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Lebanon III?

Today Israeli radio reported a massive effort underway to contact IDF reserve soldiers and verify their contact information. Yesterday, Israel deployed Patriot missiles next to the northern city of Haifa, for the first time since the 2006 Lebanon war. Inside Lebanon, anti-Hizbullah rhetoric is heating up, with Prime Minister Fouad Seniora blaming Hizbullah for bringing war upon Lebanon, and Druze leader Walid Jumblatt warning of a possible civil war against the Iranian-backed organization. And today’s Jerusalem Post reports that Israel is deeply concerned about the possible collapse of UNIFIL, the 15,000-man strong UN force which has been in southern Lebanon since the end of hostilities in 2006. Things have not looked so unstable along the Israel-Lebanon border since the war ended.

Hizbullah, having taken a massive blow with the killing of its top military commander and terror architect, Imad Mughniyeh, is not likely to take its humiliation lying down. Hassan Nasrallah has declared an “open war” against Israel and Israeli targets around the world. The pundits are busily speculating how Hizbullah might respond — with an assassination attempt against an Israeli leader, with a massive terror attack on a Jewish or Israeli target somewhere in the world, or possibly with the launching of chemical missiles or unmanned aircraft at Israeli population centers. But we should assume Israel will not sit back and wait for the response, either. The next move may be Israel’s.

Neither Hizbullah nor Israel really wants full-scale war right now, however. Israel is unlikely to get the kind of diplomatic air cover from Washington the way it did in 2006, if for no other reason than because of the instability it might bring to John McCain’s campaign. Hizbullah, too, stands to lose a great deal, not just from defeat, but even from another stand-off, which would likely hurt its public image in Lebanon even further, and possibly bring on civil war. So the most likely outcome is saber-rattling, and possible surgical strikes.

But if war does break out, Hizbullah should be prepared for a far more costly adventure: The IDF today is not the IDF of 2006. Not just the replacement of the labor union leader Amir Peretz (who heard of a “strike” against Hizbullah and took out his megaphone) with the former IDF chief-of-staff and Prime Minister Ehud Barak in the position of defense minister; and the replacement of Dan Halutz as IDF chief-of-staff with Gabi Ashkenazi; but a lot of money, training, and equipment has built up the IDF, which did not wait for the Winograd Commission’s report to start learning the lessons of Lebanon II. Rebuilding the IDF was Ehud Barak’s excuse for remaining in the government, despite promises to the contrary, after the report came out. The man wants to be Prime Minister. And Ehud Olmert, whose party is looking at a massive drubbing in the next election, needs to save his own political career. This is a war that neither of the Ehuds can afford to lose — and anything less than decisive victory, for these purposes, would be a loss.

For the people in charge on both sides, in other words, the stakes have never been higher.


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