The next war with Hezbollah will be anything but a walk in the park
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. •
OPERATION NORTHERN Shield unfolds on Monday, as seen from the Lebanese village of Kfar Kila.