For Israel, the initial phase of its next long predicted war with Hezbollah is focused on neutralizing Iranian arms shipments to Hezbollah while destroying factories allegedly under construction to build long-range missiles. Some Israeli recently bombed sites are also claimed to have been housing chemical weapons. Earlier this month Israeli jets attacked a Syrian military installation near the city of Masyaf that allegedly produces chemical weapons and advanced missiles.
Israel has recently increased its targeting of claimed Hezbollah/Iranian sites followed by diplomatic warnings by Israel’s leadership that it will not accept an enhanced Iranian and Hezbollah presence on its northern borders. Israel has bombed more than 100 targets since 2011 including some Iranian positions around Damascus military airport, West and South Syria as well as in Lebanon’s Bekaa valley and down south. The latest reported attack comes only days after Israel shot down an Iranian-made drone operated by Hezbollah after it entered the demilitarized zone along the border between Israel and Syria on the Golan Heights. Israel insists that it will continue to target Hezbollah’s expanding military operations in Syria and in Lebanon. In addition, this month (9/2017) Israel conducted the largest military exercise in decades in what an IDF/IAF spokesperson suggested was a rehearsal for the certain coming war with Hezbollah.
While Israeli rhetoric has focused attention on the widely predicted soon to ignite Hezbollah-Israel war, it is Hezbollah which this month has launched the first stage of its fateful war with Israel.
Hezbollah’s activation this month of more than a dozen intense initiatives includes but are not limited to those noted below and they enumerate how Hezbollah intends to achieve another Devine Victory by being adjudged the winner of the approaching conflagration. For security reasons, other Hezbollah initiatives now being activated have been omitted from discussion for the time being per a request from Hezbollah’s politburo.
Despite its November 2013 offensives in the strategic Qalamoun region close to the Syria-Lebanon border as an insurgency and then recently switching to becoming a counter-insurgency/conventional force in Syria, Hezbollah will discard the conventional force model to battle Israel. Especially in the early stages of the coming conflict according to a Party of God official in Damascus.
Not all the members of Hezbollah’s Politburo or its military hierarchy want to give up the idea of developing a regular army. One Hezbollah officer recently explained to this observer: “Since we went into Syria, we have become much stronger. Like a regular army. What was Hezbollah before? We were only defenders. Now, we’ve learned how to attack offensively.”
Despite the gentleman’s confidence, Hezbollah plans to continue employing tactics it learned from the PLO in 1982 and stick with what brought it relative success during its 18 years (1978-2000) guerilla war targeting Israel’s occupation of South Lebanon. Hezbollah learned in the early 1980’s that when the PLO stood its ground or behaved like a regular army, Israel’s superior force quickly destroyed its soldiers despite heroic fighting by the Palestinians. However in 1982 when the PLO mounted urban warfare as a resistance/guerilla force and fought Israel’s army in locales such as the alleys of Ein al Helweh refugee camp south of Beirut in Saida, the PLO twice bested its enemy, causing many casualties and forcing Israel to withdraw from the urban area in humiliation.
As part of its initial phase launch, Hezbollah has already deployed troops and rockets to more than 100 south Lebanon villages for waging attacks on Israeli troops from civilian neighborhoods. The missile launches be fired mainly from built up civilian areas. Israel’s predictable counter-attacks on Lebanon’s civilian population will cause high civilian casualties. Hezbollah and its media allies will immediately publicize in Lebanon and globally via social media the civilian death tolls in order to create international condemnation of Israeli excesses and build pressure, as in 2006 and in Gaza 2014, for a an early UN sponsored ceasefire.
Hezbollah is also beginning work on militia cells on the Syrian side of the Golan Heights, to provide a base for strikes against military and civilian targets in Israeli-held territory during the future conflict.
The Party of God has made clear it intends to remain in Syria, and has established missile bases in Qusayr and Qalamoun to protect its longer-ranger projectiles from Israeli attacks. It has also engaged in sectarian cleansing of Sunnis from this area to secure its Bekaa Valley and Baalbek strongholds across the border to keep open the key route to Damascus.
Hezbollah is known for its careful-even cautious- planning yet it openly admits to making several battlefield miscalculations and errors in 2006 and before. Today it is urging its fighters and civilian population not to be daunted by the past and to be steadfast and to take risks, believing that this has also paid off in the past. With this in mind, Hezbollah has recently started a program to build confidence among its Shia supporters in Lebanon. This reportedly includes training civilians to improve their ability to shoot, move accurately and communicate under fire. A Hezbollah official during a recent media tour of some of its positions in the south, explained: “It’s part of our culture to teach our children and children’s children to fight.”
During the 2006 war with Israel Hezbollah claimed at various times that its rockets were aimed primarily at military targets in Israel, or that its attacks on civilians were justifiable as a response to Israel’s indiscriminate fire into southern Lebanon and as a tool to draw Israel into a ground war. Hezbollah rockets killed 43 civilians and 119 Israeli soldiers during the course of the 34-day conflict (over 1,700 dead on the Lebanese side, including approximately 500-600 Hezbollah combatants).
This month (9/2017) Hezbollah is readying for launch its large arsenal of medium and long-range rockets to fire from day one of the coming open warfare stage. Hezbollah sources report that approximately 2000 rockets will be fired daily at Israel’s military, infrastructure, and civilian neighborhoods across Israel. This number exceeds the total average weekly number fired into Israel during the height of the 34 day 2006 war.
