“When it grew to be a large-scale military force with permanent
infrastructure and an organized command and control structure, it became
Israel’s most significant military threat in the area, thus leading to the
paradoxical strategic inflection point: it became the top priority for IDF
preparedness for war.”
Dr. Aaron Lerner: The transformation of Hezbollah was thanks to the
Israeli policy not to interfere with the Hizbullah buildup. To be clear:
under the Israeli “cat and mouse game” Israel could try and blow up weapons
in Syria on the way to Hezbollah. Once the weapons – ANY WEAPON NO MATTER
HOW STRATEGIC – crossed into Lebanon the weapons enjoyed full protection
under “quiet for quiet”. And now for the joke: There are Israeli’s who
actually interpret the strategic decision by Hizbullah to exploit “quiet for
quiet” to build up their forces as evidence of Israeli deterrence. Israeli
deterrence would be evidenced if Hizbullah decline to build up their forces.
The opposite is the case.

Lebanese President Aoun’s Public Embrace of Hezbollah
INSS researcher Assaf Orion discusses the significance of Hezbollah’s
official confirmation as a principal element of Lebanon’s defense, and the
implications thereof for Israel’s security
IsraelDefense | 28/02/2017

On February 12, 2017, in an interview to the Egyptian newspaper al-Ahram and
other media during his visit to Cairo, Lebanese President Michel Aoun
discussed Hezbollah’s weapons and the organization’s role in the state of
Lebanon. Aoun declared, “Hezbollah is a significant part of the Lebanese
people… As long as Israel occupies land and covets Lebanon’s natural
treasures, and as long as the Lebanese military lacks the power to stand up
to Israel, [Hezbollah’s] weapons are essential. They complement, rather than
contradict, the army’s activity… Hezbollah’s weapons do not contradict the
national project…and are, rather, a principal element of Lebanon’s defense.”
Coming from a president who owes his appointment to Iran and Hezbollah,
these remarks are hardly surprising. At the same time, they bring some key
perspectives on the relationship between the Lebanese state and the Shiite
organization into sharper relief, and have strategic significance for Israel’s
national security.

Security Council Resolution 1701, which was adopted at the end of the Second
Lebanon War, defined the Lebanese government and its armed forces as
responsible for implementing the resolution in Lebanon. It noted Hezbollah’s
attack on Israel on July 12, 2006 as the event that set off the hostilities,
and called on the Lebanese government, with the aid of UNIFIL, to work
towards “the establishment between the Blue Line and the Litani river of an
area free of any armed personnel, assets and weapons other than those of the
Government of Lebanon and of UNIFIL” and towards “full implementation of the
relevant provisions of the Taif Accords, and of resolutions 1559 (2004) and
1680 (2006), that require the disarmament of all armed groups in Lebanon, so
that, pursuant to the Lebanese cabinet decision of July 27, 2006, there will
be no weapons or authority in Lebanon other than that of the Lebanese
State.” The text distinguishes between the Lebanese state and government,
recognized as legitimate bodies in the international community, from
Hezbollah, deemed an armed sub-state organization whose weapons, which are
not subordinate to governmental authority, violate UN decisions, political
agreements, and Lebanese government decisions.

More than a decade later, it has become clear that the Shiite organization,
with Iran’s assistance, has grown larger and stronger than both the Lebanese
state in which it grew and the state’s armed forces: it has terrorized and
coerced the Lebanese government, including through use of its military force
against it (in May 2008); neutralized the monitoring regime of the Lebanese
army and UNIFIL in southern Lebanon; heavily weaponized southern Lebanon and
rendered the calls for demilitarization there meaningless; constructed an
extensive military infrastructure throughout Lebanon; designed an
independent foreign and defense policy that originates in Tehran, including,
for example, its participation in the war in Syria; become part of the
government and deepened its influence over the army; and recently, after
years of paralyzing the appointment process, helped complete the process of
appointing the President. Aoun’s statements in the interview are thus a
formal confirmation by Lebanon’s official government of Hezbollah’s
recognized status, and represent a public and political achievement for the
organization, whose efforts in Syria have at this stage also been relatively

Yet at the same time that they constitute an achievement for Hezbollah,
these statements involve costs and negative consequences for the
organization and for Lebanon as a state. For Israel, the declaration is the
official unveiling of a known Lebanese reality that diplomatic conventions
in the West have tended to blur. When the President of Lebanon openly
declares that Hezbollah, which in many countries is recognized as a
terrorist organization, is an official part of Lebanese defense, he
nullifies the distinction, artificial and hard-pushed to begin with, between
the ostensibly sovereign state and the Hezbollah military, which is Iran’s
arm in Lebanon. In so doing, the President takes full responsibility for all
of Hezbollah’s actions, including against Israel, and for the consequences
to Lebanon and its entire population, even though the Lebanese government
has little ability to actually control the organization’s decisions or

