With a rig set to start pumping gas from Israel’s Karish gas field within weeks, threats by Hezbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah will likely be put to the test, as will the new head of the IDF’s Northern Command, Maj.-Gen. Uri Gordin.
According to Matthew Levitt, director of the Jeanette and Eli Reinhard Program on Counterterrorism and Intelligence at The Washington Institute for Near East Policy, Hezbollah wants to “scratch their resistance itch.”
While Hezbollah can attempt to do something, it does not want to drag the region into a full-blown war.
Lebanon is in such a disastrous state that it understands the need for a maritime border deal, said Levitt, a former counter-terrorism official. But, he added, the group is also willing to put Lebanese citizens at risk and drag Israel into a war just to use it as a scapegoat.
Hezbollah, Lebanon's massive terrorist army
Under Nasrallah, Hezbollah has grown into what the IDF describes as a “terror army” with an estimated 150,000 rockets and munitions that can hit anywhere in the country.
It is believed that in the next war, Hezbollah will try to fire close to 4,000 rockets per day to start, followed by some 2,000 per day until the last day of the conflict.
In comparison, during Operation Breaking Dawn in August, Islamic Jihad fired a total of just more than 1,000 rockets from Gaza in three days.
In a recent interview with Walla, Gordin said the IDF will prioritize the northern part of the state, since 50% of Hezbollah’s arsenal is aimed at cities 15 km. from the border with Lebanon, including Nahariya, Acre, Safed and Kiryat Shmona.
Another 40% of Hezbollah’s missiles can reach Haifa and surrounding areas. Only 5% can reach targets further to the south.
Hezbollah has not given up on work on its precision munition project. It is believed that the majority of the alleged Israeli airstrikes in Syria as part of its “war between the wars” campaign have been targeting components for the project.
The terrorist group also has sophisticated drones that can be used for reconnaissance missions or carry munitions to attack targets.
Though former Israel Air Force Commander Maj.-Gen (res.) Amikam Norkin has said the IAF lost its aerial superiority over Lebanon, Levitt argued otherwise.
“It’s complicated and Israel has to take more precautions, but Israel can still go where it needs to, when it needs to, to get what it needs.”Matthew Levitt
“It’s complicated, and Israel has to take more precautions, but Israel can still go where it needs to, when it needs to, to get what it needs,” he said.
The group also has significant battlefield experience after their engagement on the side of Bashar Assad during the Syrian civil war.
Hezbollah’s elite Radwan forces are a force to be feared and are spread across southern Lebanon waiting for the order to attack Israel.
“You have to take the Radwan forces seriously,” said Levitt.
In addition to the on-the-job training and weapons (including American-made AR-15s), the Radwan forces “are disciplined,” Levitt noted. And while they face challenges such as the loss of senior operatives, many of the Radwan troops “only know fighting in Syria.”
While tensions have risen significantly between Israel and Hezbollah, the intelligence community does not think that Nasrallah would drag the entire region into war over the gas rig.
The extraction of the gas and the potential signing of a deal between Israel and Lebanon, mediated by the United States, also comes as the West believes there will not be a nuclear deal signed with Iran.
Iran already sends $800 million annually to Hezbollah, and the lack of a deal would not stop the Islamic Republic from continuing to fund them.
“Iran prioritizes them, and withdrawing from the JCPOA did nothing. They can afford it,” said Levitt.
Gordin, who took over the Northern Command from Maj.-Gen. Amir Baram on Sunday evening, knows that some sort of confrontation with Hezbollah will happen under his watch – be it a limited round of violence like what happens with Gaza, or a full-blown devastating war between the two sides.
Hezbollah took many risks under Baram’s tenure, including firing an anti-tank missile toward an empty military ambulance in 2019 and firing 19 rockets toward empty fields last summer. The group also launched drones toward the Karish gas field in early July.
None of those events led to an outbreak of war, but one miscalculation and the story could be totally different.
Israel has warned that any infrastructure in Lebanon that serves Hezbollah is a military target. The military has said that it already has thousands of targets at the ready in its target bank.
With Lebanon already amid an economic collapse, a war with Israel could lead the country to utter devastation.
Is Nasrallah ready to risk that?