Monday, August 1, 2011

Seeing Red Along the Blue Line
Five years after the end of the Israel-Hezbollah war, both sides are furiously preparing for another round.

On July 30, 2006, an Israeli warplane dropped its deadly munitions on an apartment building in the southern Lebanese town of Qana as part of its military
operations against Hezbollah during the 2006 Israel-Hezbollah war. The aerial bombardment buried two large Lebanese families beneath the rubble --
28 civilians, including 16 children. The attack carried grim echoes of the 1996 Israeli shelling of a U.N. compound in Qana, which killed 106 Lebanese
civilians and wounded 116 more.

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Israeli officials, just as they had after the 1996 attack, immediately expressed regret for the bombing and claimed once again that it was a tragic mistake.
The ensuing international outrage prompted the Israel Defense Forces (IDF) to suspend its military campaign in Lebanon for two days to allow for an investigation
into the event.

The 2006 war ended inconclusively two weeks later with a U.N.-brokered cease-fire that provided for the withdrawal of Israeli troops from Lebanon and the
introduction of Lebanese army forces and additional U.N. peacekeepers in southern Lebanon. In the five years since the second Qana massacre and the war's
conclusion, Lebanon and Israel have enjoyed a rare calm along their border. But both sides are aware that the possibility of renewed conflict remains high
and have been furiously updating their weaponry and tactics in anticipation of another round.

Should another war happen, we believe that it will be even larger and bloodier than the 2006 conflict. Our judgment is based on extensive field research
in Lebanon covering the military preparations of both sides and analyzing their own assessments of the likelihood and nature of a future war. Over the
past five years, we interviewed and spoke with dozens of Hezbollah members, including political leaders, advisors, commanders, IT specialists, and foot

Although Hezbollah chief Hassan Nasrallah claimed that the 2006 war constituted a "divine victory," his organization suffered substantial -- but sustainable
-- losses during the fighting, and the truce that ended the war cost the party its autonomy and entire military infrastructure in south Lebanon. In the
five years since, Hezbollah has responded by swelling its ranks with dedicated cadres and reviving its multi-sectarian reservist units. It has also acquired
long-range rockets fitted with guidance systems, which enable it to develop a target list of specific military and infrastructure sites in Israel. The
organization is also believed to have received training on more advanced air-defense systems that could pose a threat to low-flying Israeli air assets,
such as helicopters and drones.

With the support of Iran, Hezbollah has made further advances in its signals intelligence and communications capabilities, which play an increasingly vital
role in its ability to wage war against Israel. Hezbollah is expected to use these upgraded capabilities to attempt to take the offensive in a future conflict,
extending the fight into Israel through land and seaborne commando raids. The next war's battlefield will therefore likely be larger than the traditional
theater of southern Lebanon and northern Israel.

Israel had planned to crush Hezbollah militarily and drive a wedge between the group and non-Shiite members of Lebanese society. But it was unable to achieve
these goals in full and instead settled for more limited gains, including the destruction of what Israel claimed was all of Hezbollah's stock of long-range
missiles. The IDF's poor performance on multiple levels -- leadership, coordination, logistics, and fighting capabilities -- undermined Israel's much-prized
deterrent factor.

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ANWAR AMRO/AFP/Getty Images 

Bilal Y. Saab is a Ph.D. candidate in the department of government and politics at the University of Maryland, College Park. Nicholas Blanford, Beirut correspondent
for the Christian Science Monitor and the
Times of London, is author of
Warriors of God: Inside Hezbollah's Thirty-Year Struggle Against Israel
. This article is taken from a larger study by the authors titled "The Next War: How Another Conflict Between Hizballah and Israel Could Look and How Both
Sides Are Preparing For It."

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