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Iran and Syria Crises May Compel Hezbollah to Act, IDF Preparing

By Yaakov Lappin
JINSA Visiting Fellow

The IDF is deep in preparations for the next potential round of fighting with the Shi'ite Lebanese terror militia Hezbollah.

If one conclusion can be drawn from the intensive military training, it is that the IDF is determined that any future confrontation does not resemble the indecisive outcome of the 2006 Second Lebanon War.

Hezbollah rockets, like those seen here, can reach almost anywhere in Israel.Hezbollah rockets, like those seen here, can reach almost anywhere in Israel.This is highly important since it will be Hezbollah, with its tens of thousands of rockets, that will lead Iran's reprisal attempts for any potential Israeli strike on Iran's nuclear weapons development program.

Hezbollah and Israel fought a 34-day war in the summer of 2006, after Hezbollah launched an unprovoked cross-border raid on Israeli army patrols, killing several soldiers and kidnapping two more who soon died of their injuries, all the while firing rockets at northern Israeli communities.

In the fighting that followed, Israel relied heavily on air power to target Hezbollah rocket launching sites and command posts, while dispatching a relatively small number of ground forces to engage Hezbollah guerrillas in house-to-house fighting in Lebanese villages close to the Israeli border. Only in the final days of the war did Israel send significant numbers of ground forces deeper into Lebanese territory.

Over the duration of the conflict, some 4,000 Hezbollah rockets struck northern Israel. That's a pattern the IDF believes must not be repeated, since Hezbollah is today armed with some 60,000 rockets, including projectiles that can strike any location in Israel including the heavily populated area of greater Tel Aviv.

Hezbollah was founded in the 1980s by Iranian intelligence agents operating within the Lebanese Shi'ite community. Today, the organization is an alien feature in the Lebanese landscape, and represents Iran's strike force in the Levant, situated right on Israel's northern border.

Many of Hezbollah's fighters are trained by the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps, Iran's elite military force. Hezbollah's rockets are supplied by Iran, its finances are underwritten by Iran, and its chief, Hassan Nasrallah, serves as an Iranian spokesman.

While Hezbollah enjoys some independence, the strings that control it, and which can snap it to attention and send it into war with Israel, are held by Iranian Supreme Leader Ayatollah Khamenei.

Iran hopes that Hezbollah's capabilities will help dissuade Israel from striking its nuclear weapons program.

Whether a strike on Iran materializes or not, Israeli military planners have come up with new tactics aimed at decimating Hezbollah swiftly in the next war, and denying it the possibility of lobbing rockets into Israel for weeks on end as it did in 2006.

The new approach essentially relies on moving overwhelming numbers of tanks, armored vehicles, and infantry forces deep into Lebanon at the outset of the conflict, and the air force returning to its traditional role as a supportive component for ground forces in combat.

I witnessed some of these tactics being drilled last month in a major nighttime army exercise. In it, infantry troops from the Golani Brigade's Battalion 13 crossed the Jordan River (in armored personnel vehicles and on foot) together with tanks. The Jordan River was, in all likelihood, meant to symbolize the Litani River in southern Lebanon, which is a Hezbollah stronghold.

Defense sources I've spoken with have argued that the surest way to effectively and swiftly eliminate Hezbollah's underground fortifications, its command and control centers, and its rocket launchers is to reach them by land.

Additionally, IDF tanks will no longer be vulnerable to Hezbollah's armor-piercing anti-tank rockets, as they will be equipped with the revolutionary Trophy (Wind Jacket) anti-armor missile interception system.

It is important to note that the drills, of which the IDF has made no secret, in no way shed light on what Israel may or may not do vis-a-vis Iran. What they do signify is the IDF's commitment to readying a contingency for Hezbollah that is designed to allow Israel to provide a relatively quick knockout blow to the terror organization should it have to.

Hezbollah, for its part, recently held its largest ever drill, in the Litani River area, according to Lebanese media, involving 10,000 fighters and Iranian military trainers.

Even without an Iranian spark, a confrontation with Israel could develop from a miscalculation by Hezbollah. The catalyst could be a major terror attack on an Israeli target abroad, or another provocation along the Lebanese-Israeli border.

Hezbollah may seek either of these as it faces growing isolation within Lebanon, where Sunnis and other non-Shi'ite Lebanese, emboldened by the next-door Sunni revolt against the Assad regime in Syria, have begun vocally questioning the need for Hezbollah's existence as a military force alongside the official Lebanese military.

Hezbollah's claim to being an indigenous Lebanese "resistance" force is being rejected by growing numbers of Lebanese.

With Hezbollah quickly losing face in the Arab world due to its support for the murderous Assad regime and its savage repression of the Syrian rebels, Hassan Nasrallah may look to a conflict with Israel for a distraction.

Such a move could, however, likely lead an Israeli response that might prove fatal for Hezbollah.

As the uncertain future of the region continues to unfold, the IDF is preparing for all eventualities.

Yaakov Lappin, JINSA Visiting Fellow, is a journalist for the Jerusalem Post, where he covers police and national security affairs. For more information on the JINSA Visiting Fellows program, click here.

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