An eye on the North

With generous Iranian funding, Hizbullah is intensifying its transformation into a full-fledged army.

Hizbullah fighters 224.8 (photo credit: AP [file])
Hizbullah fighters 224.8
(photo credit: AP [file])
Something odd may be going on in southern Lebanon, and the Israeli security apparatus needs to be watching. As London's Observer newspaper reported on April 27, hundreds, perhaps thousands, of Hizbullah military recruits from the area are actively drilling for war. There is an "unprecedented build-up of men, equipment and bunker-building." Most men of fighting age are training in Lebanon's Bekaa Valley, Syria or Iran. With generous Iranian funding, Hizbullah's secretive military wing is intensifying its transformation from a guerrilla and terrorist outfit into a full-fledged army with a well-trained militia. Of course, UN Security Council Resolution 1701 mandates no military activity anywhere in southern Lebanon save for the 10,000 soldiers of the Lebanese Army deployed there, supported by 13,000 UNIFIL troops and 1,500 personnel of the UNIFIL Maritime Task Force stationed along the coast. These forces are tasked with implementing that cease-fire resolution, which "authorizes UNIFIL to take all necessary action... to ensure that its area of operations is not utilized for hostile activities of any kind." It also forbids any country to bring weapons into Lebanon. In practice, Hizbullah shamelessly violates the cease-fire. And when UNIFIL forces do stumble upon a Hizbullah violation, they tend to file vague and partial reports given only fleeting attention back at UN headquarters. Last year, UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon did say he was "deeply worried" about arms trafficking across the Lebanese-Syrian border. His concerns, well-founded, are unlikely to prompt steps by the Security Council. The reluctance of UNIFIL forces to "take all necessary action" in confronting Hizbullah is understandable. Twelve "blue helmets" have been killed during the past year. And UNIFIL troops are anyway authorized to open fire only in self-defense. They can't even enter local villages without a Lebanese army escort. WHAT IS happening in the south must be seen in the context of the overall fragmentation of Lebanon's body politic. "Byzantine" doesn't begin to describe the complexity of Beirut's unraveling political system. Christian Arabs lost their demographic and political control of Lebanon years ago. The presidency, by custom held by a Maronite Christian, has been vacant since November 2007. The previously disenfranchised Shi'ite Arab majority has overwhelmed the Sunni Arabs, even as Prime Minister Fouad Siniora, a Sunni, hangs onto power. Hizbullah has become the major player inside Lebanon. Its roots date back to the 1970s, when a dynamic Iranian-born (Arab) imam, Musa al-Sadr, began mobilizing Lebanon's Shi'ites for social, political and economic equality. The 1979 revolution in (Persian) Iran greatly empowered Lebanon's Shi'ite Arabs. Initially, the Shi'ites did not oppose the IDF's operations against Palestinian terrorists in south Lebanon, and the PLO was indeed defeated there. But whether because of Israeli blunders or Iranian successes, Hizbullah has long since morphed into a menacing foe of the Jewish state. THIS BRINGS us back to Hizbullah's military build-up. One would have thought that Hassan Nasrallah would be deterred from launching another unprovoked attack given the millions of dollars in damage Lebanon suffered when Israel struck back after its soldiers were kidnapped in what became the Second Lebanon War. But Iran has deep pockets, and building a global caliphate doesn't come cheap. Moreover, notwithstanding Israeli assertions that hundreds of Hizbullah fighters were killed in that war, a US military study reportedly places the death toll at "only" 184. That's a "martyr" toll the Hizbullah-supporting Shi'ites appear well able to absorb. Anyway, Nasrallah answers to a higher authority. If Iran is becoming jittery over the possibility that Syria might truly move out of its orbit, there's nothing like a war with Israel to reshuffle the deck. Hizbullah watcher Guy Bechor, writing at, does not foresee a Hizbullah assault in the near term. But he doesn't discount the prospect of a large-scale surprise attack down the line. He warns that hundreds of guerrillas could burst through the entire length of the border, seize territory and take hundreds of hostages. Nasrallah could then claim to be the first Arab leader to have successfully invaded "Palestine" since 1948, thus solidifying Hizbullah's hold on the Arab imagination. With so much attention focused on the Hamas threat and Independence Day security concerns, and given the degree to which Israel was taken by surprise in summer 2006, all we're urging is: Keep an eye on southern Lebanon.