IDF Preparations For 2012 - The Northern Border
Driving along the northern tip of Israel one can observe, from various overlooks, a variety of villages in southern Lebanon. In the distance is the Golan Heights, where Israel shares a border with Syria.
In early December, The Israel Project (TIP) hosted a tour to the north for two dozen journalists. Our guide was IDF Brigadier General, Gal Hirsch. Now serving in the reserves, Hirsch has 25 years of experience fighting Israel’s enemies. Commanding infantry, serving as a paratrooper, and personally leading special forces, Hirsch has overseen battalions, brigades, and divisions in Judea and Samaria, as well as Lebanon. He also created and successfully carried out Operation Defensive Shield in 2002. This was a large scale military operation conducted in the West Bank to wipe out terrorist cells which were carrying out suicide bombings against Israeli civilians during the Second Intifada (the Palestinian Uprising).
During his military service, Hirsch was badly injured in a well-prepared Islamic Jihad ambush which sent him to the hospital for one year. Once 94% disabled, Hirsch proudly stated that his disability has now dropped to 60% through immense help from doctors both in Israel and in France. A week after he was released from the hospital, Hirsch was back in the field. He wanted to make sure that Islamic Jihad would not be able to send him home without the capability of continuing to serve his country.
Since he was 14 years old, Hirsch always knew he would be a defender of the nation of Israel. “Because for me, national is personal and personal is national.”
When mentioned by this writer that reports have indicated Israel has taken a more defensive rather than offensive role over the last few years, Hirsch said, “When you build the nation, it is not based only on armed forces and only on offensive maneuvers. You cannot go to war, again and again and again. We are doing our best to keep calm and preserve the peaceful environment.”
Driving along the border, Hirsch spoke of Israel’s Second Lebanon War in 2006. Some of the battles took place along the route we took, and he pointed out where some of the fiercest battles were fought. The terrorist group, Hezbollah, which is a Para-military organization that controls much of Lebanon, and has underground tunnels in southern Lebanon, was a formidable force that the IDF had to deal with during that war. Hirsch stated that he took a battalion of men down into the underground tunnels and fought Hezbollah in hand-to-hand combat.
Hirsch spoke about the art of war that he has taught for years, explaining how Israel’s defense forces deal with enemy combat units. “In any form of fighting, one front contains the other. When you defend, you should attack sometimes. It’s part of defensive maneuvers. You need to attack if you want to defend. You need to initiate if you want to defend. You should not be passive. We cannot be passive. If we will be passive, we will become a target.”
The purpose of Israeli forces is to defend the home front and protect Israel’s security and sovereignty. The fledgling nation is only 63 years old and is still going through birth pangs. Hirsch acknowledged, “We are seeking a normal life in the Middle East, which is something very problematic; A normal life in this neighborhood? That’s something that, probably, cannot work. If you want to live here, and exist here in these conditions in the last decade, you need to be strong enough, and capable to defend yourself.”
Hirsch re-emphasized that the IDF stands for Israel’s defense forces. This means that Israel does not seek to take pre-emptive action against its enemies. The problem today, however, is that Hezbollah has built up its weapons arsenal to three times what it was during the Second Lebanon War. Hezbollah now has short and long-range missiles pointed at the Jewish state which have the capability of hitting Israel’s most populated centers. If Hezbollah starts a war with Israel, the home front in most of the country will be within missile range. Hezbollah’s ability to hit Israel with a barrage of missiles has already altered the balance of power on Israel’s northern border.
Hirsch pointed out, “Hezbollah is a proxy; an Iranian force along the Israeli-Lebanon border and inside Lebanon, and actually it affects the Lebanese government as well.”
Furthermore, Hezbollah is the only terror organization that enjoys the support of three states – Lebanon, Syria, and Iran. Hezbollah uses Lebanese infrastructure for its terror activities. The terrorist group thrives on instability along the border with Israel. According to Hirsch this is “because Hezbollah is a global instability creator. And, this is something that is not only the problem of Israel”.
Hirsch commented that Israeli military forces will know when and where to attack to defend the citizens of the Jewish state. “We train, we prepare. That’s a big challenge. We are fighting for more than a hundred years on this piece of land; and, our legacy is thousands of years here. We need to prepare and educate the next generation to be ready to defend their homeland. We have the power and resources to defend ourselves.”
