Lebanon’s Hezbollah, the Iranian-backed, U.S.-designated terrorist group, is gathering intelligence and gaining battlefield experience for attacking Israel.
Major U.S. print media, while occasionally noting some of Hezbollah’s capabilities and battlefield actions, has largely failed to connect the dots on the terror group’s intentions.
The Times of Israel reported observations to that effect by an Israeli Defense Forces (IDF) battalion commander, Lt. Col. Eliav Elbaz, to Israel’s Channel 2. Elbaz said Hezbollah was “obsessively gathering” information about Israel, including its security forces (“IDF officer: Hezbollah gearing up for war, just like in 2006,” April 28, 2016).
The IDF commander characterized Hezbollah’s actions as “reminiscent of what they did before the Second Lebanon War .”
Elbaz’s remarks echoed those made by IDF Maj. Gen. Yair Golan earlier in the month. Golan noted that Hezbollah’s growing capabilities could result in a “full-scale war” with Israel. Golan said that a future conflict with the terror group would “decisive.”
Hezbollah has been fighting in the Syrian civil war on behalf of its Iranian benefactors who support the regime of Syria’s dictator, Bashar al-Assad. Writing for Voice of America (“Hezbollah Develops New Skills in Syria, Posing Challenges for Israel,” April 27, 2016), reporter Jamie Dettmer noted:
“When Hezbollah first intervened on the side of President Bashar al-Assad in Syria, Israeli defense analysts saw the foray as a blessing—better to have their Lebanese arch-enemy entangled in a war in Syria. But there is increasing concern that Hezbollah is getting valuable battlefield experience in Syria, especially when it comes to large-scale, coordinated offensive operations, something the Sh’ite militia had little knowledge of before.”
Dettmer notes that an unidentified “special forces Hezbollah commander” told VOA: “In some ways, Syria is a dress rehearsal for our next war with Israel.”
In addition to gaining a proficiency at large-scale movements, Hezbollah has learned how to coordinate with irregular militias, enhanced intelligence and reconnaissance capabilities and counterinsurgency tactics. Hezbollah also has witnessed experienced increased recruitment.
Hezbollah has improved its technological capabilities, including using artillery more effectively, and upgrading ability to use unmanned aerial vehicles (UAV’s, also known as drones). Michael Rubin, a scholar at the American Enterprise Institute, a Washington D.C.-based think tank, expressed concerns over Hezbollah’s potential use of drones in April 19 congressional testimony.
Speaking to the U.S. House of Representatives Foreign Affairs Committee, Rubin warned that Iran and its proxies, including Hezbollah, have “openly deployed” drones “into Syria and perhaps Lebanon as well. Iranian UAV’s fly over Syria’s largest city in Aleppo and so could just as easily fly over the Golan Heights, over the Galilee or into international air paths over Tel Aviv’s Ben Gurion International Airport or Israel’s smaller regional airports. That Iranian sources openly brag about their development of both ‘suicide’ drones and new satellite-guided drone navigation capabilities augments concern. Neither Iran nor its proxies need to be able to strike an aircraft or an airport to be successful. Simply interfering with civilian air traffic will likely augment Israel’s isolation as airlines suspend service into Tel Aviv.”
Matthew Levitt, the director of the Stein Program on Counterterrorism and Intelligence at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy, a Washington D.C.-think tank, told VOA that he doesn’t think Hezbollah wants a war with Israel now. Levitt said he believed Hezbollah is hoping to “open up a front from which they can do smaller things from time to time against Israel.” Levitt posited that an ideal place for this front, given Hezbollah’s new capabilities, is the Golan Heights.
As CAMERA noted (“ISIS May Possess Chemical Weapons on Syrian-Israel Border,” April 27, 2016), the U.N. Security Council has criticized statements by Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu that the Golan “will remain under Israel’s sovereignty permanently.” Israel has held the Golan since the 1967 Six-Day War, when the armed forces of Syria, Egypt and other nations massed on Israel’s borders and blocked its Red Sea shipping.
One Middle East analyst, Aram Neguizian, told VOA that Iran and Hezbollah are hoping to use the Syrian conflict to try and gain “a stable footing in the Golan and leave troops there after the Syrian civil war is over.”
The capabilities of those “troops” and their objective—to attack Israel—seems clear. Whether the U.N. Security Council, which is charged with maintaining international peace and security, is listening, is less so.