CAMERA Op-Ed: Israel and the Gathering Storm

Note: A slightly different version of this Op-Ed appeared in The Washington Examiner on March 28, 2017)

War clouds are gathering around Israel. It looks increasingly likely that the country will face a multi-front war waged by the theocratic dictatorship of Iran and its proxies. Yet, many news outlets are failing to note what Tehran’s buildup signals about the mullah’s ambitions.

The signs, however, aren’t hard to miss.

On Feb. 27, 2018, in a widely underreported event, Iran inaugurated an “Hourglass Festival” celebrating the “imminent collapse” of Israel. According to The Times of Israel, the festival’s official website features calls for submissions on several topics including: Israel as a cancerous tumor, Israel as a racist, fake and colonialist regime, and Israel as a “Zionist, child-killing” country.

More ominously, the festival reasserted claims—first made in 2015 at the height of negotiations over Iran’s nuclear program—that Tehran has a secret “plan” to destroy the Jewish state in 25 years. And the evidence is clear: The Islamic Republic believes that it is making progress on this objective.

The chief threat sits on Israel’s northern border where Hezbollah, the Iranian-backed, Shi’ite terror group, has de facto control over Lebanon. Although Hezbollah is often whitewashed by apologists and some in the media as a Lebanese “resistance movement,” the group’s 1985 manifesto states that Iran is “the vanguard and new nucleus of the leading Islamic State in the world,” and exhorts that “our struggle will end only when this [Zionist] entity is obliterated.” The group is also deeply antisemitic, targeting Jews throughout the world for murder and claiming, as their leader Hassan Nasrallah has, that “Jews” are a “cancer” who “invented the legend of the Nazi atrocities.”

Despite its efforts to be seen as an organization defending Lebanon, Hezbollah participated in the Syrian civil war, fighting on behalf of the murderous Syrian dictator Bashar al-Assad. The experience left the group battle-hardened. And increased Iranian funding has made the group extremely well armed—so much so that the British Army’s former chief of staff, Lord Richard Dannatt, has said that Hezbollah can “carry out operations at the company or battalion level.” In other words: The group’s capabilities are closer to that of an army than that of an ad-hoc terror group.

Hezbollah has an estimated 150,000 rockets —more than 10 times as many as it had in its last war against Israel in the summer of 2006. And unlike that conflict, many of Hezbollah’s new rockets have extended range and advanced guidance capabilities—meaning that they can hit major Israeli cities. Top Israeli Defense Forces (IDF) commanders have stated that the Jewish state must be prepared for a “blitz of attacks,” with an estimated 1,000-1,500 rockets falling on Israel’s home front every day.

In the last Israel-Hezbollah War, the terror group used human shields to deter Israeli responses and fed inaccurate reports to a frequently uncritical Western press. Hezbollah seems prepared to use the strategy again; Dannatt has noted that they have recently “transformed most Shia villages in southern Lebanon into military assets that provide infrastructure, recruitment, storage, and access to underground tunnels designed for warfare.”

Launching missiles at Israeli civilians from behind the cover of Lebanese civilians is a double war crime. But there is reason to think that the “international community” will—as they did in 2006—give Hezbollah a pass while singling out Israel for opprobrium. Several United Nations Security Council Resolutions have called for Hezbollah to disarm and to disband; yet all remain unenforced. UNSC like China and Russia have even armed the group. And several governments, including the United States and France, have provided security assistance to the Lebanese Armed Forces (LAF), despite the fact that Lebanon’s pro-Hezbollah President, Michel Aoun has described the terror group as an “essential part” and a “complement” to his nation’s supposedly sovereign government.

In addition to its veritable takeover of the Lebanese state and its growing foothold in Syria, Iran is training and arming terror groups on Israel’s other borders. Operatives of Hezbollah and Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps have trained members of Palestinian terror organizations like the Gaza Strip-based Hamas and Popular Resistance Committee (PRC), as well as Palestinian Islamic Jihad (PIJ). After a disagreement over the Syrian civil war, Iran has renewed funding to Hamas, which has launched no less than three wars against the Jewish state in the last ten years.

In a Jan. 19, 2018 statement that received little attention from major Western press outlets, Israeli Defense Minister Avigdor Lieberman warned that Hamas was opening “new fronts” in southern Lebanon, as well as the West Bank (Judea and Samaria).

The West Bank is largely controlled by the Palestinian Authority (PA), which is dominated by the Fatah movement and led by Mahmoud Abbas, a deeply unpopular octogenarian autocrat. Should Abbas lose power or die in office, Fatah’s longtime rival, Hamas, might make a play for control of the West Bank. If not, Iran still might be able to increase its influence in that theater; other Fatah officials have been more open than Abbas to receiving Iranian aid, and the movement’s Tanzim faction—which includes several possible Abbas successors—had operational links to Hezbollah during the Second Intifada (2000-05).

On March 7, 2018, the IDF’s deputy chief of staff, Aviv Kochavi, said that Israel is preparing for a war on five fronts. Kochavi’s statement went widely underreported by U.S. news outlets.

Mark Dubowitz, the CEO of the Washington D.C.-based think tank, Foundation for Defense of Democracies, called this prospect a “nightmare scenario” that was probably a matter of “when, not if.” If so—and the evidence, if seldom noted, suggests as much—it’s time that the media and policymakers wake up.

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