The past decade has seen much professional debate and even public discussion
in and outside of Israel of the possibility of another confrontation between
Israel and Hezbollah, including Israel’s preferred response to the Lebanese
government, army, and infrastructure in such a confrontation. Beyond the
operational level, which pertains to military targets and options, the
strategic discussion focuses on two areas: justification and utility. When
it comes to legitimacy and justification, Aoun’s statements validate the
contention that Lebanon is responsible for Hezbollah’s actions, and the
government’s sanctions of the organization’s military capabilities hence
justify extensive attacks on Lebanon by Israel. When it comes to utility and
purpose, the picture is more complicated, and depends on considerations of
military utility during the fighting and assessments of post-war
consequences. Those who support wide scale and extensive attacks on the
Lebanon believe that exacting a heavy price from the state as a whole would
increase overall deterrence and the motivation of other power brokers in
Lebanon to restrain Hezbollah from attacking Israel in the future, once they
too will have been affected and have paid a heavy price for Hezbollah’s

This lesson will also be observed by other power brokers in the region and
contribute to regional deterrence and postponement of additional
confrontations. Those who disagree place greater weight on the expected
capabilities of post-war stabilizing elements, such as non-Shiite forces. By
this reasoning, leaving them unharmed would enable them to restrain
Hezbollah more effectively, and also take action against other radical
terrorist groups. According to this perspective, it is also preferable to
limit the harm to Lebanon’s army, which can serve an effective official
enforcement body after the war, as long as it avoids hampering the IDF’s
efforts during the war. Another consideration is the impact of excessive
destruction on Israel’s relations with the pragmatic Sunni countries, which
have many ties to the Sunni population of Lebanon, as Israel looks towards
broad regional cooperation with them.

There is no substantive disagreement over the justification for attacking
Lebanese state infrastructure to the extent that it serves and supports
Hezbollah’s war efforts. Beyond this, when it comes to utility, opinions are
divided between those who support attacking Lebanese state infrastructure in
order to exact a heavy price, to enhance deterrence and to speed up
international intervention to terminate the fighting, and those who claim
that sufficient damage will in any case be done to Lebanon in the course of
attacking Hezbollah targets, and that it is preferable to refrain from
increasing the destruction, which would serve in Lebanon – as in Syria – as
fertile ground for a lack of governance, violence, and extremism. Between
these two sides, there are still those who support attacking Lebanese
infrastructure only as deterrent retribution for attempts to damage Israeli
infrastructure. But in light of the mutual declarations made over the years,
national infrastructure will most likely be attacked when the time comes,
much like a Chekhovian gun hanging on the wall in the first act. Indeed, On
February 16, 2017, in his recorded speech in commemoration of the
remembrance day for the “fallen commanders” (Sheikh Ragheb Harb, Abbas
al-Mussawi, and Imad Mughniyeh), Hezbollah Secretary-General Hassan
Nasrallah threatened that his organization is capable of hitting the ammonia
tank wherever its new location, as well as the nuclear reactor in Dimona,
thus (in his words) turning Israel’s nuclear arsenal from a threat to the
region into a threat to Israel itself.

The analysis above, along with Aoun’s testimony to Hezbollah’s political
achievement, indicates that the organization’s rise to dominance in Lebanon
thus entails a paradoxical dimension. The organization’s initial successes
were based on small-scale guerrilla warfare and blending in with the
population, which made it difficult to locate and to attack its operatives
and operations distinctively without harming the surrounding population, and
that due to their relatively small scope, received only a limited response.
Later, and with extensive Iranian assistance, Hezbollah deepened its
military deployment within the Shiite villages, which are its social and
political power base, and home to its activists and fighters. When it grew
to be a large-scale military force with permanent infrastructure and an
organized command and control structure, it became Israel’s most significant
military threat in the area, thus leading to the paradoxical strategic
inflection point: it became the top priority for IDF preparedness for war.
This includes allocation of major resources toward intelligence collection
and force buildup focused; mitigating the dilemma faced by Israeli decision
makers between the need for wide scale extensive attacks against Hezbollah
military targets before Israel suffers severe damage and the preference to
limit collateral damage and environmental harm to the populated areas where
Hezbollah chooses to embed these targets; and, at the end of the day, the
understanding that although Hezbollah can hurt Israel and hit it harder than
in the past, it would have difficulty translating this into genuine
political achievements, when the Shiite areas of residence, which it has
turned into military areas, would become ruins and debris. In light of the
statements by President Aoun who even threatened Israel (February 18) with
“an appropriate response to any attempt to harm Lebanon and its
sovereignty,” such unnecessary destruction might now hit larger areas of
Lebanon, whose government – against the population’s best interests – has
given its official seal of approval to the terrorist organization that
sprouted in Lebanon, outgrew Lebanon, and expanded beyond its borders.

Thus, while increasing its military and organizational strength, Hezbollah
has gradually overextended its strategic concept, and successively lost its
previous assets: the advantages of the smallness, secrecy, and agility of a
guerrilla organization; its status as Lebanon’s shield at the forefront of
“resistance” to Israel, which it replaced with the battlefields of Syria;
its freedom of operation against Israel, which it enjoyed until 2006; the
human shield provided to it by the Shiite population over its military
assets; the deceptive facade of Lebanon’s legitimate government as cover for
its violations and for its independent status in Lebanon; and finally, the
useful partition between the reality on the ground, which is familiar to
those who live in the fact-based world, and the imaginary world at the base
of most of the international diplomatic discourse regarding Lebanon.
However, reality has a habitual tendency to breach the artificial partition
and shatter the worlds of imagination and fabrication. The Lebanese’s
President’s statements are only a first crack.

This article was originally published on the INSS website