by Ari Lieberman
But Nasrallah should be careful what he wishes for.
Last Thursday, Hezbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah boasted in a televised address (he rarely makes live appearances) that the next war with Israel would be waged in Israeli territory. Nasrallah said that Israel was “scared and worried... and knows that [war] could be inside the occupied Palestinian territories.” Nasrallah’s tough rhetoric is somewhat peculiar as it comes from a man who’s been living underground for the past 11 years and rarely resides at any given location for any lengthy period of time for fear of being at the receiving end of Israel’s long arm.
Nasrallah’s speech was meant to mark the one year anniversary of the liquidation of Hezbollah’s chief of special operations Mustafa Badreddine, who was killed in Syria under mysterious circumstances. Badreddine replaced Imad Mughniyeh in that capacity. Mughniyeh himself was killed in 2008 in Damascus in a hit widely believed to have been executed by Mossad and CIA operatives in a joint operation.
Nasrallah’s bombast is eerily reminiscent of Arab rhetoric just prior to the June 1967 Six-Day War, which ended badly for the Arabs. Calls for an Arab invasion and Israel’s destruction reached fever pitch in the days preceding the war, with Arab leaders vying for top spot in the shrill contest.
On May 22, 1967 Radio Cairo announced that, “the Arab people is firmly resolved to wipe Israel off the map.” On May 31, President Abdel Rahman Aref of Iraq announced, “our goal is clear – to wipe Israel off the map. We shall, God willing, meet in Tel Aviv and Haifa.” Not to be outdone, PLO chairman, Ahmed Shukairy, boasted on June 1, that, “we shall destroy Israel and its inhabitants and as for the survivors – if there are any – the boats are ready to deport them.” Government leaders of other Arab countries, including those of Jordan, Syria, Yemen, Algeria and Saudi Arabia, joined in on the hate fest.
Israel’s answer to its enemy’s venom was delivered on June 5, 1967 at 7:45 a.m. At precisely that time, Israel unleashed its version of Shock and Awe, and in just under 3 hours, destroyed the bulk of the air forces of Egypt, Syria and Jordan. Some 452 Arab aircraft – MiG-21s, MiG-19s, MiG-17s, Hawker Hunters and various medium and heavy bombers were instantly transformed into expensive heaps of scrap metal.
The Israel Defense Forces then forged ahead, and with lightning speed, routed the Arab armies who ran with their tails between their legs. In the final analysis, shrill Arab rhetoric amounted to nothing more than hot air and false bravado.
Israel is far more powerful militarily, politically and economically today than it was in 1967 and Nasrallah and his mullah puppet masters in Iran should be cognizant of this before shooting off their mouths. Moreover, Hezbollah’s current geo-political situation is precarious at best. While the organization has gained valuable military experience from its ongoing operations in Syria, the group remains politically isolated. In most of the Arab world, Hezbollah has attained pariah-like status. The organization can count on only the Islamic Republic and the Assad regime – or what’s left of the Assad regime – for support.
Hezbollah’s economic situation is also reportedly in dire straits. The group’s ongoing operations in Syria have placed enormous strains on its finances, and sanctions imposed by the United States against banks and other companies doing business with the terror group have taken their toll as well.
Hezbollah is also reportedly experiencing significant infighting breaking the myth of loyalty and cohesion within the group. Indeed, the Saudi Al Arabiya news network reported that Badreddine, the very man who Nasrallah eulogized, was assassinated on orders issued by none other than Nasrallah. The IDF’s Chief of Staff Gadi Eisenkot expressed a similar view.
As the Syrian civil war drags on with apparently no end in sight, Hezbollah losses continue to mount. As of April 2017, at least 1048 Hezbollah terrorists were killed in action. That figure is based on funerals that were made public by Hezbollah or otherwise covered by Arab media. Of course, Hezbollah has developed a penchant for lying about casualties and underreporting losses, and actual Hezbollah casualties are believed to be significantly higher. Assad’s situation appears to have stabilized for now but only due to the massive presence of Russian, Iranian and Hezbollah forces. That means that Hezbollah will be stuck in Syria’s quagmire for the foreseeable future, which will inexorably lead to further casualties.
But Hezbollah has another more important reason to tone down the rhetoric. In 2006, Israel unleashed but a fraction of its might against the terror group and wrought devastation on entire Shiite enclaves in South Lebanon and South Beirut. Entire neighborhoods where Hezbollah operated were reduced to rubble. It took years for those affected areas to recover.
Israel largely spared Lebanese areas not under Shiite control. There is good reason to believe however, that Israel will not be so magnanimous in the next round. The Lebanese government headed by President Michel Aoun, has closely allied itself with the terror group. Aoun is almost certainly on Iran’s or Hezbollah’s payroll and his close association with the group has given Israel the green light needed for greater freedom of action. As Military Advocate-General Brig.-Gen. Sharon Afek noted, “Hezbollah’s integration into state institutions raises questions of state responsibility.”
Moreover, Hezbollah has embedded its military infrastructure in civilian areas believing that the presence of human shields will save it from an Israeli onslaught. But Israel has already made clear that it will not be constrained by Hezbollah’s cynical exploitation of the civilian population. In the next war, Israel will be taking off the gloves.
Nasrallah may talk the talk but he would be wise to tread lightly because in the next round, he will likely end up in the same predicament as his kinsmen in 1967. This is perhaps what is needed so that Lebanon can restore its sovereignty and Hezbollah can finally be put to rest.
Ari Lieberman is an attorney and former prosecutor who has authored numerous articles and publications on matters concerning the Middle East and is considered an authority on geo-political and military developments affecting the region.
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