Israeli intel expert spotlights Israel’s northern border security issues

May 30, 2020 by J-Wire Newsdesk
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Australia needs to follow Germany’s lead and ban all branches of Hezbollah – not just its military wing, Israeli military intelligence expert Lt. Col. (res.) Sarit Zehavi told participants in an Online Live event hosted by the Australia/Israel & Jewish Affairs Council (AIJAC) this week

Sarit Zehavi

Zehavi, whose talk was themed “Northern Exposure: Israel’s Greatest Threat?” focused on the security challenges posed to Israel at its northern borders, in her role as CEO and founder of independent research organisation Alma.

“When Australia and other countries do not designate the civilian wing of Hezbollah as a terror organization, they are enabling the military wing,” Zehavi told the forum.

“This endangers not only Lebanese and Israelis but also Australians”, she stressed, due to Hezbollah’s track record of planning and executing terror attacks globally.

There is a synergy between the civilian wing and military wing. You cannot separate them. They are all connected to the same mind,” she added.

Turning her focus to southern Lebanon, Zehavi said UNIFIL – the international peacekeeping force monitoring the border between Lebanon and Israel – has failed to fulfil the expanded mandate given to it after the 2006 Lebanon War to prevent Hezbollah from deploying missiles aimed at Israeli cities, towns and villages in Lebanon’s south.

“It’s time to draw the proper conclusions,” Zehavi said, calling UNIFIL’s 10,000-strong force a “waste of money”, powerless against Hezbollah militiamen who routinely intimidate and attack them.

By storing its arms in civilian areas, Hezbollah uses “Lebanese civilians as human shields” as a matter of strategic policy, Zehavi said, a tactic which extends beyond southern Lebanon to its strongholds in the capital city of Beirut.

During the briefing, Zehavi revealed that Alma researchers had recently uncovered more than 30 Hezbollah military sites nestled in civilian areas in Beirut. “[They are] next to the airport, next to schools, next to churches and soccer fields.

“Hezbollah’s spokespeople are saying this very clearly,” she observed. “The weapons – and I’m quoting a Hezbollah statement from last week – ‘The weapons are inside the warehouses in the homes of everybody in Lebanon. Everybody knows that.’”

Zehavi said that Israeli countermeasures against Iran and its proxies in

Lebanon and Syria are part of an open-ended campaign with no resolution in sight.

She downplayed claims earlier this month by Israel’s former Defence Minister Naftali Bennett that Iran had begun withdrawing forces from Syria in response to such raids, saying that an apparent basis for such claims – a reduction in cargo flights between Iran and Syria – most likely has more to do with the coronavirus pandemic than any strategic shift.

Zehavi’s presentation also highlighted the land routes between Iran and Lebanon that have opened up through southeastern Syria, as the Syrian regime and its Shi’ite allies have strengthened their hold on territory once held by Sunni rebels and the so-called Islamic State.

She focused especially on the Syrian-Iraqi border region of Al Bukamal – a key hub for the Iranian transfer of troops and ammunition.

“When they have these roads open,” Zehavi said, “they control the whole area and they can threaten Israel as well.”

Zehavi warned that, while Israel’s raids on Iranian forces and their proxies in Syria are based on careful calculations, the public does not always appreciate how close Israel and Iran and its proxies are to larger skirmishes or even war, should a raid inflict more damage than planned.

“The potential for escalation is always there,” she said.

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