July 24, 2016
When Israeli army commanders describe how the next war against Hezbollah could unfold, they often search for words not used in military manuals. The future conflict, they warn, will be “ferocious” and “terrible.”
For both sides, the Israelis fear. Yet far worse for Hezbollah and the civilians of Lebanon, they promise.
Ten years after Israel and Hezbollah fought a bloody but inconclusive 34-day war that left more than 1,000 soldiers and civilians dead in July and August of 2006, the Lebanese Shiite militant group has been transformed.
Hezbollah is now a regional military power, a cross-border strike force, with thousands of soldiers hardened by four years of fighting on Syrian battlefields on behalf of President Bashar al-Assad. There are 7,000 Hezbollah fighters in Syria, Israeli commanders say.
Hezbollah troops have been schooled by Iranian commanders, funded by Tehran and have learned to use, in combat, some of the most sophisticated armaments available. They pilot unmanned aircraft and fight with artillery and tanks to concentrate forces, coordinate attacks. They have taken rebel villages with Russian air support.
More than 1,000 Hezbollah fighters have died, the Israelis say; they do not describe Hezbollah as “demoralized” but “tested.”
“In 2006, Hezbollah fought a guerrilla war. Today, Hezbollah is like a conventional army,” said Elias Hanna, a retired Lebanese army general who teaches at the American University in Beirut.
Israel fought the first Lebanon war in 1982 against the Palestine Liberation Organization, a conflict that saw Israel occupy southern Lebanon and lay siege to Beirut. Hezbollah arose during that war. The second Lebanon war broke out in July 2006 after Hezbollah kidnapped a pair of Israeli soldiers on the border.
Ten years ago, Hezbollah fired 4,000 short-range, relatively crude rockets at Israel, about 100 a day, killing some 50 Israeli civilians. Today, the group has 100,000 rockets, including thousands of more accurate mid-range weapons with larger warheads capable of striking anywhere in Israel, including Jerusalem and Tel Aviv, according to Israeli army commanders and military analysts in Israel and Lebanon.
Earlier this year, Israel Defense Forces Chief of Staff Lt. Gen. Gadi Eisenkot called Hezbollah Israel’s “main enemy” now that Iran’s nuclear ambitions may have been delayed by a decade or more.
The challenges posed by Islamist militant movement Hamas in the Gaza Strip are almost trivial by comparison, Israeli senior commanders say.
Source: Washington Post