Tun­nel vi­sion

The next war with Hezbol­lah will be any­thing but a walk in the park

The Jerusalem Post - - FRONT PAGE - • By ANNA AHRONHEIM

It was around 5 a.m. on Tues­day when the IDF struck gold, or rather a gap in the lime­stone un­der an or­chard be­long­ing to the north­ern town of Me­tulla. It was the first cross-bor­der at­tack tun­nel built by Hezbol­lah the army found.

After years of north­ern res­i­dents’ com­plaints of hear­ing dig­ging sounds be­low their feet – de­spite 12 years of rel­a­tive quiet on the Le­banon front – Hezbol­lah’s most im­por­tant of­fen­sive sur­prise is now out in the open.

The tun­nel, which in­fil­trated only 40 me­ters into Is­raeli ter­ri­tory and was not yet op­er­a­tional, would have been used by the group’s elite Rad­wan unit to in­fil­trate Me­tulla in an at­tempt to take con­trol of the com­mu­nity and cut it off from Route 90 to kill as many civil­ians and troops as pos­si­ble.

It was sup­posed to be the open­ing of Hezbol­lah’s “Con­quer the Galilee Cam­paign” and the be­gin­ning of a third Le­banon war, which de­fense es­tab­lish­ment of­fi­cials and ex­perts have warned would be to­tally dif­fer­ent than the war be­tween the two arch­en­e­mies in 2006.

Ac­cord­ing to Philip Smyth, Soref Fel­low at The Wash­ing­ton In­sti­tute, Hezbol­lah has “a mix of arms, from small arms [such as .50 cal­iber anti-matériel ri­fles]... then there are UAVs, ad­vanced anti-tank mis­siles, and a va­ri­ety of other weapons.”

The ter­ror­ist group, which is re­ferred to as an army by most ex­perts, has also amassed a mas­sive ar­se­nal of an es­ti­mated 130,000-150,000 short- to long-range rock­ets and mis­siles, which are ex­pected to pound Is­rael in the next war.

It’s ex­pected that the Ira­nian-backed Shi’ite army will launch thou­sands of them to­ward the Jewish state within the first cou­ple of hours of the con­flict.

The mis­sile bar­rages by Hezbol­lah would pro­vide cover for mem­bers from the Rad­wan unit to ad­vance into Is­rael in a sur­prise at­tack where they would mur­der and try to kid­nap civil­ians and sol­diers, and plant the group’s yel­low and green flag in the town.

From there, they would spread out and be­gin us­ing snipers and anti-tank mis­siles against IDF troops.

Other Hezbol­lah ter­ror­ists would likely use other tun­nels es­ti­mated to have been dug along the 130-km. bor­der to oc­cupy strate­gic points in an ef­fort to stop other IDF forces from ad­vanc­ing into Le­banon.

The Rad­wan unit, which has gained im­mea­sur­able bat­tle­field ex­pe­ri­ence while fight­ing along­side Syr­ian regime forces dur­ing the Syr­ian civil war, has learned how to raid and use sup­port­ing fire­power as it ad­vances to hold onto ter­ri­tory it con­quered.

The IDF, which has been watch­ing Hezbol­lah and learn­ing from leader Has­san Nas­ral­lah’s count­less speeches from his bunker deep un­der­ground, has drawn up its own bat­tle plan and would for the first time evac­u­ate 22 com­mu­ni­ties along the Le­banese bor­der.

It will also rapidly de­ploy mul­ti­ple di­vi­sions with tens of thou­sands of ground forces to ad­vance into Le­banon to oc­cupy and de­stroy the group’s mil­i­tary in­fra­struc­ture while si­mul­ta­ne­ously pound­ing Le­banon with aerial, naval and ar­tillery bat­ter­ies.

Ac­cord­ing to the IDF, Is­rael’s in­tel­li­gence ca­pa­bil­i­ties have in­creased dra­mat­i­cally since the Sec­ond Le­banon War in 2006 and have a sig­nif­i­cant number of tar­gets in the north if an­other war were to break out.

