|Lt. Col. Bill Cowan|
Time is running out for Israel. Within days, a cease-fire will be called and the relentless pursuit of Hezbollah will cease. It's possible that the cease-fire will call for an immediate withdrawal of Israeli forces back across their border, but doing so would leave a vacuum they're rightfully not willing to accept — a vacuum which would quickly be filled by Hezbollah. So instead, the Israelis will remain in place until an international force moves into position in areas the Israelis have taken by force.
To be sure, a cease-fire will be welcome relief for all concerned. No one understands the tragedy of civilian casualties better than the Israelis, who have been the targets of endless, wanton terrorist attacks for decades now. And all should understand and believe them when they apologize for the civilian deaths that have occurred. That's not their way of doing business.
At the same time, the lengths to which they went to avoid civilian casualties were unprecedented. Using cell phone messages, dropping leaflets, and breaking into local radio transmissions to warn residents of areas about to be hit showed ample Israeli desire to minimize 'collateral damage' — the euphemism for civilian deaths. It must also be remembered that those warnings were used by Hezbollah also to avoid being in targeted areas. In essence, not only were civilians warned of what was coming, but so too were the very people the Israelis were fighting against!
When civilians in targeted areas were unable to get out and some became casualties, many members of the international community were quick to place all of the blame squarely on Israel. Instead, reasonable questions could have centered on what Hezbollah's 'social' arm was doing to aid local civilians. In fact, taxis and other drivers from the south were reportedly charging locals as much as $500 apiece for rides to safety in the north. Five hundred dollars! And there were no reports whatsoever of Hezbollah helping 'its own.'
With a cease-fire ultimately in place, we should expect Hezbollah to drag the international media in to show them the destruction. Schools and medical facilities will likely top the list of showpieces, followed closely by apartment buildings. And nowhere within the rubble will there be any telltale signs whatsoever of military supplies, command and control equipment, or ammunition. That will have surely been moved out before the photo ops begin.
Unless stringent 'gag orders' are in place, it's also likely that members of the international force will echo their own observations to the media about the destruction and loss of innocent life. And unless they're well trained and doggedly managed, their comments will come even as Hezbollah is moving new weaponry into the very areas the international force has control over. Just as drug dealers move tons of illegal narcotics into our own country every year despite the best efforts of law enforcement, Hezbollah will move tons of ammunition as close as they can to the border in preparation for their next offensive. And no one should be under the illusion that there won't be one. For Hezbollah, timing is everything.
Finally, I was in and out of Lebanon for almost half of its 15-year civil war — a war which pitted all factions against each other at one point or another. In fact, in 1990 the two main Muslim factions, Hezbollah and Amal, even fought each other as the predominantly Christian Lebanese Army fought the Christian militia Lebanese Forces. Tens of thousands of innocent Lebanese civilians were killed by other Lebanese during the course of the war, and major sections of Beirut and outlying areas were virtually destroyed. For much of it, the destruction was far beyond what the world is seeing in the current images of the ongoing conflict. Yet the international community was silent. There was no outrage about civilians dying, no wailing about the destruction, and no blame where blame could have clearly been assigned. In my judgment, Israel is doing to Hezbollah what must be done. And a cease-fire will preclude them from finishing the job. To believe it's all behind us once a cease-fire is in place is absolute folly.
Lt. Col. Bill Cowan is a FOX News Channel contributor and internationally-acknowledged expert in the areas of terrorism, homeland security, intelligence and military special operations. He spent 11 years doing undercover operations in Lebanon against Hezbollah and Syria. Read his full bio here.