The Israeli occupation army and Lebanon's Hezbollah fought a fierce war in July-August 2006 that lasted 34 days and killed 165 Israeli soldiers and settlers. The memory of the war still gives Israelis nightmares, and has left some serious mental scars, even after all these years, arguably as serious as the October 1973 War against Egypt.
Hezbollah has since refrained from harassing Israel, and has not responded to its aggression in order not to bring back to Lebanon more destruction as the country goes through an economic and social crisis. The party also lost support during the recent parliamentary election.
The sixteenth anniversary of the Second Lebanon War comes at a time when Lebanese-Israeli tension is escalating again, especially after Hezbollah flew drones over the Mediterranean gas field. Israel estimates that Hezbollah has the ability to use much more firepower than it has done to date if it really wants to attack, making the movement a real threat to the occupation state's economic assets, much more so than in 2006.
The Israelis intercepted the drones over the Karish gas platform 100 kilometres off the Israeli coast, exciting the Israel occupation forces and media, giving them a chance to talk about threats, a possible response and the timing of operations against Hezbollah. Israel is well aware of the extent of the threat posed by the movement, but the drones heightened Israeli concerns.
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This demonstrates that Hezbollah is building up its capabilities, even if is not using them all. Israel is not surprised, given that Hezbollah has short- and long-range missiles, surface-to-surface missiles, and a number of other precise munitions. To these must be added its unmanned aerial vehicles, the use of drones near the border fence, the threat of cruise missiles on the coast, and its attack on a warship during the 2006 war, after which Hezbollah replenished and boosted its military capabilities.
The recent drone incident suggest that there is an arms race between the movement and Israel, with Hezbollah getting financial and technological support from Iran, making it combat ready to face any challenges from the occupation state. The incident also exposed the fact that Israel couldn't protect its territorial waters, and could face further maritime threats.
Moreover, Israel's naval defence capabilities may not cope with the Hezbollah threat. The movement can detect targets flying at low altitude and intercept them. Israel may thus have to prepare its forces for more challenging scenarios, based not only on Hezbollah's capabilities, but also Iran's.
Various forums in Israel have warned recently about the possibility of an imminent confrontation because of the dispute with Lebanon over the gas field in the Mediterranean and the demarcation of the maritime border. Threats have been exchanged between the two sides, which may prompt the Israel occupation forces to show more readiness for a comprehensive air and sea attack, with an added focus on ground operations. Meanwhile, there is a growing feeling among Israelis that a war may break out at any time, and without enough readiness on the part of their government and army.
Any Israeli attack on Hezbollah will target Lebanese infrastructure. Israel fought the 2006 war according to Hezbollah's rules, and was pulled into a battle in which the movement had the relative upper hand. It was clear from the start that the Israeli army was not going to win in what became Israel's Vietnam. The occupation state tried to defeat a guerrilla army using artillery and air bombardment, deploying its forces gradually, while the public will was broken by the number of dead and wounded.
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On this latest anniversary of that war, what Israelis are left with is their failure. They could not even pretend that they had won. Israel's deterrence factor was shattered, raising questions about its presence and role on the new map of the Middle East.
Anniversary statements by military and political figures make it clear that 16 years down the line Israel stands helpless, confused and afraid of a third war with Lebanon. Such a war would have to see Israeli ground troops committed to the front line, which would make it very costly for the state. Its recent military offensives against the Palestinians in Gaza confirm that Israel is unable to tolerate a lot of casualties. A third war in Lebanon would undoubtedly require such a price to be paid.
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