by Dr. Col. (res.) Moshe Elad
Hezbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah may try to rehabilitate his standing slightly by retaliating for the Kuntar assassination, but the memories of 2006 are still fresh in his mind. That is deterrence.
If the foreign reports attributing the assassination of Samir Kuntar and several other senior "Hezbollah Syria" commanders to Israel are true, we can certainly assert that Israel's long-standing deterrence against Hezbollah is still intact, not only in southern Lebanon, but against the organization as a whole, including its various affiliates and its Iranian patron.
Israel has not always established the best deterrence in Lebanon. On Feb. 16, 1992, an Israeli attack helicopter assassinated Hezbollah leader Sheikh Abbas al-Musawi in southern Lebanon. The original intention was to take the sheikh hostage and use him as a bargaining chip to retrieve Israeli prisoners, among them Ron Arad, but ultimately the order came down to take the Shiite leader out.
Hezbollah's retaliation was swift and fierce: two massive bombings, at the Israeli Embassy and at the AMIA Jewish community center in Buenos Aires, which killed 114 people, caused immense damage, and signaled the rise of the Shiite group as a major problem for Israel and the Israel Defense Forces.
Ensuing IDF operations added to the bitter taste in the mouths of many Israelis. Operations Accountability (1993) and Grapes of Wrath (1996) were "technical victories," but did little to clearly sway the pendulum of deterrence in Israel's favor. The IDF's withdrawal from southern Lebanon in May 2000 and the abandonment of the South Lebanese Army will also be remembered as one of the lowest points in this balance of power, only to be surpassed by the Second Lebanon War in 2006.
That war, however, was actually a turning point, which due to a combination of factors produced one of the longest periods of deterrence we have known. First, the war-weary, shell-shocked Shiite residents of south Lebanon did everything they could to persuade Hezbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah to cease his "military campaigns," the main casualties of which were not Christians or Sunnis, but Shiites. Second, for five years now, Hezbollah has been up to its neck in the Syrian mud. The organization has lost some 500 fighters during a campaign in which their combat skills have received low grades. Third, European pestering over Nasrallah's alliance with Iran in Syria, along with intimations of possibly bringing him to trial for the murder of former Lebanese Prime Minister Rafik Hariri in 2005, have served as a constant source of concern for the Shiite leader.
Over the past decade, we learned from foreign reports that Israel has struck Hezbollah leaders on at least three occasions: First it was the world's most wanted terrorist, Imad Mugniyeh (February 2008); then his son, Jihad, and his cohort (January 2015), both without a response from Hezbollah. And now, the assassination of Kuntar, who was close to Nasrallah, is like an arrow through the heart of the Shiite leader.
Will Hezbollah retaliate this time? Seven years ago, following the assassination of Mugniyeh, the organization threatened that "tens of thousands of missiles are pointed at Israel" and that it was "about to carry out" two types of revenge attacks: namely, a large terrorist attack inside Israel or on one of its embassies abroad, and the assassination or abduction of a senior Israeli personality, a government minister or army chief of staff, or Israeli businessmen. Nasrallah may try rehabilitating his standing slightly, by retaliating for the Kuntar assassination, but the memories of 2006 are still fresh in his mind. That is deterrence.
Dr. Col. (res.) Moshe Elad is a lecturer on national security issues at Western Galilee College. He is a former military governor of the Jenin and Bethlehem Districts, as well as a former head of the Regional Security Committee with the Palestinian Authority.
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