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Deceptive Calm on the Northern Front

Binyamin Rose

While Israel is bracing for a third battle with Hezbollah a decade after the Second Lebanon War, is the country any better prepared this time around?

Wednesday, July 13, 2016

lebanon

"The war was irresponsibly made into a story of failure, with the blame attributed to the fighting echelons-the easiest prey and scapegoat." Brigadier-General(res.) Gal Hirsch is still paying the price

My ears begin popping on the last leg of the steep climb along Highway 9977 to Kibbutz Misgav Am on Israel’s border with Lebanon. The discomfort is slight in contrast with the sights to behold. 

Rows of tall, young pine trees give way to grapevines and apple and pomegranate trees whose fruits are ripening in the summer sun. The verdant Hula Valley lies serenely 2,700 feet below, while the volcanic, brownish-black rock of the Golan Heights towers above. 

Nestled in the Golan foothills is Har Dov, thought to be the location where G-d made His covenant with Avraham Avinu. Today it’s known as Shebaa Farms, territory the IDF has declared a closed military zone, and Lebanon claims as its own. The red-roofed Israeli town of Metulla stands out in the distance. Like most towns in this area, both Metula and Misgav Am are surrounded on three sides by southern Lebanese villages in what’s known as the finger of the Galilee. 

Misgav-Am recently built a visitor’s center so tourists can enjoy this panoramic, breathtaking, and historic view. Its 300 year-round residents are hospitable to both vacationers and to the IDF, which has stationed troops and a listening post on the kibbutz’s highest peak. But despite the idyllic scenery, danger lurks close by. 

“The view you’re looking at and the one I see are remarkably different,” says a strapping, high-ranking IDF officer, who we will call “J.” The IDF military censor forbids us to take J’s photograph or identify him even by first name. “You see a house, but the house I see has a kitchen, a children’s bedroom, and a missile room. I see tunnels and Hezbollah operatives arming and preparing, always on the move, looking for places to maneuver from to go on the offensive if they decide. Nowhere in the world do you have a terrorist army with such capabilities.”

"It's our job to be ready." While children practice-play in bomb shelters, engineer Zohar Dekel and Yiron's emergency commander Shlomi Flax stay cautiously prepared

A generation ago, this section of southern Lebanon was predominantly a Christian stronghold. The IDF, which had carved out a security zone in southern Lebanon, cooperated with Christian militiamen to keep Islamic terrorists at bay. That all changed in 2000 when the IDF withdrew from southern Lebanon and Hezbollah stepped in to fill the vacuum. 

Some of these villagers are Shiite Muslims who host Hezbollah willingly, while the Christian villages have been taken hostage by Hezbollah, says J. “They are probably monitoring me from below even as I speak to you.” 

From his lookout post, J watches the terrain closely for any visible movements, most of which are carried out furtively. While Hezbollah poses a constant rocket threat from its arsenal of short- and long-range rockets and missiles, operatives have been digging tunnels for years. Fears are mounting that one day, terrorists will burrow out of their tunnels and mount a cross-border raid to seize a small Israeli town and either commit murder, hold hostages, or spirit them into Lebanon.

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