Israel Resource Review 28th August, 2006


The Current Danger of Hizbullah
Amos Gilboa

What is Hizbullah's situation three weeks after the cease-fire, and where is it headed? The emerging picture is as follows:

It has, more or less, maintained a large portion of its military capabilities. Most of its medium-range rocket launchers (up to Haifa) and long-range rocket launchers (Hadera and southwards) were destroyed. On the other hand, it still has about 1,000 short-range rocket launchers (up to 30-40 kilometers) in southern Lebanon, with thousands of rockets. It lost about 500 fighters, out of a regular force of 1,500 combatants and about 4,000 reservists. Its chain of command has remained more or less intact. Together with the Iranians, it is now studying the lessons, with the aim of restoring the array of heavy rockets that were damaged.

It is imbued with a sense of victory, mainly as a result of the stationary and persistent defensive battle that it waged in southern Lebanon, and the high survivability of the short-range rocket launchers in southern Lebanon. It is taking care to cultivate the stories of its heroism in the Arab world.

The difficult problem which Hizbullah faces and will yet face in the future, is the heavy economic damage that the organization and the Shiite population have suffered in Beirut and southern Lebanon. It has already begun to quickly distribute about USD 150 billion to civilians for rebuilding their homes. This is a drop in the ocean. There is great expectation in the Shiite community to see how Hizbullah will succeed in rehabilitating the ruins. For this purpose, Iran is already preparing large sums of money, billions of dollars, to be channeled into Lebanon by various means.

As of now, Nasrallah's standing among the Shiites is firm, and within Hizbullah there is unity around him. The question is how long he will be able to continue to hide like a mouse in a hole, and not be seen in public.

In southern Lebanon he has lost the status of sole "landlord." He now has a roommate, in the form of the Lebanese army, and he will soon have another partner in the form of the multi-national force. This is a new and problematic situation for him, but he has at least retained his military power, most of which is underground in bunkers anyway, and cannot be seen.

He enjoys full support and backing from Syria and Iran, which will do a lot (and have already begun making efforts in this direction) to rebuild his military power. They also wish to strengthen him versus the Lebanese government and the international community, which seek to disarm him in the future and weaken him in the internal Lebanese system.

What does all this mean? That Hizbullah does not have an interest in entering into a conflict with Israel, at least not now or in the near future. It did not want this before the war either. It now needs a long period of time for the purpose of military and economic recovery, mainly of demolished southern Lebanon, to deal with internal Lebanese challenges and to erode the standing of its new partners in southern Lebanon. In other words, the cease-fire agreement is not as fragile as many people on our side say, and the renewal of the fire in the coming months, as military circles tend to predict, is not very feasible. Of course, a "mad foot soldier," on our side or theirs, could set fire to the Lebanese front, but the real dangers are not there. They are in the east. Syria, perhaps as a preview of the real existential danger for which all of our national efforts should be mobilized-Iran.

This ran in Maariv on August 28th, 2006

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Olmert, Nasrallah, and more
Arlene Kushner

Well, first it was the issue of a suspected bribe that Olmert and his wife took -- conveyed by way of an apartment sold to them at $500,000 less than market value. And now the State Comptroller is charging in a report he has just released that Olmert, when serving as minister of industry, trade and labor, was guilty of cronyism: making appointments on a political basis -- without following proper procedures or giving qualified individuals a chance for the positions.

This has not gone down well with Knesset members either on the left or right. MK Aryeh Eldad (National Union/NRP) has declared his intention to convene the Knesset Lobby for Fighting Corruption in the Public Sector, which he heads, and to summon Olmert to appear before it. We can only hope that Olmert's days as prime minister are numbered.

Hezbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah gave a TV interview yesterday in which he said he would not have ordered the capture of the two Israeli soldiers if he had known what the Israeli response would be. This certainly calls into question the perception that he thinks he "won."

My take is that he is now curtailing his former braggadocio and assuming this more "regretful" stance because of criticism being leveled at him from within Lebanon by factions blaming him for what befell the country during the war. "Who asked you to bring this trouble on us?" is the charge now being made. His response: "I didn't intend to bring this on the country."

Discussions are under way with regard to increases in the defense budget, aimed at "improving the army's preparedness for future challenges." There is currently a debate as to whether lack of funds was responsible for a certain military lack of preparedness.

