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Can a Ceasefire be Reached Between Israel and Hezbollah?

By Sarit Zehavi 

While the primary focus remains on Israel’s war against Hamas in Gaza, the specter of a full-scale conflict in northern Israel and southern Lebanon casts a long shadow on the people of the region and their hope for a peaceful future.

The question of a practical approach by the United States to the problem of Hezbollah, a US-designated terrorist organization, has never been more critical to the fate of the region.

If a major war does occur, Israel’s primary objective would be to create a security reality in southern Lebanon that does not threaten Israelis living next to border with another massacre, rather than the complete eradication of Hezbollah.

Washington’s quest for a diplomatic solution requires a recalibration of possibilities to meet the complex reality on the ground, as Lebanon is a failed state dominated by Hezbollah, which is beholden to the Islamic Republic of Iran.


Israel does not have an infinite amount of time to deal with the threat of Hezbollah, as 60,000 Israelis living next to the Lebanese border have been evacuated since Oct. 7th. In addition, over 300,000 reservists have put their lives on hold to protect Israel from existential threats both in the north as well as in the south, and this situation must end, or the economic effects on the nation will be profound. Therefore, it is critical to define a clear deadline for the disarmament and withdrawal of Hezbollah forces from southern Lebanon designated under UNSC Resolution 1701, signed by both China and Russia in 2006.


In addition, the monitoring of the disarmament of Iran’s proxy cannot be left to UNIFIL, which has stopped zero missiles from being transferred to Hezbollah over the last 17 years since the previous Lebanese war.


On the eve of the current war, Hezbollah was in possession of an estimated 220,000 warheads, of which approximately 145,000 are mortar shells, 65,000 are rockets to ranges of few tens of KM, and 10,000 are mid-to-long-range missiles and rockets, hundreds of which are advanced conventional weapons such as precision guided missiles. At the same time - Hezbollah was estimated to possess more than 2,000 unmanned aerial vehicles. Altogether, Hezbollah’s arsenal stands at around ten times that of Hamas on the eve of October 7.


Hezbollah’s standing force is made up of some 50,000 terrorist operatives, with tens of thousands of additional reserve forces available. Its elite Radwan Unit, in charge of cross-border invasion for kill and capture missions against Israeli civilians and soldiers, is estimated at several thousands.


Hezbollah currently takes responsibility for an average of 50 attacks against Israel per week during the war.


What’s needed is an empowered and effective international force, one with the authority and will to operate unimpeded across South Lebanon, including within “no-go zones” or “private territories” that Hezbollah has turned into weapons caches and rocket launching sites, many within populated areas using the Lebanese people as human shields, much like Hamas does in Gaza.


Hezbollah’s disarmament and withdrawal to the north of the Litani River, approximately 20 miles, is demanded by the Security Council and is not linked to any additional Israeli concessions, except for a ceasefire. This diplomatic remedy, which could still work if fully implemented, was never enforced after Hezbollah’s last war against Israel in 2006.


Israel has a UN-designated border with Lebanon, the Blue Line, which Hezbollah has contested, but if the international community is to be trusted, it must enforce its own lines or back up Israel’s right to defend its citizens until a comprehensive and verifiable disarmament of Hezbollah forces is achieved.


The legal framework guiding future arrangements must address Hezbollah’s military encroachment throughout the country, in Beirut and the Bekah Valley, making explicit the international community’s demand for the disarmament of all armed factions except for the Lebanese government’s armed forces, by UNSCR 1559 (2004). Terrorists cannot run a nation, or else it is a failed and unreliable state that cannot be trusted.


As we hope that American lead diplomacy leads to a complete disarmament of Hezbollah forces in southern Lebanon per UNSC Res. 1701, we in Israel are painfully aware that Iran and its Hezbollah proxy, who routinely call for the destruction of Israel, analogous to Hamas in Gaza, may choose war no matter what Israel does.


If a major war does occur, Israel’s primary objective would be to create a security reality in southern Lebanon that does not threaten Israelis living next to border with another massacre, rather than the complete eradication of Hezbollah. It would have to achieve what the international community couldn’t attain: the return of tens of thousands of Israeli civilians to their homes safely for the long-term. This more limited goal will aim to create a new deterrence if Iran and Hezbollah choose to remain on a war footing, rejecting disarmament and a long-term ceasefire. Deterrence that will be based on denial of military capabilities.


Hezbollah is refining its attack plans, learning the responses for Hamas' surprise attack in October 2023. This situation leaves Israel in an unenviable position where it has lost the advantage of surprise, and it looks like the international community does not have the influence to prevent Iran and Hezbollah’s offensive plans diplomatically. The kabuki dance of diplomacy with the failed and ineffective government of Lebanon is a mirage, as the decision for war or peace lies in Tehran with the Supreme Leader, not in Beirut.


Yet, many in the West continue to indulge in the fantasy of supporting and strengthening the Lebanese Armed Forces (LAF) as a stabilizing action to prevent a war. The LAF is collaborating with Hezbollah, and has no intention to clash with it, as the majority of its combat forces is Shi’ite. If assistance is given to LAF, it will require a completely different approach to demand accountability that every dollar of US taxpayer money does not end up in Hezbollah’s hand and that the Lebanese military is committed to not working with Hezbollah.


As long as Hezbollah remains the dominant force in Lebanon, both militarily and politically, prospects for a fundamental change in Lebanon remain illusory. The political stalemate in Lebanon has led to a failed state, which is just as Hezbollah and Iran want it.


Therefore, the West should adjust its expectations for Lebanon’s possible future. Even though there are internationally designated borders that Israel accepts, Lebanon, for the foreseeable future, will remain under the feet of Iran and Hezbollah, incapable of normalization with Israel.

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