War looms for Lebanon

Mina Adel, Wednesday 26 Jun 2024

Al-Ahram Weekly takes stock of Israel’s catastrophic campaign in Southern Lebanon.

Hezbollah fighters take part in a parade in May. Photo: AFP
Hezbollah fighters take part in a parade in May. Photo: AFP


On June 13 footage showing Israeli soldiers firing incendiaries from bows and a trebuchet at Lebanon in a similar way to the siege of Jerusalem of 70 CE went viral on X. Those videos were circulated for entertainment, but they contain a message reflecting the Israeli army intentions for Southern Lebanon.

After three days Hizbullah published a 10-minute video showing an aerial reconnaissance mission over many important and secretive sites carried out by a UAV called Hoopoe (Al-Hudhud in Arabic). Hizbullah leader Hassan Nasrallah’s speech was also referenced as evidence of the potential to target them. The Israeli air defence, particularly the Iron Dome, failed to neutralise this drone. Additionally, Hizbullah released another video showing a commercial suicide Drone FPV, most likely a DJI-Mavic effectively targeted the drone dome system, intended to intercept drones.

The escalation between Israel and Hizbullah has reached a critical point, as demonstrated by the failure of the Israeli-American Amos Hochstein mission to reach any solutions to hinder the escalation last week. The situation is compounded by the assassination of one of the most valuable Hizbullah leaders, Taleb Sami Abdullah, which triggered the firing of hundreds of rockets and suicide drones over three days in retaliation. This forced the Israeli army to make public the approval of offensive plans to invade Southern Lebanon, with initial indications in April 2024 that they would include the establishment of a buffer zone 10 kilometres away to keep Hizbullah 15 kilometres from the nearest within Israeli borders.

Michel Goya, a retired Nato colonel and former assistant to the chief of staff of the French Armed Forces told Al-Ahram Weekly: “The idea of a buffer zone in Southern Lebanon dates back to the establishment of the Palestine Liberation Organisation [PLO] in the early 1970s. The aim was to prevent the carrying out of Palestinian raids in the north of Israel and then to prevent the firing of rockets. In 1978, the Israelis organised a first cleaning operation in the region, very violent and provoking a strong international reaction.

In the end, the Israelis preferred to evacuate the area and instead rely, as later around Gaza, on a defence barrier and the ability to carry out ground and air raids in Lebanon. This strategy was put in check in the summer of 2006, as Hizbullah managed first to organise a commando raid beyond the barrier, then to resist air strikes and finally large ground raids.”

Right now, there are 12 Israeli combat brigades on the northern front, divided into three divisions: “36, 146, and 98”.

According to reports, the additional Israeli troops will most likely come from the 162nd Division, particularly the 401st Brigade’s armoured units. They will be replaced in Gaza by the freshly recalled reserve brigade. The Israeli campaign will adapt the “JAM-GC” concept to gather the Air Force, ground forces, and Navy in a cohesive battle scenario, utilising reconnaissance to locate command centres, weapon depots, air defence units, and soldier concentration points, then attacking them with air forces, artillery, and Special Forces.

They will then prepare their theatre of operations for armoured units to advance to the required distance covered by helicopters. The primary objective is to destroy missile systems and rocket launchers with the most deadly warheads, whose range exceeds 40 km, as well as infrastructure, particularly “tunnels”.

According to the Israeli Alma Research & Education Centre, Hizbullah will be able to launch an average of about 3,000 launches (of all weapons) into Israeli territory every day, for at least the first 10 days.

Assuming that such a war continues for up to two months, Hizbullah will continue to manage an intense launching economy into Israeli territory, with an average of at least 1,000 launches a day.

Therefore, the air campaign over Lebanon involved the use of heavy bombs with significant destructive effects, to reduce Hizbullah’s rate of firing and achieve what is known as the virtual attrition of the opponent, explained by the War on Rocks US site, the theory “simply, a military inflicts virtual attrition when its attack, or the prospect of its attack, causes the adversary to adjust its behavior in ways that decrease the quality, amount, or rate of combat power brought to bear.

For instance, the threat of airstrikes might drive ground forces to hide or disperse, reducing their volume of fire or rate of advance; rather than going on the attack, targeted ground forces need to focus more on simply staying alive”.

Goya explained Hizbullah’s anticipated strategy: “As in 2006, Israel will face a very well-organised defence system, with an infantry superior in power to that of Hamas. The fighting is therefore likely to be even harder than in Gaza and Israel may find itself with two fronts to manage at the same time. This would be very risky. Hizbullah’s ground forces will prove more effective by resisting the Israeli mechanised columns from the network of small towns and villages connected by underground tunnels in the south of Lebanon.

On the other hand, Hizbullah has a missile and rocket strike force superior to that of Hamas, possibly capable of saturating the Israeli air defence network, and in particular the Iron Dome, and inflicting considerable damage.

Otherwise, Hizbullah’s ground penetration capabilities are limited. They may be able to organise a few commando raids in the north of Israel but nothing more.”

According to CNN, senior US officials reassured a delegation of top Israeli officials visiting Washington last week that if a full-blown war were to break out on Israel’s northern front, the Biden administration would be fully prepared to back its ally.

This would explain the rotation and deployment of aircraft carriers and task forces. These combat units are of vital importance to secure Israel’s western flank by assisting with direct and preemptive strikes on Hizbullah’s missile platforms using cruise missiles, or intercepting ballistic missiles and drones, using fighter jets to secure Israeli airspace or attacking Hizbullah targets while enhancing electronic support of the Israeli army by jamming Hizbullah’s communications.

The US Air Force expeditionary squadrons in the region will secure the eastern flank of Israel by disrupting Iranian logistical support convoys to Hizbullah. In addition, they will help to intercept drones and cruise missiles launched by Iranian militias.

Goya says, “Iran can hardly help Hizbullah directly if it is attacked. It is likely that the Iranians have anticipated an Israeli attack in Lebanon and have been strengthening Hizbullah for eight months. They can also activate their militias in Syria or Iraq, to attack Israel with drones and rockets, as well as American bases in the region if the United States openly comes to Israel’s aid. They can finally, as in April, try to strike directly into Israeli territory but, in addition to the fact that this would be ineffective, it would undoubtedly provoke retaliation on their own soil, which they do not want.”

It is clear that Hizbullah has relied on a gradual escalation strategy in an attempt to show support for Hamas, but this did not go as planned, raising the question of why Hizbullah did not launch a sweeping attack on the borders and remained satisfied with insignificant daily skirmishes. The answer may be that Hizbullah, like other Iranian militias, is serving Iranian interests while the powerless and innocent Lebanese people face the consequences.

“Israelis decided to attack Lebanon not to occupy a buffer zone where they have bad memories,” Goya concluded, “but as in Gaza to destroy as much of Hizbullah as possible, perhaps up to the Litani River. They aim to do so and then withdraw by completely ruining the land, with mines for example. But it is not at all obvious that they are succeeding”.

* A version of this article appears in print in the 27 June, 2024 edition of Al-Ahram Weekly

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