One Hezbollah officer on leave from Syria recently mentioned to this observer in its security zone in Dahayeh south Beirut that Hezbollah can and may well fire as many as 4000 missiles into Israel in less than one hour. By far the greatest number of missiles being distributed to sites in South Lebanon and the Bekaa Valley and readied for launch are Katushya’s. Followed by Iran’s Fajr-3 and -5 (forty and seventy kilometers range), the Syrian Khaybar-1 (100 kilometers), and the Iranian Zelzal-3 (250 kilometers). Among Hezbollah’s rocket collection are the Syrian M600 — based on Iran’s Fateh-110 (250 kilometers), and SCUD-B/C/D missiles (300-700 kilometers). In addition, Russian missiles are reportedly being purchased on the black market.
Hezbollah is reportedly also deploying improved types of man-portable surface-to-air missiles including the SA-18, and vehicle-mounted and SA-17 and SA-22 as well as concealed antitank missiles including the AT-14 Kornet) all supplied by Iran. Israel claims withut proof that the Party of God is stockpiling chemical weapons as well. Hezbollah’s acquisition of the 300-kilometer range P-800 Oniks (Yakhont) can strike Israel’s warships and offshore natural gas facilities and well as targets including the Hadera power plant near Haifa. Also being positioned in various locations in Lebanon is Iran’s M-600 and SCUD missiles. Just as Iranian armed and trained Houthis are using them in Yemen against the Saudi-led coalition.
In addition, Hezbollah has kept many of its anti-tank teams and rocket/missile crews in Lebanon and is deploying hundreds of additional antitank weapons, and improved its air and coastal defense capabilities with modern systems acquired since the start of the war in Syria. Hezbollah continues this week of 9/25/2017 improving its defense capabilities in southern Lebanon, deeply embedding its forces and many of its missiles in tunnels near towns and villages throughout the region.
And while Israel has rocket/missile defenses including 12 Iron Dome missile batteries, three Arrow-2 and 3 missile batteries, and one David’s Sling battery, Hezbollah is confident that its large rocket and missile force will- at least in the early days of a conflict- swarm and quickly overwhelm Israeli defenses.
Hezbollah has also begun using the first stage of its unfolding war with Israel for psychological projects such as instilling fear in Israel’s civilian population and military. Hezbollah leaders have increased the frequency and volume of their threats to Israel including promises that the “Resistance” would move ground forces into the Galilee and Golan Heights. Hezbollah’s Hassan Nasrallah and his deputy Naim Qassim regularly promises that there will be “no red lines” in the coming war with Israel. In April, Hezbollah held a press conference along the border to highlight Israeli defensive preparations and to declare its readiness for war. And in June, Nasrallah pledged that Hezbollah would be joined in its next war with Israel by “tens…or even hundreds of thousands” of Shi’a fighters from Iraq, Iran, Yemen, Afghanistan, and Pakistan. In the past few months, whenever US planes struck Hezbollah targets in Syria, Hezbollah-related media to warned of retaliatory strikes against US target is the Middle East region and beyond.
As part of its opening salvo for the widely expected coming war with Israel, Hezbollah has also launched a large scale regional combatant recruitment effort. Having to date lost in Syria approximately 2000 dead and 8000 wounded and with growing doubts among would-be recruits and their families and friends about its continuing killing of Muslims and Palestinians, Hezbollah is working with Iran’s IRGC to swell its ranks. This is proceeding via various attractive recruiting offers while training, deploying and commanding mainly Shia from six countries in the region. Meanwhile Iran reportedly pays the would-be fighters and Popular Mobilization Brigades (PMB) loyal to Tehran; allegedly with high quality counterfeit US dollars and promises of Iranian residency or citizenship for the recruits and their families after the war should the recruits survive. Iran and Hezbollah also provides the Shia recruits with arms and some training inside Iran and increasingly Hezbollah commanders direct them during battles while keeping in mind their potential future use in Lebanon.
As the Hezbollah and Israel military buildup continues ,the coming war, like preceding ones between the parties, including July of 2006 Conflict, is less likely to be the consequence of a calm rational decision than of miscalculations and a misreading of the likely battlefields. Unleashing a rapid and unintended escalation in this unstable region, and public pressure once the war ignites.
One example of hypothetical miscalculations leading to an unprecedented destructive war between Israel, Hezbollah and various Shia militias with horrific consequences for their civilian populations could result from the following. Hezbollah and Iran ratchet up their building of underground and surface positions between Damascus and the Golan Heights on orders from Iran’s IRGC’s leader Qassim Solemani. Israel immediately conducts intensive air strikes to destroy the new facilities. Hezbollah retaliates from South Lebanon to relieve pressure on Shia villages and the Syrian army near the Golan.
Despite that neither of the two main belligerents may not want a war just now, nevertheless an escalatory all-out war spiral may unleash which cannot be stopped easily or quickly. Especially once high causalities are sustained followed by snowballing violence and both sides upping their commitment, or domestic pressure to achieve victory.
Another not so farfetched script could involve Hezbollah or various regional-drafted Shia militias fighting in Syria responding ‘disproportionately’ to Israel’s attack on their allies and while destroying their arms deliveries from Iran. Israel would likely escalate its attacks and the battle becomes a full-scale war with Iran and the USA considering what if any their own involvement will be.
An additional factor that militates in favor of rapid escalation between the parties are the military advantages of escalating more quickly than your enemy to take the initiative and establish the scope and sequence of operations and influencing the UN ceasefire that would likely be demanded immediately and before long, globally.
Will Hezbollah, eager to burnish its tattered “Resistance” brand risk another war to unite its increasingly questioning base and attempt to unite former supporters and bring back recently lost support from Palestinians? By provoking war with Israel?
Or will Israel be the first to launch the likely catastrophic second phase in reaction to Hezbollah’s launch of the first phase noted above– with an all-out war unlikely to put an end to Hezbollah’s growing military capabilities?