Although a war is unlikely at this time, the IDF is preparing to fight Hezbollah, which has developed new offensive cross-border capabilities alongside its massive arsenal of rockets and missiles, a senior military source said on Sunday.
Hezbollah plans to send dozens and perhaps hundreds of terrorists into Israel in any war, while targeting the home front with many projectiles, in a conflict that could last as long as four months, according to the officer.
The Shi’ite group’s focus will be to rain rockets and missiles down on Israel, but it also plans raids based on lessons it has learned from its intervention in the Syrian civil war. A preemptive Israeli ground offensive could prevent such raids, he said.
“Hezbollah’s confidence is growing, along with its combat experience in Syria,” the officer said. “The battlegrounds of Syria have enabled Hezbollah to upgrade its capabilities. Hezbollah plans to send many combatants into Israeli territory near the border and seize it.” This has prompted Israel to make “dramatic changes” to its border-defense plans, he added.
“We understood that Hezbollah is thinking offensively.
It is gaining experience in Syria where it is initiating assaults in built-up areas, and attacking cities. It is learning about subterranean warfare from the perspective of the attacker...
and [its officers are] learning more about themselves as the defenders in Lebanon... They are learning about controlling hundreds of fighters, coordinating intelligence, firepower, and command and control. This is a serious development that requires us to prepare accordingly,” the officer said.
In the event that Hezbollah tries to surprise the IDF by occupying part of Israel near the border, the military will retake control of the area within a few hours, the officer said. “Operationally, this is not a difficult story to deal with.”
The officer did not doubt that Hezbollah is “dealing” with tunnel digging, but added that there are no known tunnels leading into Israel from Lebanon.
Hezbollah has built an extensive network of tunnels and underground bunkers in southern Lebanon and, together with Iran, instructed Hamas on how to do so in the Gaza Strip.
Combat with Hezbollah will be very bloody and Lebanon would sustain heavy damage in any war, the officer warned. “They [Hamas fighters] are in all of the [south Lebanese] villages.
“It could be very long. Part of this depends on how quickly we launch a ground offensive. The faster we launch an aggressive ground offensive, the more dramatic the effect it will have,” he said.
A full-scale Israeli war effort would result in the defeat of Hezbollah, he added.
Within hours, the IDF can mobilize brigades to staging areas and begin sending them into Lebanon.
“There is no problem with massing the forces and heading out on a speedy ground maneuver. We can do this very quickly,” he said. “The damage would be enormous in Lebanon.
Wars cannot be waged in a ‘clean’ manner anymore. Hezbollah is operating from the midst of civilians.
Wherever armored and infantry units pass through, there will be noncombatant deaths, as well,” he added.
“There will be many dead. Hezbollah understands this,” the officer said.
Hezbollah is continuing to build its offensive capabilities against Israel even though Israel is not its principal concern at present. Fighting Sunni jihadist groups in Syria, Iraq and Lebanon is Hezbollah’s focus. The movement has created special forces, and the army believes it likely has a naval commando unit for coastal raids.
Despite the threats, the officer said it was important to “keep things in proportion.
The level of firepower used by Syria on the Golan Heights in the 1973 Yom Kippur War was far bigger... There is no challenge in Lebanon that the IDF cannot overcome. There is no village in Lebanon in which the IDF can’t overwhelm Hezbollah.”
The IDF needs to significantly increase the time it spends training, according to the officer, referring to the effects of budget cuts. Without satisfactory levels of training, ground forces will end up paying a “high learning fee” in the first few days of a war – a price in blood that can be reduced if money is invested in training ahead of time.
“The situation on the Israeli-Lebanese border is currently quiet. Tourists arrive in the area. We do not see ourselves as facing an imminent war. On the other hand, there are many developments and instability,” he said.
“But, if [Hamas chief Hassan] Nasrallah feels he must respond to some incident and carries out a deadly terrorist attack on the border, this might prompt an Israeli response, which could lead to a Hezbollah response, which could lead to an escalation,” he said.
Possible triggers for conflict include an overseas terrorist attack by Hezbollah targeting Israelis, which could lead to direct Israeli retaliation against Hezbollah.
Alternatively, an Israeli air strike on a weapons smuggling convoy could prompt retaliation by the Lebanese group.
“Hezbollah is not in distress and it’s not right to believe that it won’t do a thing. In the current ‘war between wars’ phase that we are in, when we have to take risks, we should expect that this can lead to a deterioration and not be surprised,” the officer said, hinting at the consequences of Israeli air strikes on arms-smuggling convoys.
Hezbollah is constantly importing arms from Iran and Hezbollah. It can propose new rocket types and have them mass-produced in Iran or Syria before receiving them in Lebanon, the officer said.
“There is nothing that cannot be brought into Lebanon,” he added.
“We must handle things responsibly and carefully. The military must be very prepared.”
According to Israeli intelligence assessments, Hezbollah has total control of southern Lebanon (the area is dubbed “Hezbolland”), where nothing happens without the Shi’ite organization’s approval. Its yellow flags once again are flying on the border with Israel, and armed, uniformed Hezbollah men have been spotted near the border, a sign of a new boldness following a period of eight years since the Second Lebanon War during which Hezbollah kept a low profile.