Nearly four years after the Second Lebanon War, Israel published maps yesterday showing arms caches in some 160 southern Lebanon villages.
In a rare move declassifying confidential intelligence information, the Israel Defense Forces told reporters that Hezbollah has some 40,000 short-, medium- and long-range missiles, and a force of 20,000 guerrilla fighters based throughout southern Lebanon.
Many of the arms caches are stored in private homes, which in the event of war could turn into IDF military targets. Unlike the Second Lebanon War - in which most of the fighting between Israeli soldiers and Hezbollah militants took place in thickly forested rural areas - the past four years have seen the organization concentrate most of its fighting capacity in built-up areas.
In Beirut, one Hezbollah official told reporters he would not comment on the information provided by the IDF before seeing it himself.
Hezbollah's operation has been limited considerably by the presence of UNIFIL troops deployed in southern Lebanon. In recent days, however, residents of southern Shi'ite villages sympathetic to Hezbollah have blocked the UN monitors from entering their communities.
Virtually every Shi'ite village in southern Lebanon functions as a kind of military post, including control centers, underground supply tunnels and storage of arms caches.
Most villages host cells of between 30 and 200 Hezbollah fighters trained in field operations and rocket launching. IDF planners believe that in the event of war, Hezbollah will fire between 600 and 800 rockets a day at Israel.
Yesterday the military revealed intelligence on one southern Lebanon village, Khiam, 20 kilometers from the northern Israeli city of Kiryat Shmona. The village of 23,000 is said to include at least 10 weapons storage sites - some of them just dozens of meters from schools or hospitals - and upon the outbreak of war would likely provide a haven for at least 90 Hezbollah fighters.
Col. Ronen Marley of Brigade 300, stationed on the Lebanese border, said yesterday, "Hezbollah is hunkering down in the villages. They're gathering significant quantities of intelligence on our forces. Every day it is busy digging tunnels and building up communication infrastructure to prepare itself for war."
Over the last few months, farmers working land close to the border have reported more sightings of Hezbollah fighters perched at reconnaissance towers overlooking Israel.
Many of them, the farmers said, were accompanied by individuals speaking Iran's dominant language, Farsi. Hezbollah is believed to be operating in conjunction with hundreds of Iranian advisers, led by Hossein Mahdavi - the head of the Lebanon Corps of the Iranian Revolutionary Guard - stationed in Beirut.
Iranian officers have largely filled positions once handled by Imad Mughniyeh, the senior Hezbollah militant assassinated in Damascus two years ago in a strike the group has attributed to Israel.
Hezbollah has received over 40,000 rockets from Iran and Syria over the past four years, three quarters of which possess strike ranges of between 20 and 50 kilometers.
The group has several thousand Syrian-made rockets with calibers of between 220 and 302 millimeters, able to hit targets up to 150 kilometers away.
Another Syrian-supplied projectile, the M-600, is produced jointly by Iran and North Korea and is capable of hitting targets up to 300 kilometers away with accuracy of within 250 meters. The latter group of rockets would represent a considerable threat to communities in central Israel.
Over the last few months Syria has also delivered Hezbollah a number of SCUD missiles capable of hitting almost any target in Israel.
While Hezbollah has invested most of its resources into bolstering its rocket-firing capacity, it has also trained disciplined commando units for more sophisticated attacks within Israel.
Still, high-ranking IDF Northern Command officers said yesterday that despite Hezbollah's growing military strength, the group remains uninterested in sparking a war with Israel - at least for now.
The last four years have been the quietest on Israel's northern border since the founding of the state: the only rocket attacks waged were the work of Palestinian terror cells affiliated with international jihadist groups, and their damage to Israeli life and property was minimal.
Northern Command officers said Hezbollah is wary of the immense damage another confrontation with Israel would wreak upon southern Lebanon, which would also harm its political status in the country and lead to international pressure on the group to disarm.
Still, one top officer said that should Israel launch a strike on an Iranian nuclear facility, Hezbollah could be expected to respond with a forceful barrage of rockets that would shatter the quiet now prevailing in the north.
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