Israeli soldiers stand atop tanks in the Israeli Golan Heights, close to Israel's frontier with Syria November 22, 2017.
(photo credit: REUTERS/AMMAR AWAD)
The chances of war breaking out on the northern border in 2018 are greater than ever before due to the victories of Syrian President Bashar Assad backed by Iran and Hezbollah, a senior IDF general said Monday.
“This year has the potential for escalation, and not necessarily because either side wants to initiate it, but because of a gradual deterioration. This has led us to raise the level of preparedness,” the head of IDF operations, Maj.-Gen. Nitzan Alon, told Army Radio.
Seven years into a devastating civil war, the Assad regime
has regained control of close to 80% of the country with the help of Russian airpower and foot soldiers belonging to Iran and its proxy group Hezbollah and thousands of other Shi’a militia fighters.
“In the northern arena, there is a change coming due to the strategic developments in the Syrian internal fighting. The Iranians and Hezbollah, who are backing [Assad], are getting freed up to start building their power,” Alon said.
As Assad re-consolidates his hold on the country, Israel fears that Iran is entrenching itself deeper into war-torn Syria with its presence on Israel’s borders growing in strength. The smuggling of sophisticated weaponry and the building of a precision missile factory in Lebanon for Hezbollah has also been a growing concern for Jerusalem.
“We are not allowing these things to happen without our involvement. We are acting and will continue to act,” Alon said.
Israel rarely comments on foreign reports of its military activity but it has admitted to carrying out thousands of missions, including some 100 air strikes in Syria, to prevent Hezbollah from obtaining sophisticated weaponry, such as precision missiles or technology and know-how from Iran.
And if a war were to break out, Alon warned that Iran would likely also encourage the thousands of militia fighters and proxy groups in the region, like Hezbollah, to fight Israel across the entire northern border and even on Israel’s southern front, the Gaza Strip, where Iran has been investing millions of dollars in Hamas and Islamic Jihad.
“War with Hezbollah could bring in other actors who we’d need to fight,” he said. “Iran won’t hold itself back in Gaza. It wants to pay for its interests on the northern border in Palestinian blood.”
In June, Hezbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah warned that the next conflict with the group would see fighters from across the Shi’a world participating, saying, “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.”
Israel last fought against Hezbollah in the 34-day Second Lebanon War
in 2006 and since then Hezbollah is understood to have increased their missile arsenal to some 150,000 rockets. It is believed that in the next war the terrorist group will aim to fire some 1,500-2,000 rockets per day.
In addition to their massive arsenal, Hezbollah also has the ability to mobilize close to 30,000 battle-hardened fighters, some of whom are expected to try to infiltrate into Israeli communities on the border to kill or kidnap civilians and soldiers.
And in case of war breaking out, the IDF would fight with “maximum force in the minimum amount of time,” Alon said, adding that “we have to use the advantages the IDF has over its enemies as forcefully as possible and as quickly as possible.”
In September, a senior IDF officer in the northern command stated that in the event of another war with Hezbollah, the IDF’s objective would be to occupy parts of southern Lebanon where the group has support and infrastructure, in order to force a UN resolution that improves the security situation on the northern border.
“If the next war indeed breaks out, it will be rough. But, first and foremost, it will be rough for the other side,” Alon warned.
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