De­fense of­fi­cials have warned that with Hezbol­lah deeply em­bed­ded in Le­banon, the coun­try’s civil­ian in­fra­struc­ture is not im­mune to Is­raeli strikes. Last year, In­tel­li­gence Min­is­ter Is­rael Katz warned that Le­banon would “go back to the Stone Age and maybe even to the age of cave­men” in the event of an­other war with Hezbol­lah.

Hezbol­lah, with 20,000 fighters in south­ern Le­banon and a few thou­sand re­servists, will also re­port­edly use fighters from the pro-Ira­nian Shi’ite Iraqi Al-Na­jba’a mili­tia, which has sev­eral thou­sand fighters in Iraq and Syria. Thou­sands of other fighters from other Shi’ite mili­tias backed by Iran’s Is­lamic Rev­o­lu­tion­ary Guard Corps’ Quds Force will likely join Hezbol­lah in the war.

Ac­cord­ing to Smyth, the Shi’ite mili­tias could en­gage IDF troops along the bor­der with Syria, thus ex­pand­ing the war along the en­tire north­ern front – a sce­nario for which the IDF says it is ready.

“There is the po­ten­tial for the Shi’ite mili­tias [if they’re al­ready in Syria] to be sent to the bor­der on the Golan or into Le­banon. After fight­ing in Syria and Iraq, a number of th­ese Iraqi fighters have gained com­bat ex­pe­ri­ence. The real ex­pe­ri­ence came with how they would co­or­di­nate and fight along­side the Le­banese Hezbol­lah.”

The group’s mas­sive mis­sile and rocket ar­se­nal is also ex­pected to sig­nif­i­cantly dam­age Is­rael’s home front, de­spite the IDF em­ploy­ing all of its air-de­fense sys­tems.

Hezbol­lah mis­siles are ex­pected to hit all over Is­rael, and the few pre­cise mis­siles the group has ac­quired will likely tar­get strate­gic sites, such as the Kirya mil­i­tary head­quar­ters in Tel Aviv, gas rigs, Ben-Gu­rion Air­port’s run­way and other IAF run­ways.

The con­flict might also see the par­tic­i­pa­tion of US troops along­side the IDF.

Is­rael and the United States have an agree­ment that would see the Amer­i­cans come to as­sist Is­rael with mis­sile de­fense in times of war. US troops came to Is­rael last year for Ju­niper Co­bra, sim­u­lat­ing sce­nar­ios in which Is­rael faces si­mul­ta­ne­ous mis­sile bar­rages on var­i­ous fronts.

Last week the head of Home Front Com­mand warned that the next war on the north­ern front “will be a more com­plex and chal­leng­ing threat to Is­rael.”

“There is no dis­pute that the threat to the Is­raeli home front in the next war will be very chal­leng­ing, es­pe­cially around the abil­ity to en­sure es­sen­tial ser­vices for the civil­ian pop­u­la­tion and the re­silience of Is­raeli so­ci­ety,” Maj.-Gen. Tamir Yadai said, ex­plain­ing that the in­ten­sity of the next war is some­thing the coun­try is not yet fa­mil­iar with.

“In the next war in Gaza or on the north­ern front, Tel Aviv res­i­dents won’t be able to drink their cof­fee in cof­fee shops,” he said.

While Nas­ral­lah’s Con­quer the Galilee plan is likely no more than a pro­pa­ganda wish, the next war with Hezbol­lah will be no walk in the park. • sub­sidiary’s op­er­a­tions in Tel Aviv have so far been lim­ited to the west of the city, it says it has been re­quested to as­sist the ac­cel­er­a­tion of projects in the east, too.

As a pub­licly listed com­pany on the Shang­hai and Hong Kong stock ex­changes with over­seas in­vestors, Wang said the firm has be­come in­creas­ingly trans­par­ent and tight­ened its reg­u­la­tions in re­cent years. Like Pow­erChina, the com­pany is also in­ter­ested in fur­ther in­vest­ment in Is­raeli in­fra­struc­ture, as well as hous­ing and en­ergy projects.

