On Aug. 5, 2022, the IDF launched “Operation Breaking Dawn,” aimed at taking out Iran-backed terrorists in the Gaza Strip. But while Israel and its allies are focused on the nation’s southern border, a larger fight looms in the north.
A great war is coming to the Middle East. It will emanate from Iran, which calls for Israel’s destruction, but its victims will span the region. And the United States is, albeit unwittingly, contributing to the devastation it will bring.
Iran, the International Atomic Energy Agency and others have warned, is closer than ever to producing a nuclear bomb. Israel has steadfastly proclaimed that the Islamic republic must not be allowed to become a nuclear power. History tells us that Israel means what it says. Jerusalem took out the nuclear programs of Saddam Hussein’s Iraq in 1981 and Bashar Assad’s Syria in 2007.
There are other indicators, as well. As CAMERA has highlighted, Israel has steadily increased its military capabilities, recently holding the largest military exercises in its history. In June, the IDF revealed that it can now fly F-35 fighter jets from Israel to Iran without refueling. The jets are also equipped with a bomb that “can be carried inside the plane’s internal weapons compartment without jeopardizing its stealth radar signature,” as the Jerusalem Post reported.
But unlike the strikes that took out the Iraqi and Syrian nuclear facilities, ending Iran’s nuclear ambitions will be more complicated. An attack on Iran’s nuclear program will necessitate a wider war—one that will be existential for both Israel and regime in Tehran. Further, the Islamic republic’s terrorist proxies surround the Jewish state and many are embedded in civilian populations.
Lebanon offers what is perhaps the best example of Iran’s strategy. The Levantine nation is de facto ruled by Hezbollah, a U.S.-designated terrorist group and Iran’s foremost proxy.
In underreported remarks in June, IDF Chief of Staff Aviv Kochavi warned that Hezbollah has turned “Lebanon into a country that has the potential to experience unprecedented damage, due to the way it has spread across Lebanon, from south to north, and through the way it attached its weapons and operatives to civilian areas. This is the reality the enemy created.”
That reality is looking nightmarish for many Lebanese.
The Alma Research and Education Center, an Israeli NGO, has thoroughly documented Hezbollah’s frightening use of human shields. In the area near the city of Nabatieh in southern Lebanon, the Alma Center has identified more than 200 villages that are part of what Hezbollah calls its “second line of defense.”
Hezbollah has established sites that are “located in buildings within the populated villages and areas close to villages,” which are “utilized by the missile and rocket array systems.” Many of the buildings are used to store “large quantities of explosives.” Indeed, some reportedly house Hezbollah’s engineering unit, which manufactures improvised explosive devices.
Nor is Hezbollah’s use of human shields confined to southern Lebanon. In September 2018, the IDF released footage of three underground facilities that were built by Hezbollah in populated neighborhoods of Beirut to improve its precision-guided missiles.
Storing explosives in civilian population centers has long been a favored tactic of Hezbollah and other Iranian proxies, like Hamas and Palestinian Islamic Jihad. Perhaps most infamously, on Aug. 4, 2020, a large explosion ripped through Beirut, killing 218 people and leaving more than 300,000 Lebanese homeless. Strong evidence links Hezbollah to the improper storage of 2,750 tons of ammonium nitrate that caused the explosion. Yet in one of many signs of the terrorist group’s control of the state, answers haven’t been forthcoming and many Lebanese express little optimism that an impartial and fair investigation will take place.
Hezbollah will go to great lengths to use civilians as cannon fodder. The terror group has even established several faux nonprofit organizations to provide their operatives with additional cover. As the Alma Center has documented, Hezbollah established the Peace Organization for Demining to “disguise” the terror group’s use of human shields. The organization worked to provide a cover story and disseminate propaganda after another weapons depot exploded in the southern village of Ain Qana in Sept. 2020.
Hezbollah has used other nonprofits to help hide its activities. As the Washington Institute for Near East Policy has highlighted, one such organization, Green Without Borders, has even collected intelligence for Hezbollah while posing as an environmental nonprofit. But it is the Lebanese state itself—specifically the Lebanese Armed Forces (LAF)—which provide the terror group with essential aid.
The United States, among others, has funded, trained and equipped the LAF, hoping that it will serve as an “institutional counterweight” to Hezbollah, as one senior U.S. State Department person recently testified.
A new report by the Foundation for Defense of Democracies, a nonpartisan Washington D.C.-based think tank, argues that U.S. support for the LAF is not achieving this stated objective. Instead, the LAF has been actively colluding with Hezbollah.
FDD board member and counterinsurgency expert David Kilcullen charts numerous examples of the LAF working hand-in-glove with Hezbollah—sometimes against other terrorist organizations that challenge Hezbollah’s rule, and often against Israel, a chief U.S. ally. Far from being a “counterweight” to the Shiite terrorist group, the LAF actually “amplified Hezbollah’s influence.” Their intelligence and security services “reportedly share information and collaborate closely” with the Iranian proxy. Indeed, Hezbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah has even praised the Lebanese Armed Forces for their assistance in taking down the group’s enemies.
Kilcullen argues that American assistance to the LAF isn’t working and that Lebanon’s dire economic situation presents the U.S. and its allies with leverage. The United States should use it. A war is coming, and Hezbollah is amassing human shields. American tax dollars should be working to make a bloodbath less, not more likely.
(Note: A slightly different version of this article appeared in JNS on Aug. 11, 2022)