Hezbollah’s Beirut bases ‘could be smashed’ if war escalates

Former top Israeli military and intelligence figure says air force has only used 5 per cent of its potential against Lebanon


Warning: Former senior military and intelligence official Zohar Palti (Photo Courtesy Washington Institute for Near East Policy)

A highly-connected former senior Israeli military official has issued a dire warning to Hezbollah in Lebanon, warning there is a “high” likelihood" of Israel having to devastate substantial areas of Beirut that are under the control of the militant pro-Iranian Islamists.

“We have no interest to go into an outright war there. But it can flip in five minutes,” said Colonel Zohar Palti, who until March 2022 headed the military-political bureau of the Israel Defence Forces (IDF). He was also a top Mossad official, and deputy head of military intelligence.

Any “miscalculation”, he said, could set off a disastrous chain of events.

“We’d have to smash their Beirut bases,” he said. “We’d have to do something very big to destroy their capabilities. They have over 100,000 rockets, and a thousand rockets a day could fall on Tel Aviv.

Compared with Hezbollah, Hamas is “kids’ stuff”.

He added that Israel had so far used only 5 per cent of its air force capability in the north.

He said that if war really broke out, parts of Lebanon would “look like Beit Hanoun does now”. (Beit Hanoun, Gaza’s northernmost city close to Israel’s border, was razed in the earlier part of Israel’s assault in response to Hamas’s October 7 onslaught.)

Palti acknowledged that Hezbollah’s backer, Iran, had not ordered the militant movement to create a full-scale second front, but Hezbollah had stepped up its actions. It was also impossible, he said, to allow 70,000-80,000 evacuated inhabitants of the north to remain much longer away from their homes and prevented from pursuing their livelihoods.

He said there were significant members of the military and strategic community. who felt powerful action against Hezbollah forces should have taken place some years ago, when the militants were considerably weaker.

Turning to the wider region, Palti blamed Iran for the attacks at the mouth of the Red Sea, launched by Houthis from Yemen.

“Iran completely is behind the Houthis,” he said. “Seven years ago they just had Kalashnikovs, nothing else. Now they have cruise missiles and very advanced weapons systems.”

He pointed out that countries around the region were suffering financially from this conflict. Egypt, for example, was “losing billions every day” through not gathering fees for ships blocked by the Houthi actions further south from traversing the Suez Canal.

However, Palti saw some significant regional shifts taking place. “Arab countries want us to eliminate Hamas and the Muslim Brotherhood — especially Egypt, Jordan and the Gulf States.”

He detected some positive signs for Israel. At this time of regional tension, he said, the Saudis feel they need a defence pact with the US and establishing official relations with Israel would be a price they would probably have to pay for that.

This, said Palti, would “elevate the situation tremendously” and have a transformative effect on the Middle East. However, it might lead also to the US having to help Saudi Arabia enrich uranium on its own soil.

Palti, previously a top intelligence officer inside Mossad and the IDF, admitted that the intelligence community had failed to detect attack plans by Hamas and strategic planning had been faulty. “We blew it and we feel very bad.”

He added: “There has been an earthquake and there will be an aftershock. Be assured, all the political figures and the generals will ‘go home’, as they had to do after the 1973 Yom Kippur war.”

He foresaw some scenarios where the need would be to cooperate with the Palestinian Authority, despite all its flaws.

He warned against creating conditions for any rapid elections in the West Bank and Gaza, pointing out that accurate surveys showed the majority of people in both territories would currently support Hamas.

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