel also has a few technological surprises for Hezbollah including tanks armed with active armor.
As for “Goldstone” issues holding us back, that is very unlikely. Especially with Hezbollah shooting missiles at Israel also and with Netanyahu as PM.
I would like to remind everybody that while Hamas is not Hezbollah, they were taught by them and they were very ineffective against the IDF.
In the end, it is the result of the actual fighting that will convince people. We will just have to wait and see which side has learned its lessons better from 2006.
Barking Dog Theory: The more talk of a war happening ‘soon’, the less likely it is going to happen.
I don’t think war will happen except after a game changer. Hezballah procuring anti-aircraft systems could trigger a hizb operation, or provoke Israel to pre-emptively strike before they are deployed. Or maybe Iron Dome will inspire a surge of bellicosity by the IDF.
But in the current strategic balance, the outcome of a war is too uncertain for either side.
In the actual 1982 scenario a group totally unconnected with the PLO but was easy to link in those more naive times committed the act that led to the invasion.
Hizballah has no such group to be linked to and they will not take some action outside of the conflict zone.
And the resistance is not going to give away a hand like that on one jet. That would be a real change in their policy – They don’t use their “surprises” up until the last possible minute.
Doing so would be only be an attempt at deterrence and we know it would not work so why would they?
Also, the Iran scenario is unlikely unless Israel purposefully wanted to try to take on Lebanon and Iran in the same war.
So the only probable scenario from those above is the revenge one.
But now lets talk real world.
Why do all the commentators above see the Resistance as the ones instigating a war in all but one scenario when Israels excuses for its invasions of Lebanon have had nothing to do with Lebanon in all but one occasion?
As we know, even from 06, when Israel wants a war, it will fabricate, twist and employ its entire fiction/propaganda dept. to come up with excuses.
Why do all the commentators above see the Resistance as the ones instigating a war…
It depends on how you define “resistance”. Since Israel is not occupying Lebanon and has no dispute with the international border, “the commentators above” can only conclude that the “resistance” is in love with war, especially against Jooos.
Maybe you have a better answer? Ohms Law?
I hope you are all wrong. how about the scenario where the Israeli and Lebanese people shall all embrace, denouce war and eat humus at the Metulla – Khiam crossing.
Repeat after me everyone.. All we are sayyyyyyyyyying is give peace a chance…
🙂 “caugh caugh heeeere”
I concur whole heartedly with you. The problem is not the Lebanese and Israeli people and even governments. I think both Israelis and Lebanese are happy with the status quo. The problem are the Iranians and to a much lesser extent the Syrians.
Why would Iran invest in Hezbollah if the border with Israel remains quiet? What does Iran gain from that? And if Israel attacks Iran, isn’t it clear that Iran will ask Hezbollah to retaliate? Why would the Syrians risk international wrath and smuggle weapons to Hezbollah if the border with Israel is not affected? How does that serve Syrian interests?
The problem is that the status quo is great for Lebanon and Israel but not for Hezbollah’s patrons.
I agree with mo.
The one thing he under emphasizes though is that Israel currently has the most rabidly violent and messianic government in its recent history. one should not be fooled to think that just because there has been a low level of conflict thus far for this group of israeli terrorists, that they will not soon decide to start foaming at the mouth and go on a killing spree.
So I am solidly on the war side of the equation. as for how, I assume Israel will start a regional war of some kind (whether with the palestinians or the iranians) and Hizbullah will be forced to respond.
I think the best warning signs will be that the zionists will try to make “progress” in negotiations with the PA collaberationists, so they can hide behind that. I don’t think they worry about a Goldstone II.
But let’s not forget, even though Nasrallah says he regrets 2006, Hizbullah’s “cross-border raid” on a group of zionist terrorist soldiers was in direct response to Isrseli war crimes against Gaza, and Hizbullah was trying to defend the innocent palestinian people from a massive zionist attack.
What you say does not make sense.
