Seeing Red Along the Blue Line

On July 30, 2006, an Israeli warplane dropped its deadly munitions on an apartment building in the southern Lebanese town of Qana as part of its military operations against Hezbollah during the 2006 Israel-Hezbollah war. The aerial bombardment buried two large Lebanese families beneath the rubble -- killing 28 civilians, including 16 children. The attack carried grim echoes of the 1996 Israeli shelling of a U.N. compound in Qana, which killed 106 Lebanese civilians and wounded 116 more.

Israeli officials, just as they had after the 1996 attack, immediately expressed regret for the bombing and claimed once again that it was a tragic mistake. The ensuing international outrage prompted the Israel Defense Forces (IDF) to suspend its military campaign in Lebanon for two days to allow for an investigation into the event.

The 2006 war ended inconclusively two weeks later with a U.N.-brokered cease-fire that provided for the withdrawal of Israeli troops from Lebanon and the introduction of Lebanese army forces and additional U.N. peacekeepers in southern Lebanon. In the five years since the second Qana massacre and the war's conclusion, Lebanon and Israel have enjoyed a rare calm along their border. But both sides are aware that the possibility of renewed conflict remains high and have been furiously updating their weaponry and tactics in anticipation of another round.

Should another war happen, we believe that it will be even larger and bloodier than the 2006 conflict. Our judgment is based on extensive field research in Lebanon covering the military preparations of both sides and analyzing their own assessments of the likelihood and nature of a future war. Over the past five years, we interviewed and spoke with dozens of Hezbollah members, including political leaders, advisors, commanders, IT specialists, and foot soldiers.

Although Hezbollah chief Hassan Nasrallah claimed that the 2006 war constituted a "divine victory," his organization suffered substantial -- but sustainable -- losses during the fighting, and the truce that ended the war cost the party its autonomy and entire military infrastructure in south Lebanon. In the five years since, Hezbollah has responded by swelling its ranks with dedicated cadres and reviving its multi-sectarian reservist units. It has also acquired long-range rockets fitted with guidance systems, which enable it to develop a target list of specific military and infrastructure sites in Israel.

The organization is also believed to have received training on more advanced air-defense systems that could pose a threat to low-flying Israeli air assets, such as helicopters and drones.

With the support of Iran, Hezbollah has made further advances in its signals intelligence and communications capabilities, which play an increasingly vital role in its ability to wage war against Israel. Hezbollah is expected to use these upgraded capabilities to attempt to take the offensive in a future conflict, extending the fight into Israel through land and seaborne commando raids. The next war's battlefield will therefore likely be larger than the traditional theater of southern Lebanon and northern Israel.

Bilal Y. Saab is a Ph.D. candidate in the department of government and politics at the University of Maryland, College Park. Nicholas Blanford, Beirut correspondent for the Christian Science Monitor and the Times of London, is author of Warriors of God: Inside Hezbollah's Thirty-Year Struggle Against Israel. This article is taken from a larger study by the authors titled "The Next War: How Another Conflict Between Hizballah and Israel Could Look and How Both Sides Are Preparing For It."

The above article was published in foreignpolicy.com on July 29th, 2011(8:09p.m.).

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