It has been pointed out in several quarters that a lack of supplies and equipment for fighting the war (e.g., no bullet proof vests for reserve troops) was the result of the considerable military expenditure made for the "disengagement" a year ago. Quite frankly, this sort of information makes me want to weep.

Interesting. Surprising. Ghazi Hamad, a former newspaper editor and now a (Hamas) spokesperson for the PA, wrote an article yesterday that, according to Khaled Abu Toameh of the Post, appeared on several PA news websites. In it he describes the severe deterioration of life in Gaza and holds armed groups -- and not Israel -- responsible. "Gaza is suffering under the yoke of anarchy and the swords of thugs . . . I remember the day when Israel withdrew . . . We heard a lot about a promising future in the Gaza Strip." But, he says, the "culture of life" has been replaced. "Life became a nightmare and an intolerable burden.

"We're always afraid to talk about our mistakes. We're used to blaming others." But, declared Hamad, it's time for some soul searching.

Congressman Tom Lantos (D-CA) was in town and made some interesting proposals yesterday. American aid to Lebanon, he said, should be held up until Lebanon agrees to allow international troops to patrol with its forces at the Syrian border. Further, he plans to file legislation for Israel to receive reconstruction aid. "It would be singularly unfair and inequitable in the wake of this disaster to have aid flow to one party . . . but not to the other victims." Indeed!

The Ministry of Environment reports that some 12,000 buildings, including public structures were damaged by Hezbollah-launched rockets during the war; some 2,000 buildings were destroyed. With all the pictures of damage in Lebanon, one does not often hear about this. This is information that should be broadcast widely.

Of more than passing interest: Lebanon has demanded that Palestinians in refugee camps near the Litani River disarm in accordance with UNSC Resolution 1701 (which calls for the disarming of all militias). The request was directed to Fatah operative in Lebanon, Abbas Za'aki. The demand was rejected and the resolution was termed "illegal" because it doesn't provide for the "right of return."

Armed Palestinians in Lebanon, I have reason to believe, have cooperated with Hezbollah -- storing weapons, etc. How Fatah fits into this picture is something I cannot answer at present, but it strikes me that the answer is likely of considerable consequence.

See my website

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Olmert Forms Blue Ribbon Panels to Look Into Mishandling of War and Faces Attacks for Not Forming Commission of Inquiry
David Bedein

Following pressure from all sides of Israel's political spectrum, Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert appeared in Israel's northern city of Haifa, which had been hit by 400 of the more than 4000 missiles fired at Israel's northern cities during thirty three days of bombing from the Hizbullah, and announced the formation of three fact finding blue ribbon panels to determine the causes of Israel's military and civilian lack of preparedness for the war with Hizbullah,. These three committees will be assigned to determine why and how Israel's defense establishment ignored the clear warnings issued by Israeli deputy minister of defense Ephraim Sneh, back in 2001, that the Hizbullah had placed 12,000 missiles in attack formation in Southern Lebanon, following Israel's sudden withdrawal from the Jewish state's self proclaimed "security zone" in Southern Lebanon in May 2000

These three blue ribbon panels are only empowered to make recommendations to the prime minister, and will not carry the force of law that a formal commission of inquiry which would could obligate sweeping changes and dismissals in the Israeli government and Israeli military, as the Agranat Commission of Inquiry did after the Yom Kippur War, which forced the resignation of Israeli Prime Minister Golda Meir and the dismissal of Israeli Defence Minister Moshe Dayan.

Olmert has come under attack from all parts of the Israeli political spectrum, including prominent members of Olmert's own coalition in Israel's Knesset Parliament. The former head of the Israel's Mossad, coalition Knesset member Danny Yatom attacked Olmert's formation of blue ribbon panels, saying that "only a commission of inquiry will see the whole picture", while left wing Member of Knesset and former Deputy Foreign Minister Yossi Beillin declared that Olmert would go down as Israel's " Stuttering Prime Minister". Meanwhile, the non-parliamentary groups that have been demonstrating outside of the Prime Minister's office - bereaved parents of soldiers killed last month in Lebanon, reservists who feel they were betrayed by the cease fire, and government reformists who claim that Olmert has violated all norms of proper government announced that they would now organize a hunger strike that would last until Olmert forms an official commission of investigation that would look into the mishandling of the war in Lebanon, with legal authority to demand removal of public officials from office and possible prosecution of those officials deemed responsible for criminal negligence.

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