Preparing for the Third Lebanon War

August 8, 2017 | Gideon Sa’ar and Ron Tira

In a thorough study, Gideon Sa’ar and Ron Tira consider the threat posed by Hizballah’s acquisition of high-precision weapons (which it may soon be able to build itself), its presence, together with Iranian forces, along the Israel-Syria border, and the high likelihood of another war much like the 2007 conflict but more devastating to both sides. Sa’ar and Tira caution that war would be unlikely to lead to anything resembling a decisive victory, but they also stress the need to risk the possibility of war in order to keep Hizballah and its allies from acquiring the most advanced weapons. They write:

In certain senses Israel is unusual in its vulnerability to precision weapons, as on the one hand it is a Western country with advanced critical infrastructure, and on the other hand, it is a small country with concentrated critical infrastructures and little redundancy. . . . [For example], the six largest electricity-generating sites in Israel (including private ones) account for 51 percent of the national capacity for electricity generation. Thus the threat represented by even a small number of precision missiles that breach Israel’s countermeasures and strike critical systems, such as electricity generation, could be unprecedented. The picture is similar with regard to other critical systems. . . . [Therefore], Israel must be prepared to escalate even as far as [all-out] war in order to thwart Hizballah’s precision-capability buildup.

Indeed, Jerusalem could face a situation much graver than the threat of an asymmetric war with a guerrilla army:

[The] military buildups by Iran and Hizballah in Syria, and the production of [advanced] weapons in Lebanon, . . . could be seen as an attempt by Iran and Hizballah to create a symmetrical strategic equation with Israel, if not more than that. . . . Indeed, it is possible that the temporary and partial suspension of the Iranian nuclear program is incentivizing what looks like an attempt to reach a strategic balance against Israel in other spheres, resulting in a dynamic of escalation. These processes could very well put the regional system at a crossroads, and raise the probability of war.

To make matters worse, Sa’ar and Tira note that Russia has thrown in its lot with Iran and Hizballah, raising the stakes considerably:

An extension of the fighting [in an Israel-Hizballah conflict] to Syria . . . could interfere with Russian attempts to stabilize its own order in Syria. Therefore, Russia could try to limit Israel’s political, strategic, and even operational freedom to act. . . . In its six previous campaigns [since 1993 against Hizballah and against Palestinian terrorists], . . . even when Israel made mistakes, the price of such mistakes was tolerable in strategic terms. But the [use] of improved-precision weapons and the [involvement] of Russia could fundamentally change the characteristics of the next conflict, so that it will not be the “seventh in a row.” It is possible that Israel cannot allow itself to delay taking decisions, as it had in the past, and the price of error will be far greater.

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