With tensions rising in the Middle East around Iran’s nuclear weapon program and Israel’s possible intention to carry out a pre-emptive strike against it, we hear more and more from both Hezbollah, the Lebanon based Shi’a terror organisation, and from its Iranian masters in Tehran about the role it will play in any future military conflict between the two states.
Hezbollah’s leader, Hassan Nasrallah, a staunch supporter of the Iranian cause, keeps repeating several specific threats against Israel that should be taken very seriously. Some of the most notable ones are:
“Prepare for surprises in the battlefield”
Of all his threats, this is probably the most credible. The second Lebanon war of 2006 started with a complete surprise when Hezbollah terrorists attacked an Israeli border patrol destroyed its vehicles, killing three soldiers and kidnapping two others. Whilst there was probably no specific intelligence to predict the exact time and place of this attack, there were plenty of preceding threats coming from across the border, and it took place just weeks after Gilad Shalit was kidnapped to the Gaza strip.
During that war Israel’s navy flagship, the missile corvette INS Hanit, was hit by an advanced Iranian supplied C-802 land-to-sea missile. The ship suffered serious damage to its flight deck and propulsion system and four of its crew members were killed. This incident was not the result of lack of intelligence – the possible existence of this deadly weapon in Lebanon was discussed in Israel before the war.
Since 2006 Hezbollah has not only increased dramatically the number of weapons it holds, but also their diversity and sophistication. Israel must prepare and act on the assumption that its forces will encounter the most advanced anti-aircraft, anti-ship and anti-tank weapons currently in production anywhere in the world – and in particular in Russia, China and Iran.
“Hezbollah will open the war with a massive salvo of missiles”
For 34 days during the 2006 conflict, Hezbollah fired more than 100 rockets a day into northern Israel. By the end of the war it still had more than half of its initial rocket arsenal available. Whilst civilian life in the north was severely disrupted, Israeli Air Force and Army operations, ineffective as they were in stopping the incoming fire, continued with very little disruption.
Nasrallah, now in command of a stockpile numbering tens of thousands of rockets with much longer ranges and much heavier warheads, is now talking about opening the war with a massive salvo of thousands of missiles fired in a very short space of time against strategic Israeli targets like Air Force bases, naval bases, power stations, chemical plants and of course civilian population in towns and cities.
A salvo of this magnitude may have a devastating, indeed paralysing effect on Israel’s ability to operate its military assets effectively. It will also cause a large number of civilian casualties and severe damage to infrastructure. This salvo will be followed by a less intense but nevertheless a steady stream of rocket launches that may continue for a long period of time, preventing Israel from recovering. While Hezbollah itself admits that its ranks are frequently infiltrated by Israeli agents, Israel should not assume that it will have a sufficiently advanced warning before this attack. Even if it had the intelligence and decided to act pre-emptively, experience shows that even under the most severe aerial bombardment Hezbollah was still able to continue firing its rockets quite effectively.
“Hezbollah will capture parts of the northern Galilee”
Whilst this may sound like the most far fetched threat of all, it has to be looked at from a wider, more creative perspective. Of course, Nasrallah is not talking here about a frontal battle between two armies using armoured divisions and infantry battalions, and which ends with one side retreating after being defeated and the other side establishing full military control over the whole captured territory, as was the case with the Sinai or the Golan Heights in 1967.
What we are likely to see are a chain of loosely linked, more localised scenarios which together may present the Israeli army and its commanders with a serious challenge. Hezbollah may attempt to infiltrate from the sea or by land into several northern towns like Naharia, Ma’alot or Kiriat Shmona, each with a relatively small force of a few hundred heavily armed fighters, rapidly taking and gathering together a very large number of civilian hostages, and presenting Israel with a bargaining terror attack of strategic proportions. It is highly likely that Hezbollah will be supported in this effort by well armed, extreme elements from inside Israel’s own Arab population (more on this in a separate future article). We all know the price that Israel was willing to pay in recent years for the safe return of captured soldiers and civilians – but the price here will be of a completely different order of magnitude.
Like his long lost brother-in-terror Osama Bin Laden, Hassan Nasrallah has the habit of talking before acting, and like Bin Laden, he likes his words to receive the widest coverage so that he can say after the event “I told you this is what we are going to do, and here, we did it!” With all its sophisticated and multi faceted intelligence gathering effort going on inside, around, and above Lebanon, Israel should not overlook one of the most reliable indicators of looming trouble – Hassan Nassralah’s big mouth.