IDF Officer: In Next War, Hezbollah May Seize Israeli Territory

A senior Israeli officer says the Shi’ite group is increasing its presence at the border, but still focusing more on Lebanon and Syria.

Haaretz Archive

In another war with Israel, Hezbollah would probably accompany massive rocket fire around the country with a ground incursion into a strip of land in the Galilee, a senior officer said Sunday.

He told reporters that Hezbollah would use dozens to hundreds of troops in an attempt to hold a piece of territory for a limited time as a way to boast victory. The Israel Defense Forces, however, would be able to retake the area fairly quickly. The officer’s statements jibe with assessments by Military Intelligence in recent months.

The officer said no proof had been found that Hezbollah was digging tunnels into Israel the way Hamas has done from the Gaza Strip. The army, however, realizes that this strategy is still a possibility.

He said that since the soil in the north was less appropriate, Hezbollah had less reason to launch a Hamas-like tunnel project. Also, hills, forests and the presence of villages near the border would let Hezbollah mount surprise attacks aboveground.

The officer confirmed that Hezbollah’s training and experience during the Syrian civil war gave it the ability to launch a ground incursion if a war with Israel broke out.

“We would be deluding ourselves and the public if we claimed that this was impossible,” the officer said, adding that Israeli troops would have a strong advantage in direct, wide-scale ground maneuvers against the Shi’ite group, an advantage that would lead to victory.

Still, officers in Military Intelligence and the Northern Command say it is not currently in Hezbollah’s interest to stoke a major conflict with Israel. Hezbollah is focusing on events at home, where tensions between Shi’ites and Sunnis have escalated over the entry of more than a million refugees from Syria, most of them Sunnis.

Also, radical Sunni groups, including the Islamic State, have made inroads into Lebanon. Hezbollah is also sending large numbers of troops to assist President Bashar Assad in his war against rebel groups in Syria. Hezbollah is also aiding Iraqi Shi’ites in their war against the Islamic State.

Against this backdrop, Hezbollah sees Israel as a secondary theater, but it is continuing its efforts to acquire and manufacture weapons for a possible conflict in the future. In addition, Hezbollah has significantly changed its strategy regarding incidents with the IDF on the border.

In the past year, Hezbollah has been angered by two attacks in Lebanon that it attributes to Israel. Hassan al-Laqis, a senior Hezbollah commander, was shot to death in Beirut in December. In February, a convoy carrying advanced anti-aircraft missiles from Syria was reportedly attacked by air near the town of Janta.

Because of these incidents, Hezbollah threatened retaliation against Israel after years of avoiding conflict. In mid-March, Hezbollah detonated two explosive devices totaling about 40 kilograms against an IDF convoy at Har Dov at the border, though no one was injured.

In the next two months there were four more attacks, with explosive devices and rocket fire from the Syrian border into the Israeli section of the Golan Heights. Four paratroopers were wounded in one incident; Israeli officials believe that Hezbollah and pro-Assad Syrian forces were involved.

According to Israeli officers, Hezbollah has decided to respond militarily to operations in Lebanon that it attributes to Israel, even if Israel might retaliate and another war would break out.

Officials at Northern Command have also noticed a change in Hezbollah’s tactics along the border. After keeping a low profile for years near the fence, Hezbollah operatives can now be seen more often, usually in civilian clothing alongside members of the Lebanese army. They often carry weapons and communications equipment.

Relations between Hezbollah and the Lebanese army have improved, mainly because of the Sunni jihadist threat from Syria. The two groups joined forces against Islamic State fighters in the town of Arsal in northeastern Lebanon last month.

The Israeli officer added that although Hezbollah had to deploy troops on several fronts and had suffered significant losses in Syria, it was not in dire straits.

“The group has been acting in a realistic and confident manner. When it decides that it needs to stop being silent over what it sees as Israeli aggression, it responds, even if that means putting itself at risk,” the officer said.

“We need to be cautious about claiming that Hezbollah has been deterred and will not respond. While it’s true that it has no interest in another war against Israel, under certain circumstances the region could ignite once again.”