It was around 5 a.m. on Tuesday when the IDF struck gold, or rather a gap in the limestone under an orchard belonging to the northern town of Metulla. It was the first cross-border attack tunnel built by Hezbollah the army found.
After years of northern residents’ complaints of hearing digging sounds below their feet – despite 12 years of relative quiet on the Lebanon front – Hezbollah’s most important offensive surprise is now out in the open.
The tunnel, which infiltrated only 40 meters into Israeli territory and was not yet operational, would have been used by the group’s elite Radwan unit to infiltrate Metulla in an attempt to take control of the community and cut it off from Route 90 to kill as many civilians and troops as possible.
It was supposed to be the opening of Hezbollah’s “Conquer the Galilee Campaign” and the beginning of a third Lebanon war, which defense establishment officials and experts have warned would be totally different than the war between the two archenemies in 2006.
According to Philip Smyth, Soref Fellow at The Washington Institute, Hezbollah has “a mix of arms, from small arms [such as .50 caliber anti-matériel rifles]... then there are UAVs, advanced anti-tank missiles, and a variety of other weapons.”
The terrorist group, which is referred to as an army by most experts, has also amassed a massive arsenal of an estimated 130,000-150,000 short- to long-range rockets and missiles, which are expected to pound Israel in the next war.
It’s expected that the Iranian-backed Shi’ite army will launch thousands of them toward the Jewish state within the first couple of hours of the conflict.
The missile barrages by Hezbollah would provide cover for members from the Radwan unit to advance into Israel in a surprise attack where they would murder and try to kidnap civilians and soldiers, and plant the group’s yellow and green flag in the town.
From there, they would spread out and begin using snipers and anti-tank missiles against IDF troops.
Other Hezbollah terrorists would likely use other tunnels estimated to have been dug along the 130-km. border to occupy strategic points in an effort to stop other IDF forces from advancing into Lebanon.
The Radwan unit, which has gained immeasurable battlefield experience while fighting alongside Syrian regime forces during the Syrian civil war, has learned how to raid and use supporting firepower as it advances to hold onto territory it conquered.
The IDF, which has been watching Hezbollah and learning from leader Hassan Nasrallah’s countless speeches from his bunker deep underground, has drawn up its own battle plan and would for the first time evacuate 22 communities along the Lebanese border.
It will also rapidly deploy multiple division with tens of thousands of ground forces to advance into Lebanon to occupy and destroy the group’s military infrastructure while simultaneously pounding Lebanon with aerial, naval and artillery attacks.
According to the IDF, Israel’s intelligence capabilities have increased dramatically since the Second Lebanon War in 2006 and have a significant number of targets in the north if another war were to break out.
Defense officials have warned that with Hezbollah deeply embedded in Lebanon, the country’s civilian infrastructure is not immune to Israeli strikes. Last year, Intelligence Minister Israel Katz warned that Lebanon would “go back to the Stone Age and maybe even to the age of cavemen” in the event of another war with Hezbollah.
Hezbollah, with 20,000 fighters in southern Lebanon and a few thousand reservists, will also reportedly use fighters from the pro-Iranian Shi’ite Iraqi Al-Najba’a militia, which has several thousand fighters in Iraq and Syria. Thousands of other fighters from other Shi’ite militias backed by Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps’ Quds Force will likely join Hezbollah in the war.
According to Smyth, the Shi’ite militias could engage IDF troops along the border with Syria, thus expanding the war along the entire northern front – a scenario for which the IDF says it is ready.
“There is the potential for the Shi’ite militias [if they’re already in Syria] to be sent to the border on the Golan or into Lebanon. After fighting in Syria and Iraq, a number of these Iraqi fighters have gained combat experience. The real experience came with how they would coordinate and fight alongside the Lebanese Hezbollah.”
The group’s massive missile and rocket arsenal is also expected to significantly damage Israel’s home front, despite the IDF employing all of its air-defense systems.
Hezbollah missiles are expected to hit all over Israel, and the few precise missiles the group has acquired will likely target strategic sites, such as the Kirya military headquarters in Tel Aviv, gas rigs, Ben-Gurion Airport’s runway and other IAF runways.
The conflict might also see the participation of US troops alongside the IDF.
Israel and the United States have an agreement that would see the Americans come to assist Israel with missile defense in times of war. US troops came to Israel last year for Juniper Cobra, simulating scenarios in which Israel faces simultaneous missile barrages on various fronts.
Last week the head of Home Front Command warned that the next war on the northern front “will be a more complex and challenging threat to Israel.”
“There is no dispute that the threat to the Israeli home front in the next war will be very challenging, especially around the ability to ensure essential services for the civilian population and the resilience of Israeli society,” Maj.-Gen. Tamir Yadai said, explaining that the intensity of the next war is something the country is not yet familiar with.
“In the next war in Gaza or on the northern front, Tel Aviv residents won’t be able to drink their coffee in coffee shops,” he said.
While Nasrallah’s Conquer the Galilee plan is likely no more than a propaganda wish, the next war with Hezbollah
will be no walk in the park.
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