These just-declassified IDF maps show the Israeli army’s assessment of the locations of Hezbollah’s bunkers, weapons facilities and surveillance posts in the village of El-Khiam, which is about two and a half miles north of the Israeli border. Hezbollah’s installations in and under El-Khiam total about 950.
If you open the PDF and scroll down to the satellite photo of the village, you will see that weapons caches have been placed beside mosques and hospitals, underneath schools, and in residential areas. El-Khiam — which was already the site of serious hostilities with the Israelis in 2006 — has thus been wired as a village-sized suicide bomb. If Hezbollah launches attacks from El-Khiam and the IDF retaliates, civilian casualties are all but guaranteed.
The IDF, which released the maps exclusively to the Washington Post, probably wants three sets of people to be aware of this intelligence.
The first intended audience is almost certainly Hezbollah itself, which went underground in south Lebanon following the 2006 war. The map conveys to the organization that Israel will know where to retaliate if provoked. Israel is well aware that El-Khiam is full of Lebanese civilians, and is reminding Hezbollah that it has made itself responsible for their security. Hezbollah is duly advised to evacuate local civilians ahead of any hostilities.
From Hezbollah’s point of view, of course, it’s antithetical to their interests to evacuate anyone, since collateral damage caused by Israel serves their cause both domestically and abroad. Israel’s message is therefore being directed as well to its second audience, the Lebanese people. Many citizens of south Lebanon are Hezbollah supporters, but not all, and even Nasrallah’s most ardent fans don’t necessarily want their children to be used as human shields. If Hezbollah attacks Israel, she will have no choice but to defend herself; her object with this early warning is to save the lives of not only as many Israelis as possible but as many Lebanese.
Israel’s third audience appears to be the international community. The maps demonstrate Hezbollah’s strategic decision to force Lebanese civilians onto the front line of its existential battle with Israel — a decision that, while extraordinarily cynical, is a proven winner from an international PR standpoint. Israel is providing evidence of Hezbollah’s use of human shields ahead of hostilities in the dual hope of forestalling future censure for the consequences of any IDF response and directing international indignation where it belongs, onto the Hezbollah decision-makers who are making Lebanese non-combatants fight their battle with the Zionists.
Why did the IDF release the maps now? Here’s my take.
The impending publication of the UN tribunal’s indictments of Hezbollah members for the assassination of Lebanese PM Rafik Hariri will make things very uncomfortable for Nasrallah and, by extension, for Iran, which has set up Hezbollah as its local proxy. The best way for Hezbollah to deflect both Lebanese and international attention away from its guilt in the Hariri killing is to provoke Israel. From Hezbollah’s point of view, an ideal result would be carnage in Lebanese villages wreaked by the IDF. Who’s going to quibble about UN indictments when Israel is killing Lebanese civilians?
Bear in mind that Syria, which is Hezbollah’s main arms conduit, is in a state of unaccustomed instability at the moment. This represents a challenging turn of events for Hezbollah and Iran but also an opportunity. If Assad falls, Iran could swoop in, ostensibly to assist Hezbollah in “defending” Lebanon against Israel but in reality to entrench itself as the de facto leader of Syria. Iranian proxies are already in place in Gaza and south Lebanon. If Damascus moves from an Iranian ally of convenience to an Iranian tentacle, Israel is even more directly menaced than she is already.