On August 5, 2022, the IDF launched “Operation Breaking Dawn”, aimed at eliminating Iranian-backed terrorists in the Gaza Strip. But as Israel and its allies focus on the country’s southern border, a bigger fight looms in the north.

A great war is coming to the Middle East. It will emanate from Iran, which calls for the destruction of Israel, but its victims will cover the entire region. And the United States is contributing, albeit unwittingly, to the devastation it will bring.

Iran, the International Atomic Energy Agency and others have warned, is closer than ever to producing a nuclear bomb. Israel has firmly proclaimed that the Islamic republic must not be allowed to become a nuclear power. History tells us that Israel means what it says. Jerusalem eliminated the nuclear programs of Saddam Hussein’s Iraq in 1981 and Bashar Assad’s Syria in 2007.

There are also other indicators. As CAMERA has Underline, Israel has steadily increased its military capabilities, recently holding the largest military exercises in its history. In June, the IDF revealed it could now fly F-35 fighter jets from Israel to Iran without refueling. The jets are also equipped with a bomb that “can be carried inside the aircraft’s internal weapons bay without compromising its stealth radar signature”, as the Jerusalem Post reported.

But unlike the strikes that dismantled Iraqi and Syrian nuclear facilities, the end of Iranian nuclear weapons ambitions will be more complicated. An attack on Iran’s nuclear program will require a broader war – a war that will be existential for both Israel and the regime in Tehran. Additionally, terrorist proxies from the Islamic Republic surround the Jewish state and many are integrated into civilian populations.

Lebanon offers what is perhaps the best example of Iranian strategy. The Levantine nation is de facto ruled by Hezbollah, a US-designated terrorist group and Iran’s primary proxy.

In understated remarks in June, IDF Chief of Staff Aviv Kochavi warned that Hezbollah has transformed “Lebanon into a country that has the potential to suffer unprecedented damage, due to the way it has spread across Lebanon, from south to north, and the way it has attached its weapons and agents to civilian areas. This is the reality that the enemy has created.

This reality seems nightmarish for many Lebanese.

The Alma Research and Education Center, an Israeli NGO, has extensively documented Hezbollah’s chilling use of human shields. In the area near the town of Nabatieh in southern Lebanon, the Alma Center has identified more than 200 villages that are part of what Hezbollah calls its “second line of defense”.

Hezbollah has established sites which are “located in buildings in populated villages and areas near villages”, which are “used by missile and rocket systems”. Many buildings are used to store “large quantities of explosives”. Indeed, some would house Hezbollah’s engineering unit, which manufactures improvised explosive devices.

Nor is Hezbollah’s use of human shields limited to southern Lebanon. In September 2018, the IDF released pictures of three underground facilities built by Hezbollah in populated neighborhoods of Beirut to upgrade its precision-guided missiles.

Stockpiling explosives in civilian population centers has long been a favored tactic of Hezbollah and other Iranian proxies, such as Hamas and Palestinian Islamic Jihad. Perhaps most infamously, on August 4, 2020, a large explosion ripped through Beirut, killing 218 people and leaving over 300,000 Lebanese homeless. Strong evidence links Hezbollah to the improper storage of 2,750 tons of ammonium nitrate that caused the explosion. Yet in one of many signs of the terror group’s control of the state, answers have not been forthcoming and many Lebanese express little optimism that an impartial and fair investigation will take place.

Hezbollah will do everything possible to use civilians as cannon fodder. The terrorist group has even created several fake non-profit organizations to provide their agents with additional cover. As the Alma Center has documented, Hezbollah created the Organization of Peace for Demining to “hide” the use of human shields by the terrorist group. The organization worked to provide a cover story and spread propaganda after another arms depot exploded in the southern village of Ain Qana in September 2020.

Hezbollah has used other non-profit organizations to cover up its activities. As the Washington Institute for Near East Policy has Underline, one such organization, Green Without Borders, even collected intelligence for Hezbollah while posing as an environmental nonprofit. But it is the Lebanese state itself – in particular the Lebanese Armed Forces (LAF) – that provides the terrorist group with essential assistance.

The United States, among others, has funded, trained and equipped the FAL, hoping that they will serve as an “institutional counterweight” to Hezbollah, as a senior US State Department official recently testified.

A new report by the Foundation for Defense of Democracies, a Washington DC-based nonpartisan think tank, argues that US support for the LAF falls short of this stated goal. Instead, the LAF is actively colluding with Hezbollah.

FDD board member and counterinsurgency expert David Kilcullen describes many examples of the FAL going hand in hand with Hezbollah, sometimes against other terrorist organizations that challenge Hezbollah rule, and often against Israel, a principal ally of the United States. Far from being a “counterweight” to the Shiite terrorist group, the LAF has in fact “amplified the influence of Hezbollah”. Their intelligence and security services would “share information and work closely” with the Iranian proxy. Indeed, Hezbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah even praised the Lebanese Armed Forces for their help in eliminating the group’s enemies.

Kilcullen argues that US aid to the FAL is not working and that Lebanon terrible the economic situation offers the United States and its allies leverage. The United States should use it. A war is approaching and Hezbollah is building up human shields. American taxpayers’ money should help reduce the likelihood of a bloodbath, not more.

(Note: a slightly different version of this article appeared in JNS on August 11, 2022)

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