Hezbollah, a Lebanese group, fought the IDF from the early 1980s to 2000, when the IDF (Israel defense forces) was deployed in Lebanon. In 2006 the two sides clashed again, for 34 days, a war that ended in a tie.
The next round might happen if Iran tries to produce a nuclear weapon, a move which may result in Israel attacking Iran’s nuclear sites. Iran will retaliate with its proxies, mostly with Hezbollah. Israel’s evaluation of the duration and cost of a war with Hezbollah, along with its other ramifications and consequences, will play a major part in Israel’s decision whether to bomb Iran or not.
Meanwhile there is an ongoing tension between Israel and Hezbollah. However, the latter has suffered heavy casualties in the Syrian civil war, up to 2,000 and growing. Hezbollah will require time to recover, so it may not seek to confront Israel at the moment. Yet a miscalculation by one or both sides might ignite a war.
The IDF, one of the strongest militaries in the Middle East, outnumbers and outguns Hezbollah in both troops and weapon systems. Yet Hezbollah has quite a powerful hybrid force, which has antiaircraft and anti tank missiles, hundreds of drones and above all up to 150,000 rockets and missiles, some of which cover all of Israel. Hezbollah could fire more than a 1,000 rockets a day during a confrontation with Israel.
Israel has systems to shoot down rockets, mostly the Iron Dome. Yet Israel does not have enough of them to intercept most of Hezbollah’s rockets, so the IDF can’t rely on a defensive strategy. The IAF (Israeli air force) has mostly fighter – bombers such as F- 15/16. The IAF has been training to launch thousands of sorties in Lebanon but the IAF might not be able to stop the pounding of Israel by Hezbollah. To do that Israel needs boots on the ground i.e. to carry out a major land offensive.
On August 13, 2015, the IDF published the “IDF Strategy”, which explains how the IDF plans to operate in the next war. In September 2017 the IDF ran its biggest exercise in almost two decades, aimed against Hezbollah. The IDF, which had some setbacks in the 2006 war, will be determined to prove it has learned its lessons. However, defeating Hezbollah is a tall order since Hezbollah, which is rooted inside the Shiite community in Lebanon, can always continue fighting with guerrilla and terror tactics. Israel will therefore strive for more limited objectives, mostly to destroy Hezbollah’s rockets and cause the group heavy casualties in order to deter it and other groups as well from confronting Israel.
The IDF will penetrate several dozen kilometers into Lebanon, on a wide front, but it will stay there for a few weeks at most. Israel does not wish to renew its deployment in Lebanon, exposing its troops to attacks, as it was in the 1980s and the 1990s.
The IDF’s elite armor and infantry units will carry the burden of the offensive. Special Forces such as the 89th commando brigade will assist by launching raids behind the lines, collecting information etc.
The IDF relies on reserves. Tens of thousands of them will be mobilized. Many might be called while rockets hit them at their homes and on their way to their bases, where they get their weapons, vehicles etc. Rockets might continue to strike them when they will move to the frontline.
Israeli officials repeatedly warned about the danger of storing rockets in about 200 villages and towns in Lebanon. If rockets are launched from those places, the IDF will strike them, possibly causing huge collateral damage. The civilians living there will be warned in advance to evacuate their homes. Hopefully they will be able to do that, for Hezbollah might order some of them to remain behind, to serve as human shields.
The IDF can inflict a major blow to Hezbollah by catching it off guard. A massive surprise attack might be Israel’s best chance to handle the rockets and reduce Israel’s casualties. However, such an attack could cause significant collateral damage since the Lebanese population might not have sufficient time to escape.
The IDF will have to run urban warfare, including underground, inside tunnels. The IDF has been training for that in various ways. Its troops must be familiar with the terrain of Lebanon so they exercise in similar areas, in the north of Israel. Cooperation between the corps such as infantry and armor is another important factor the IDF has been working on, as part of the preparations to fight Hezbollah. The IDF will also use its advanced C4I (Command, Control, Communications, Computers and Intelligence) network.
Hezbollah got stronger and bigger during the Syrian civil war. The group is now more like a military organization, but this could actually benefit the IDF because it will be easier to find and attack Hezbollah fighters. The latter also got accustomed to enjoy air superiority and receiving air support from the Russian and the Syrian air forces while confronting Syrian rebels who had no aircraft. In a war against Israel Hezbollah will be both without air support and it will have to deal with a powerful air force. It might cost Hezbollah dearly.
The United States sees Hezbollah as a terrorist group. Prior to 9 / 11 Hezbollah killed more Americans than any other terrorist group. In the next war Israel will require US support. On the diplomatic level Israel will need the United States to stand by Israel in the UN Security Council. Militarily the United States can provide Israel with weapons, ammunition and spare parts, without sending US troops.
The next round between Israel and Hezbollah might be much more destructive than the 2006 war. The IDF should try to reduce the cost to Israel and to shorten the war by conducting a large scale and effective air, land and sea offensive.