Why wasn’t Hezbollah “forced to respond” during the recent Gaza offensive, but will be “forced to respond” in a future one? What is the difference?
I do agree that Hezbollah will attack Israel when Israel attacks Iran. But why is it “forced” to do so? Wouldn’t responding be against Lebanese interests? Why drag Lebanon into an Israeli-Iranian war? What can Lebanon gain from that?
Ayatollah Joe m.,
What about the rabidly violent Mahdist government of Iran and their little Hezbollah terrorist thugs, do you think they too are foaming at the mouth and would soon provoke the killing spree? You know, knowing how they love being the victims and all one should consider that possibility too.
How would that work? I mean, at least from what I’ve read, it’s not like Hezbollah actually has the logistics or ability to take and hold territory in Israel proper, particularly if Israel starts hitting them really hard on the air and ground.
My under-standing is that it’s basically impossible for Israel to hit and destroy all of the Iranian nuclear-related sites without using nuclear-tipped warheads on missiles. They don’t have the bombing capability without multiple re-fueling attempts over a third country (Iraq in the shortest route), they don’t have the non-nuclear ordinance to destroy the underground stuff, and so forth.
Assuming they actually have the capability to shoot down an Israeli jet, this one would do it. It’d be just like the IDF to completely bungle a retrieval, and Israel to start a new war to get the hostages back.
I mean, it’s only been about 4 years since the last major war in Lebanon by Israel against Hezbollah. It usually takes at least a few years for strategic stupidity to overcome resistance in Israel’s general staff.
all possible. keep an open mind about it. no comment. 😛 in the end…no one wins..everybody loses.
The chances of Hezbollah being able to down an Israeli plane are very slim. Let’s all remember what happened in 82 when Israel easily destroyed the SAM batteries and downed tens of Syrian planes:
Since then, Israels technological advantage has grown significantly.
Non-sense the biggest catalyst to the war will be the World Cup taking place this summer.
A suppoter of Italya m3almi (Italy) and a supporter of Ilmonya sidi (Germany) will clash in a cafe causing a katyusha rocket to stray into Isreal, sparking off the new war.
You can bet on that.
My crystal ball says:
A war is likely to happen and it will be a devastating war. Israel will not initiate yet.
Hezbollah will unleach an attack on Israel, they have been itching to use their new missiles, in response to an Israeli operation against Iran.
Irrespective of whether one thinks that Israel should take action against Iran or not, I feel certain that Israel will justify its action by labelling it a question of existence. As soon as Mosad becomes certain of the Iranian nuclear capability and if the West does not take any action Israel will attack and Hezbollah will live up to what it considers to be its moral responsibility, defend the Mullahs in Qom. Lebanon will be sacrificied again.
This might sound like self promotion which normally I don’t like to do but for those that are interested I have two posts on this on: rationalrepublic.blogspot.com
IS Lebanon to be The Sacrificial Lamb for Qom?
Hezbollah: Creative Destruction?
Sorry QN for taking advantage of your hospitality.
ghassan karam predicts:
Hezbollah will unleach an attack on Israel, they have been itching to use their new missiles, in response to an Israeli operation against Iran … I feel certain that Israel will justify its action by labelling it a question of existence.
Thank you for showing that Israel will need to “justify its action”, after “Hezbollah will unleach an attack on Israel”.
Maybe I’m not objective, but it seems to me Israel is the only country in the world that needs to “justify its action” after an enemy country unleashed missiles.
You seem to have an uncanny ability of creating a problem when one doesn’t exist:-)
The last time I checked the dictionary for “Justify” ; which was 60 seconds ago; this is what I found: “To demonstrate or prove to be just, right, or valid”.
Calm down, will you.
Wow, gloomy predictions. I’m looking for a silver lining. I guess a Lebanese vacation is out of the question this year (I was searching for air tix up until the day hostilities broke in the summer of 2006). Who can believe anything any more? It all seems like a crapshoot.