While Israel is preparing for an eventual war on its northern front, perhaps in 2012, Syria continues to receive advanced weapons from Iran and Russia, which often end up in the hands of Hezbollah. Against UN resolutions, Syria is illegally smuggling sophisticated missiles to the terrorist organization.
In the south of Lebanon, multinational forces are in place to control the flow of weapons. Hezbollah intimidates these forces so that missile smuggling will go unreported. The multinational force is also supposed to stop Hezbollah from infiltrating the Lebanese army that patrols along the border with Israel. But, in recent years, this has proven to be ineffective.
Hezbollah continues to find new ways of storing stockpiles of missiles in southern Lebanon, using civilian households as weapons depots, while building long sophisticated underground tunnels along Israel’s border. Hezbollah’s plan is to use its vast underground network to eventually create ambushes along the front with Israel. The IDF believes that Hezbollah will try to kidnap IDF soldiers in the future, like it did in 2006 which started the Second Lebanon War.
In the meantime, how has Hezbollah preserved its presence in south Lebanon while the multinational force is in place? Hirsch explained, “They do what we call ‘low signature’. It means that they are still there. They dress unofficial, or dress civil. They try to make events that will look like civil activities – flags, demonstrations, riots, stones, and still they build their infrastructure secretly.”
This has increased Hezbollah’s strength in Lebanon as it looks for new ways of preserving its weapons supplies. But, Lebanon is only a platform for the terrorist group.
The coordination between Hezbollah and Syria’s embattled President Bashar Assad was very strong before the Second Lebanon War, and has been strong since then. While Syria has become unstable, the chain between Iran, Syria, and Hezbollah has remained unbroken. Iran cannot smuggle weapons directly to Hezbollah without coming under international condemnation. Smuggling these weapons through Syria, because of Syria’s open border with Lebanon, helps cover Iran’s rogue activities.
“One can claim they never supply to Hezbollah, they supply to Syria. One can say we never lend them weapons from Beirut. It never happened, it’s not us,” Hirsch explained. “We exposed it, everybody knows it, and we saw it in the battlefield.”
While the IDF closely monitors the activities of both Hezbollah and the LAF (Lebanese Armed Forces), Israeli soldiers have to remain vigilant. “Our alert situation in the north is high and strong, daily,” claimed Hirsch.
Israeli citizens in the north have enjoyed six years of relative peace, but that could be changing. Israel’s deterrence along the northern border has been effective since the end of the 2006 war, but in recent weeks, some missiles have been launched from Lebanon, which neither Hezbollah nor the LAF claim responsibility for. Reports have indicated that shadow terrorist organizations in Lebanon launched the missiles, which is a worrying development for Israel.
Hirsch warned, “This is not a border where we can go to sleep. We must continue to be on high alert; aware of what happens; trying to bring as much intelligence as we can; and, being ready for war, if it starts. We hope it won’t start. It’s not in our interest to open a war in Lebanon. We are not looking for war.”
Pointing to Israel’s northern border, Hirsch put the Lebanese government on notice. “They should take responsibility for everything that happens here, and for sure, we will not forget it if there will be another war. Lebanon is a sovereign country, and they should make sure that nothing is going to happen from their territory to our territory.
Yet, even with Hirsch’s warnings, he realizes that Israel cannot control the strategic operations of its enemies; and, he recognizes the fact that the real instigator is Iran. He spoke of the conflict on the border, describing it as a fight between the free world, including the West, and the evil forces in Iran. It is in Iran’s interest to make sure that the friction on the border will be preserved.
The intentions of Iran, he explained, is that the capabilities of Hezbollah will be effective, able to attack Israel with conventional weapons and a large variety of missiles and rockets, at any time.
As the media tour drew to a close, Hirsch let journalists know, “Israel is your front guard, and Israel for many years has been the front guard of the free world; because the terror starts here and then arrives to Manhattan, Madrid, London and Bali. We are your front guard and you should remember this.”
“Let the redeemed of the Lord say so, whom He has redeemed from the hand of the enemy.” Psalm 107:2
Ms. Haves is a news analyst, reporting on political, diplomatic, military and spiritual issues in Israel and the nations.
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