An Israeli soldier stands atop a tank near Israel's border with Lebanon January 21, 2015.
(photo credit: REUTERS/BAZ RATNER)
Just weeks after a top Iraqi Shi’ite commander was filmed in South Lebanon overlooking northern Israel, a senior Syrian Shi’ite militia commander has paid the same visit to the border.
Al-Hajj Hamza, the operations commander of Liwa al-Baqir, a Hezbollah-allied Syrian militia trained by the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps, was seen in pictures published on Twitter on the border with Israel.
Liwa al-Baqir, founded and commanded by Hamza’s brother Al-Hajj Khalid, is one of the main Shi’ite militias in Syria. It participated alongside Hezbollah in the battle to retake Aleppo from rebels and has played a significant role in the regime’s push toward the Iraqi border.
Hamza’s visit to south Lebanon comes shortly after Qais al-Khazali, the commander of Iraq’s Iranian-backed Asaib Ahl al-Haq militia, was seen at the Good Fence on the Israel-Lebanon border in military garb, ready to support “resistance fighters” and to come to the “rescue of Palestinians and Jerusalem.”
The video of his visit caused controversy in Lebanon, with Prime Minister Sa’ad Hariri saying his visit was in violation of Lebanese law.
“Hariri contacted the concerned military and security officials to conduct the necessary investigations and take measures to prevent any person from carrying out military activities on Lebanese territories, to thwart such illegal acts... and to prevent the person in the video from entering Lebanon,” read a statement from his office.
According to Aymenn al-Tamimi, research fellow at the Middle East Forum, Hamza’s visit “is in part a rebuke to Hariri over his anger about Khazali’s visit to the border area, but is also intended to antagonize Israel and remind it that in a future war with Hezbollah there will now be a large transnational network of Iranian-backed militias and fighters to support their Lebanese ally.”
Israel and Hezbollah fought a deadly 33-day war in 2006, a war which Tamimi says Hamza and his brother both participated in.
The Second Lebanon War came to an end under UN Security Council Resolution 1701, which called for disarmament of Hezbollah, for withdrawal of the Israeli Army from Lebanon, for the deployment of the Lebanese army and an enlarged UN force in the south.
Since 2006, the border has seen relative quiet but nonetheless the IDF sees this border as the most explosive, with troops ready for the quiet to be broken at any instant because Hezbollah has gained immeasurable fighting experience, as well as new advanced weaponry, from their role in Syria’s civil war fighting for President Bashar Assad.
In June, Hezbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah warned that the next conflict with the group would see fighters from across the Shi’a world participating.
“The Israeli enemy should know that if it launches an attack on Syria or Lebanon, it’s unknown whether the fighting will stay just
between Lebanon and Israel, or Syria and Israel,” he said during a speech marking al-Quds Day.
“I’m not saying countries would intervene directly – but it would open the door for hundreds of thousands of fighters from all around the Arab and Islamic world to participate in this fight – from Iraq, Yemen, Iran, Afghanistan, Pakistan.”
Defense Minister Avigdor Liberman asked in late November for an increase of NIS 4.8 billion to the IDF’s budget, citing “significant” security changes that have dramatically changed Israel’s security situation, including precision weapons in the hands of groups like Hezbollah as well as the dramatic acceleration of Iran’s defense industry.
According to IDF assessments, in addition to a massive arsenal of rockets and missiles, Hezbollah is able to mobilize close to 30,000 fighters and has flouted its tunnel system, complete with ventilation, electricity and rocket launchers. Some 200 villages in south Lebanon are also said to have been turned into military strongholds from where Hezbollah terrorists are able to constantly watch Israeli soldiers.
The border area with Lebanon has been flagged by the IDF as vulnerable to enemy infiltration and has seen nine infiltrations since 2009. The IDF believes that the next war with Hezbollah will see the terrorist group trying to bring the fight to the home front by infiltrating Israeli communities to inflict significant civilian and military casualties.