In an unprecedented move, the Israeli Defense Forces have released sensitive intelligence information about the situation in southern Lebanon (available at the IDF blog). Hezbollah forces have taken over more than a hundred villages to store their heavy artillery, and their command posts are near schools and hospitals.
This represents a major shift in strategy for Hezbollah since 2006, when they stored most of their weaponry away from habitations, as befits any army that claims to want to protect its own people. But the IDF hit most of their supply in the first days of hostilities.
Hezbollah improvised by hiding behind civilians in order to shield themselves from attack while they fired at civilian targets in Israel. In a notorious incident, when an Israeli missile hit the foundation of a building near Qana in early 2006, Israeli spokeswoman Miri Eisen apologized profusely for the incident — which the media turned into a ghoulish production — assuring the world that if Israel had known that there were children in the building, they never would have fired at it.
The unintended results of this open and overriding concern for the safety of Lebanese civilians, combined with the almost addictive need on the part of Hezbollah to target Israel at any cost, has produced the current situation in which Hezbollah has essentially taken the civilians of southern Lebanon hostage. Behind the shield of these civilians, any of whose deaths the media will lay at the feet of Israel, this fanatic Shia militia has assembled an army of some 20,000 soldiers and some 40,000 short-, medium-, and long-range missiles, some hundred of which can hit Tel Aviv. In the case of renewed hostilities, these encampments would be capable of sending over 700 rockets a day into Israel.
In this context, it’s worth remembering the Francop, the ship laden with arms from Iran sent to Hezbollah and intercepted by the IDF. There were roughly 10,000 rockets found on the Francop, two and half times the number of rockets fired at Israel during the 2006 summer war.
We gain glimpses of the costs of this process over the last four years. In August of the same year, villagers attacked some Hezbollah operatives and tried to kick them out of the village. Their concerns were confirmed in the village of Tayr Filsay in October 2009, when one of the weapons store houses blew up. Hezbollah cordoned off the area to remove the rest of the weapons before they would let the Lebanese army or UNIFIL in to inspect.
The Israeli authorities chose to reveal this information even at the risk of some undesired disclosures about their intelligence capacities. (No army wants to let the other know what they know about them.) This move clearly took aim at both the UNIFIL troops — whose new commander Major General Alberto Asarta Cuevas received a copy — and UN authorities in New York, where a delegation arrived this week with the evidence. The move coincided with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s visit with UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon. Ki-moon’s recent comments on the tensions in Lebanon placed the blame on Israel for complaining about Hezbollah’s behavior but did not criticize Hezbollah’s illegal arms build-up itself — a classic expression of appeasement syndrome.