Col. Shmulik Olensky, commander of the “Barak” armored brigade on Israel’s northern front, said that the Israel Defense Force is “dealing with extensive preparations for fighting in Lebanon.”
Speaking at a conference earlier in the week about the First Lebanon War, Olensky said that the next “Lebanon war is going to be different, different from the first and second…There are no longer Christian villages in the south, all have become Hizbollah military compounds, found at every level and in every village. At the entry areas, there will be observation officers and anti-tank missiles.
“A flare-up in Lebanon can occur at any time,” Col. Olensky said. “Therefore we are preparing as much as possible, with unique plans, improved models, and joint training.”
The conference was held in the shadow of increasing concerns that the crisis in Syria will spill over into its notoriously-sectarian neighbor Lebanon. Already, a recent intra-Muslim clash in Tripoli left two Sunni clergymen dead. Adding to the volatility are recent threats by high-level Iranian officials that Western military intervention in Syria will result in an attack on Israel. Taken together, there is substantial concern that Hizbollah will be called on to do Iran’s bidding and attack Israel.
According to Yoram Schweitzer and Oz Gertner of the Institute for National Security Studies (INSS), Israeli security officials estimate that “Hizbollah currently has an organized army of more than 10,000 soldiers and some 60,000 rockets of various ranges, capable of causing more damage and greater precision than the rockets it possessed during the Second Lebanon War.” Hassan Nasrallah, Hizbollah’s leader, recently stated that his organization possesses rockets the range of which cover all of Israel.
In an Insight paper, titled “Will Foreign Interests Drag Lebanon into a Military Conflict?”, Schweitzer and Gertner state that despite Hizbollah’s “close strategic cooperation with President Bashar Assad,” and “publicly announced [ ] support for the Syrian regime,” the organization must consider a Lebanese public that is “loath to engage in another round of violence…because of the heavy economic and physical cost they had to pay as a result of the Second Lebanon War into which they were dragged by Hizbollah against their wishes.” Plus, senior Israeli officials have made it clear to the Lebanese government that the Israeli response to any act of Hizbollah aggression “would entail much greater damage to Lebanon, including the destruction not only of targets directly associated with Hizbollah.”
Although these are compelling reasons for restraint on Hizbollah’s part, Schweitzer and Gertner conclude that the Mullah’s in Iran will be calling the shots on Lebanon’s southern border: “Nasrallah may not have much room to maneuver and will be forced to heed Tehran’s instructions to act against Israel for the sake of Iranian or Syrian interests.”