In the east of the city, the re­main­der of the red line and the con­struc­tion of the ma­jor Car­lebach Sta­tion fall un­der the joint re­spon­si­bil­ity of China Civil Engi­neer­ing Con­struc­tion Cor­po­ra­tion Is­rael Branch (CCECC), a sub­sidiary of China Rail­way Con­struc­tion Cor­po­ra­tion (CRCC), in joint ven­ture with Is­raeli con­struc­tion com­pany Danya Ce­bus.

The Tel Aviv project is not CRCC’s first ven­ture into the Is­raeli con­struc­tion mar­ket, after pre­vi­ously com­plet­ing the Carmel and Gilon tun­nel projects, and other hous­ing con­struc­tion con­tracts, worth a to­tal of $700m. While con­struc­tion of the east­ern seg­ment of the light rail has been be­set by dis­putes over work­ing on Shab­bat, CCECC pres­i­dent Zhao Dian­long said de­lays would be longer if a non-Chi­nese com­pany was re­spon­si­ble for its con­struc­tion.

Zhou said CRCC would like to play an “ac­tive part” in the re­al­iza­tion of Is­rael Rail­way’s am­bi­tious vi­sion an­nounced in June 2017 to more than dou­ble the coun­try’s rail net­work by 2040. Should Is­rael Rail­ways de­cide in the fu­ture to also con­struct a rail­way from Tel Aviv to Ei­lat, CRCC said it would be among those in­ter­ested in win­ning the con­tract.

Shift­ing from the city to the shore, Tel Aviv-based Pan-Mediter­ranean Engi­neer­ing Com­pany (PMEC) is the fu­ture base of China Har­bor Engi­neer­ing Com­pany (CHEC)’s op­er­a­tions in the re­gion. CHEC, a full sub­sidiary of China Com­mu­ni­ca­tions Con­struc­tion Com­pany, is cur­rently con­duct­ing op­er­a­tions in 90 coun­tries world­wide and its PMEC af­fil­i­ate has been ac­tive in Is­rael since 2012.

In June 2014, PMEC won the ten­der to con­struct Ash­dod’s new HaDarom port with a bid val­ued at NIS 3.3 bil­lion and the com­pany ex­pects to fin­ish the project ahead of its orig­i­nally stated 7.5-year sched­ule.

“Ev­ery­thing is on track,” said Ja­son Dong­bing, man­ag­ing di­rec­tor and CEO of PMEC. “We have fin­ished al­most 70% of the con­struc­tion work and we ex­pect to fin­ish one year ear­lier than planned.”

PMEC is now seek­ing fur­ther op­por­tu­ni­ties in Is­rael, and re­cently com­peted for the pub­lic-pri­vate part­ner­ship ten­der for Jerusalem’s planned Route 16 high­way. Com­pany ex­ec­u­tives stated their in­ter­est in par­tic­i­pat­ing in fu­ture light rail, de­sali­na­tion and north­ern rail projects in the coun­try.

China’s am­bi­tious ap­proach to mass in­fra­struc­ture con­struc­tion abroad is un­doubt­edly a mir­ror im­age of its trans­for­ma­tion at home, where state of­fi­cials con­sider rapid in­fra­struc­ture de­vel­op­ment as a key eco­nomic driver and in­vested in ex­cess of $320 bil­lion in trans­porta­tion links in 2017 alone.

As the world’s most pop­u­lous nation con­tin­ues to de­velop do­mes­ti­cally at light­ning speed, it is also ce­ment­ing its place glob­ally as the leader in in­fra­struc­ture con­struc­tion.

As Is­rael con­tin­ues to ex­pand its in­fra­struc­ture net­work, al­beit a mod­est trans­for­ma­tion in com­par­i­son to its Chi­nese part­ners, it is likely that we’ll be in­creas­ingly see­ing the five-starred red flag fly­ing in Is­rael’s skies. After all, it’s dif­fi­cult to ar­gue with their track record.

The writer was a guest of the Chi­nese En­ter­prises As­so­ci­a­tion in Is­rael. •

(Ali Hashisho/Reuters)

OP­ER­A­TION NORTH­ERN Shield un­folds on Mon­day, as seen from the Le­banese vil­lage of Kfar Kila.

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