You seem to have a way of walking into a retirement village and asking “I think their is something wrong with today’s young people. What do you think?”
Whatever do you mean? 🙂
Get off of my stereotype. Get your own.
Since it’s a question of prediction. I think there will be no war in 2010.
Hope I’m right, since nobody wins in war.
For what it’s worth, I think the chances of war this year are pretty slim. I think Israel will not attack Iran this year. I would not cancel my trip to Lebanon if I were you.
Yes, Israel is definitely required to justify its action, if it attacks Iran!
I will bet you Manaeesh to bagels?
Bagels??? Strange NY invention.
I will put on the line a za’atar pita from the famous Aboulafia bakery in Jaffa.
Here is my bet:
Yes, Israel is definitely required to justify its action, if it attacks Iran!
The issue was retaliation from Hezbo missiles, not Iran. In any case, Israel can justify its attack fairly well right now considering Iran’s actions, statements, threats, and non-compliance with the UN/NPT.
In any case, I predict no war in 2010.
Here’s my bet…
gotta love the battle for the largest Hommous plate…I think that is all thats going to wager come this year.Every government are too entrenched in diplomacy at the moment for any premature fireworks.
Why would “Lebanon watchers” with geo/political agendas be considered reliable when it comes to possibilities of “Operation Do-Over” happening in this New Year?
“Israel watchers” would have a better perspective on the probabilities if their calculations are based on the IDF’s military preparations, manuevers and mobilizations.
Fortunately for Lebanon, the later group includes officials of the ISF, LAF and the current Lebanese government. Oh yeah, and Hezbollah, too.
Of course, they have very real reasons to be concerned about Lebanon’s security. Quite unlike those who are invested in other agendas that depend on following a wellworn script in order to maintain or achieve success among the influential policy circles riddled with the likes of David Schenker, Jeffrey Feltman and Daniel Shapiro.
In any case, Israel can justify its attack fairly well right now considering Iran’s actions, statements, threats, and non-compliance with the UN/NPT.
Iran can also justify its actions superbly well considering Israel’s actions, statements, threats, and non-compliance with the UN/NPT (even more so than Iran).
I can’t think of any realistic scenario where Hezbollah would risk the unfavorable internal Lebanese backlash that would undoubtedly succeed any operation by Hezbollah that ignites another war. They’re not going to do it just because they’re “itching to try their new rockets.” If Israel destroys Lebanon anew– and we can be sure that Israel will not risk a conflict that ends with an inconclusive ceasefire this time without wreaking far greater death and destruction than in 2006, because the stakes are even higher (Goldstone or not)– the issue of Hezbollah’s arms will signify a life or death cause to the Lebanese who want to live in a Dubai on the Mediterranean and anyone with business interests. In short, what’s at stake for Hezbollah, should it look like they provoked a war, is the future of their weapons in Lebanon, once the dust settles. I don’t think they can afford that right now.
What’s at stake for Israel, apart from another Goldstone inquiry, (which they will be sure to quash in advance this time,) is their deterrence—and that is everything to them. Lebanon is where Israel routinely miscalculates, blunders and retreats. By comparison, beating up Gaza is like stuffing your underwear with tissue paper to appear better endowed at face value; it works superficially and in the short-term for the crowd at home. But a war with Hezbollah that ends inconclusively is to be avoided at all costs because it exposes Israel’s fundamental weakness– to its own citizens and to its enemies. Given the paranoid state of Israel’s populace and its desire for harsh responses and macho men politicians, a war can be viewed as sort of an endgame—at worst—for both Hezbollah and Israel. On the other hand, Israel is known to overestimate its abilities and there’s no evidence that they won’t blunder into thinking they can get rid of Hezbollah once and for all. After all, it was clear to anyone with half a brain cell that they would never succeed in destroying Hezbollah in 2006 even before the first shots were fired. They didn’t seem to know that,though, and the poor intelligence they had in 2006 (kidnapping Nasrallah’s namesake, the 75 year old grocer, et al), failing to disrupt Hezbollah’s communications, its TV station and its military capacity, doesn’t bode well for them in the near future. The arrogance of power has infected them, which is a sort of wild card in any scenario (in addition to the ‘let’s show them we’re crazy’ strategy of Halutz and Barak, and the Dahiye doctrine). So, my prediction is: Israel might be stupid enough to start a war or use some incident as a pretext for war, but Hezbollah won’t. Hezbollah might shoot down an Israeli plane, but that’s not enough of a pretext for Israel to demolish the country and that would—in fact—be the only scenario where Hezbollah would come away looking good within Lebanon.
