When Israeli intelligence officials discuss the most serious threats to Israel
today, they always start with Iran
and its nuclear program. But not far behind is Hezbollah
, the armed group in south Lebanon
that is both part of the Lebanese government and classified as a terrorist organization by much of the international community.
“Hezbollah has thousands and thousands of rockets and missiles pointed at Israel and this is a problem,” Brig. Gen. (res) Amos Gilboa, who spent decades in Israeli army intelligence told The Media Line. “Hezbollah is a major threat to Israel. In the past, its firepower was mainly directed against northern Israel, but now it can also reach Tel Aviv,
the heart of our industry and technology.”
During the 2006 war between Israel and Hezbollah, the group fired some 4000 short and medium range rockets at Israel killing 44 Israeli civilians. Israel used air strikes to destroy many of the rockets and their launchers, killing more than 1000 Lebanese, both civilians and fighters. Since then, Hezbollah has more than rebuilt its weapons capability and has some 100,000 rockets pointed at the Jewish state, according to Israel’s head of northern command Major General Noam Tibon.
Hezbollah also successfully spied on Israel, especially in the period until the 2006 war.
“Hezbollah was able to recruit and run a whole string of agents within Israel --- some of them well connected within the army and police and with access to classified information,” Shlomo Shapiro, the head of the department of political science at Bar Ilan
University told The Media Line. “They were able to obtain much of the information that Israel was seeking to deny from them and we could see their operational successes based on accurate and timely intelligence.”
He said Hezbollah operatives learned Hebrew well, and could eavesdrop on Israeli soldiers’ phone calls. Since 2006, Shapiro said, Israel has put a lot of effort into trying to break Hezbollah’s spying capability, and has succeeded, at least partially.
Hezbollah currently has thousands of fighters in Syria, bolstering Syrian President Bashar Al-Assad’s fight against rebel groups. Tibon told a recent conference that Hizbullah is fighting in Syria’s most violent regions. The number of Hezbollah fighters there is not clear. The Times of London reported that there are now only 3500 fighters there, as compared to 10,000 previously. Hundreds of Hezbollah fighters have been killed in Lebanon.
The ongoing conflict in Syria
has spilled over into Lebanon on several fronts. Lebanon is currently hosting about one million Syrian refugees – the equivalent of one-fourth of the country’s population. There have also been growing clashes between supporters and opponents of Assad that have left at least 16 dead and 80 wounded in Tripoli. The Lebanese army has reinforced its presence there hoping to tamp down the violence.
At the same time, Hezbollah remains popular in Lebanon, says Lebanese journalist Farid Chedid.
“Hezbollah represents both religion and a belonging attachment to being Shi’ite,” Chedid, the editor of the Lebanon Wire, told The Media Line. “While there is some criticism of Hezbollah for fighting in Syria, most Shi’ites in Lebanon remain loyal.”
Hezbollah is also seen as the only regional power, with the exception of its patron Iran,
which can stand up to Israel. Chedid said he did not expect a new regional conflict between Israel and Hezbollah in the near future.
“Hezbollah cannot fight on several fronts at once -- not even a superpower can do that,” Chedid said. “Hezbollah is already worn thin in Lerbanon and does not have the willingness or capability to face a war with Israel. Israel is also happy with the calm on its northern border.”
The only way that could change, he says, is if Israel decides to launch a military strike on Iran. In that case, Hezbollah would launch hundreds of rockets at Israel, and Israel would most likely respond with air attacks.
Article written by Linda Gradstein
Reprinted with permission from The Media Line
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