Hezbollah, Syria, and the West are on notice.
While these days the focus is understandably on Al Qaeda, alarming news has also surfaced about Hezbollah, the Shiite terror group that is clustered near Israel’s border and has taken control of Lebanon.
The French daily Le Figaro reports that Hezbollah’s arsenal now numbers 40,000 missiles, and that the organization fields over 10,000 fighters. Le Figaro also gives details on three Hezbollah units tasked with maintaining and transporting the missiles, and on Syria’s close involvement in the whole enterprise.
The article says that last January one of the three, Unit 108—in a move picked up by U.S. intelligence—received a delivery of 26 Syrian M-6002 missiles somewhere between Damascus and the Syrian-Lebanese border. While Unit 108’s main barracks are near that border, it also has a base near Damascus Airport for handling weapons shipments from Iran.
Le Figaro quotes the French Defense Ministry as saying Israel might strike Unit 108’s sites in Syria.
The paper also says the Syrian army has its own Scud missile base near Damascus. And while Syria denies having supplied Hezbollah with Scuds, satellite images seem to show Hezbollah operatives being trained in their use at the base.
Ron Ben-Yishai, veteran military analyst for Israel’s largest daily Yediot Aharonot, ascribes much significance to the report and writes that “whoever provided [Le Figaro] with sensitive intelligence information” had reasons for doing so.
One of those reasons, Ben-Yishai says, is:
to slam the facts in the face of international public opinion, so that the UN, the West, Arab states and the global media won’t pretend to be surprised if and when Israel undertakes powerful, destructive strikes. Such actions would target the immense rocket and missile arsenal in Lebanon, as well as the states that contributed to establishing it, that is, Lebanon and Syria.
Ben-Yishai goes on to note that in recent months Israel has been conveying that point to the international community, including declassified maps of how Hezbollah stores weapons near schools, hospitals, and homes in southern Lebanese villages. Hezbollah thereby wants to make it hard for Israel to attack the targets, while also setting Israel up for “war crimes” accusations if it does.
“We can therefore assume,” writes Ben-Yishai:
that Israel, apparently in cooperation with France, is also behind the latest French report. France views itself as holding responsibility and special ties with Lebanon, and the information leaked by the French Defense Ministry…constitutes a message to Lebanon and Syria in and of itself.
While such messages, according to Ben-Yishai:
will not bring about the termination of Hezbollah’s rocket and missile arsenal, they serve Israel’s deterrent power and are supposed to grant it legitimacy for “disproportional” acts should such strikes be required in Lebanon, and possibly in Syria as well.
A few more points should be added.
First, as even erstwhile strong Obama supporter Marty Peretz observes, the Le Figaro report further underscores the total failure of Obama’s attempt at “engagement” with Syria. The notion that Damascus could be wooed out of the Iranian-led alliance with soft words and promises of money, friendship, and the Golan Heights has once again been exposed as delusory as Syria’s collusion with the terror axis only tightens.
Second, the Le Figaro report adds another nail or two to the coffin of Security Council Resolution 1701, which formally ended Israel’s summer 2006 war with Hezbollah and “called for…the establishment [in southern Lebanon] of an area free of any armed personnel…other than those of the Government of Lebanon and of UNIFIL.” 1701’s rapid demise—if remembered at all—into a bitter joke is notable at a time when there is talk of foreign forces monitoring the West Bank after an Israeli pullout. UNIFIL is still active in southern Lebanon—which meanwhile has turned into a terror hub and forward base of Iranian expansion. For Israel, the same fate for the West Bank would be even worse.
Third, the situation as revealed in the article also has bearing on whether the U.S. should continue its military assistance to Lebanon. That aid was suspended by Congress last August after a Lebanese-army sniper killed an Israeli commander in an unprovoked incident. It is increasingly recognized that, while there are indeed moderate elements in Lebanon, they no longer count, with even the supposedly neutral Lebanese army having gone over to the radical side. Further military aid, then, not only “risks” but is certain to strengthen the side inimical to the West.
And finally, it bears repeating that the current baneful situation in southern Lebanon and the country as a whole is an outcome of Israel’s 2000 withdrawal. In that regard, Israel has itself to blame for the danger it now faces. Still, the momentum for the retreat came in part from internalization of the worldwide pressures for Israeli concessions—pressures that continue to this day. Israel is signaling that it should not, once again, be blamed if it has to clean up the mess.