Galey wrote: “Whatever the cause of the disaster, it has exposed the uncomfortable and often unuttered truth that *many* Lebanese are still virulently racist.”
Galey also said, “many Lebanese, ” Matthew. My issue with this sentence is with “still virulently racist.” *Still* implies that racism is an issue of backwardness or a lack of progress, which infers that other peoples are no longer racist. Yes, the west is racist– and perhaps less overtly so when it comes to certain procedures– as would hopefully be the case of DNA testing victims or giving mourners access to their family. But this should be no cause for comfort or smugness in the west; it only means that they have– in some aspects– de-institutionalized overt racism and segregation against one group, only to engage in racial profiling and hate-mongering against another. And institutionalized racism is alive and well in the US as we all know, only less overt than 60 years ago (mass incarceration instead of ‘whites only’). Muslims were also shepherded off stage and out of camera range at Obama’s campaign rallies during the 2008 primaries. The appropriate title would have been– perhaps– “Airline crash *highlights* Lebanon’s racist underbelly” since the exposure was there before and has been one of the 3 topics or so covered by western media (Hezbollah, gay nightlife, racist Lebanese), and locally of course (Al Akhbar.)
But this is semantical nitpicking at this point, and its totally within the realm of possibility that Galey didn’t pick the title himself.
In Galey’s defense, he did mention that the western press also focused on Lebanese casualties: “The BBC even commissioned a special report on the Lebanese diasporas in Western Africa. No such article was mooted for the reverse demographic.”
There has been an outpouring of outrage within Lebanon as well about the treatment of migrant workers. Galey could have mentioned that. Still I agree that too many Lebanese are racist and that this extends to officialdom. I’ve heard a Lebanese judge say –in “polite” company– that Ethiopian suicides are a result of “their mental problems.” Everyone present there (wealthy Lebanese) nodded in agreement. Another woman i know who doesn’t pay her domestic worker for months on end recently joined a group on facebook called “Lebanese for human rights.” I doubt that she’s aware of her own hypocrisy, and if people like her, who care more or about how they are perceived in the west need to read about their own racism in the western press then so be it. In general, it is a good thing that attention be drawn to this issue. Of course any news that reflects badly on Arabs will always give Arab-haters a point to belabor in defense of their own racism. That’s obviously problematic. I don’t think we have a solution to this, except perhaps a duty to point out that there are outraged Lebanese and to give them airtime, as well. Personally, I’m never offended when people say Europeans or Americans are racist. I know it to be true and I welcome the observation. Large swaths of Lebanese society are racist and accept racism against migrant laborers and people with darker complexions. If there were law enforcement to protect migrant labor rights and government initiatives, this would have to change, so I’m all for blaming officials first and foremost. Shaming is the first step.
Perhaps israel will feel forced to a preemptive strike since they know where the
now very large hezbollah ammunition dumps are. A massive first strike in full force should degrade this. Hezbollah just has more of the same, and bombarding the north of israel where more arab then jews where killed in 2006 since the north has an arab majority, will be considered a big plus by
rightwing israeli’s. Like scoring in you own goal, especially since many jews will immediately move south.
I would hit first since i believe a war is inevitable anyway.