20 years after the retreat from Lebanon – has anything changed?

This Sunday will mark 20 years since the IDF's withdrawal from Lebanon and the reality on Israel's northern border remains fragile at best.

Kobi Finkler ,

Report from the northern border - 20 years later
Report from the northern border - 20 years later
Kobi Richter/TPS

This coming Sunday will mark 20 years since the IDF's withdrawal from Lebanon and the reality on Israel's northern border remains fragile at best.

A view from the Israeli-Lebanese border reveals only intermittent parts of a security fence, most of which was constructed all the way back in 1976 and is of almost no strategic use to the Israeli army. One of the reasons for this is the 150 kilometer span making up the border from Rosh Hanikra in the West to Har Dov in the East.

We were reminded of the fence's irrelevance just three weeks ago when it took someone on the other side just a minute and a half to cut it in three separate locations. While the IDF was quick to emphasize that the incident never posed significant danger to any of the nearby towns, and an IDF force arrived almost immediately, the incident reminded everyone just how useful a real fence could be.

צבא לבנון בגבול הצפון
צילום: קובי ריכטר/TPS

Hezbollah's dreams of 'moral victory'

All this comes as Hezbollah has been making threats of staging a major military operation overrunning the Galilee. Their threats shouldn't be taken too lightly. It's true that at most they would reach the first line of houses, hoist a Hezbollah flag on one of the buildings and beat an escape. But this murderous terrorist organization is far from suicidal despite all they say. Making it through the first line of defense and escaping relatively unscathed would be more than enough to provide them a significant moral victory.

The IDF has been able to determine that all of Hezbollah's tunnels on the northern border have been successfully destroyed and there are currently no more projects in the makings. They're also aware of the fact that every third house on the border is being used by Hezbollah. All this makes it difficult to explain to the public why Israel isn't launching a preemptive strike to destroy the threat before it has a chance to propagate. The IDF's usual response is that "the reality is more complex than what it appears to be."

Looking at the recent sequence of events along the border reveals a plethora of incidents (such as drug smuggling and crossing of illegal Sudanese), indicating that the IDF may be losing control on the ground. As a result, Israel is in the process of assessing the situation and deploying additional units to the area. In the last incident, a seemingly innocent shepherd crossed the Blue Line. But some distance behind him, a Hezbollah operative armed with a monitoring device was following the action. This is Hezbollah's way of obtaining crucial intelligence and testing the IDF's preparedness.

'Axis of Evil'

Another troubling aspect of the situation is Syria's technological advances in the military sphere alongside Assad's continued cooperation with Hezbollah. The "axis of evil" between Iran, Syria, and Hezbollah poses a threat. While Israel has Israel profitted from the eternal hatred between Assad's Alewites and Sunnis, now that a settlement has been reached in the fighting in Idlib, the Syrian army may gradually be able to return to its prior strength.

When it comes to Iran, no one has been able to fill Qassem Soleimani's shoes after he was eliminated by the Americans. With the coronavirus killing dozens on a daily basis and the local population on the verge of another coup, the terror-supporting state has found itself in the midst of its biggest crisis since the Islamic Revolution 41 years ago. Add to this the economic instability that has plagued it since President Trump put an end to the Nuclear Deal and imposed heavy sanctions and you'll get a clear picture of the geo-political situation in Iran. In the meantime, Hezbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah has been gaining additional leverage.

Next war?

All of this presents a challenge, especially with Lebanon on the verge of state bankruptcy.

A Lebanese journalist recently offered a comparison with Israel. It turns out that Lebanon's GDP is $360 compared to Israel's $3,600. Human dignity in Lebanon is meaningless. The question remains: Will all this prevent another war or speed up the next encounter?