- - Sunday, December 16, 2018

ANALYSIS/OPINION:

On a three-day trip to Baghdad and Fallujah in December 2005, I could see the devastating effects of precision-guided munitions months after the bombs were dropped.

Of the many images that stuck in my mind was the devastation inside one of Saddam Hussein’s palaces. In the high-domed ceiling were two holes, each about two feet in diameter, and spaced about a foot apart. They were made by two precision-guided bombs that completely wrecked the palace below. It was pretty impressive marksmanship.

In the 13 years since, the technology that guides PGMs has gotten more sophisticated, giving an even greater advantage to the forces using them.

About a week ago, Israel warned the Lebanese government that it would strike Lebanese territory if Iran and Hezbollah — the Iran’s terrorist proxy force — didn’t stop converting Hezbollah’s missiles into precision-guided weapons inside Lebanon.

The Lebanese government has no power to stop them, so the chances of Iran and Hezbollah ceasing their missile conversions are nil. The odds of a war igniting between Israel and Hezbollah in the coming months are almost 100 percent.



Hezbollah’s war to destroy Israel never stops and pauses only after major combat between the two. The last such war, in 2006, lasted 34 days and cost the lives of at least 1,000 Hezbollah and almost 200 Israelis.

Since 2006, the conflict was hollowed out by Iran’s ordering Hezbollah fighters to Syria to defend Bashar Assad’s regime. Several thousand are believed to have been killed, but there are at least 7,000 Hezbollah fighters now in Lebanon. Israel’s warning to Lebanon came as Israelis discovered that Hezbollah had dug tunnels below the Israel-Lebanon border through which to infiltrate its terrorist fighters.

Hezbollah is armed with an estimated 130,000 rockets and missiles of various capabilities, a few types of which can reach anywhere in Israel. They range from crude 107mm Katyusha unguided rockets to the GPS-guided Fateh-110 and M-600 missiles which have a range of up to 180 miles and can carry thousand-pound warheads.

We don’t know which of Hezbollah’s missiles Iran is converting into PGMs but among them are probably the Zelzal, Fateh-110 and M-600 missiles. The Zelzals are versions of the “FROG” missiles — free rocket over ground — Iraq used against Israel and U.S. forces in 2003. They have a range of about 120 miles and can carry thousand-pound warheads. Hezbollah has many hundreds — perhaps thousands — of them. The Fateh-110 and M-600 missiles can probably be upgraded to PGMs more easily.

Charles Freilich, a former Israeli deputy national security adviser, told me that the threat of the Hezbollah PGMs is very great, but has yet to materialize because of the success of Israeli strikes interdicting shipments of parts from Iran. That slows, but by no means stops, the missile conversions.

When Hezbollah is able to gain significant PGM capability, the threat to Israel will be enormous. According to Mr. Freilich, it would enable them to do three things no Arab force has ever been able to do.

First, he said, “Hezbollah could disrupt Israel’s preparations and mobilization for war (attacking mobilization centers, weapons and equipment storehouses, troop concentrations).”

Second, they could, ” disrupt Israel’s offensive war fighting capabilities by, for example, attacking airbases and other military sites of great importance. PGMs would enable them not just to hit an airbase randomly, as they already can, but to target specific planes, in the shelters, and various sensitive sites, intelligence and otherwise.”

Third, Mr. Freilich said, Hezbollah could ” disrupt Israel’s chain of command and control — attacking, for example, the Ministry of Defense or Israeli Defense Forces headquarters in Tel Aviv, the Prime Minister’s office in Jerusalem,” as well as vital civilian and military communications nodes.

The common wisdom is that neither Hezbollah nor Israel wants another round of war but that is belied by Hezbollah’s tunnel excavations and Iran’s actions, including construction of bases in Syria near the Israeli border. Iran and Hezbollah understand that when the threat they pose increases to a critical level, Israel must attack to reduce the threat.

Israel’s attack will be focused on the threat, but Hezbollah’s — and Iran’s — responses will not. Israel will do its best to minimize what will probably be the worst missile attack it has ever endured by firing intercepting missiles from its Iron Dome and David’s Sling systems.

We will have to play a major role in defending Israel. Not kinetically, but by diplomatic, media and economic means.

During and after the 2006 war, Hezbollah and Arab media used “fauxtography” — phony posed photos and videos of civilian casualties — to condemn Israeli action. The global media — U.S., European, Russian and Chinese as well as Iranian and Arab — will criticize Israeli action harshly. We need to help Israel expose and defeat the lies.

The United Nations will, again, be the center of action against Israel. U.N. Ambassador Nikki Haley — as long as she is there — and the president himself will have to take the stage at the U.N. to defend Israel. If Mr. Trump’s new U,N, ambassador is confirmed by that time, she will have to hit the ground running.

When this fight comes — and it will come soon — we must be resolute in defending Israel not only because it is in the right, but because its enemies are our enemies too.

• Jed Babbin, a deputy undersecretary of defense in the George H.W. Bush administration, is the author of “In the Words of Our Enemies.”

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