With the Syrian civil war spilling over into neighboring Lebanon and the ongoing transfer of weapons to the Shiite terrorist group Hezbollah, tensions along the Israeli-Lebanese border are on the rise. Israel is taking the threat seriously. The “world needs to be prepared for the next war with Lebanon,” a senior Israeli official suggested during a private meeting at a Washington-based think tank. Israeli officials also gave similar warnings during a meeting with members of the United Nations Interim Force in Lebanon (UNIFIL) who are tasked with maintaining calm between Beirut and Jerusalem and preventing the illegal transfer of weapons to Hezbollah.
As a part of its preparations, the Israeli army set up new posts for tanks along the Lebanese border and deployed a third Iron Dome missile defense system near the border with Syria and Lebanon. The additional battery complements two others near Haifa and Safed. That the missile defense system was redeployed from Israel’s south where Hamas has launched thousands of rockets is a sign of how serious Israel is taking the threat from the north.
Lebanese, Palestinian and Hezbollah flags on the northern side of Israel’s border with Lebanon. (Photo: Hamad Almakt)
Israeli military officials are concerned about the disposition of Syria’s chemical weapons and advanced SA-17 anti-aircraft missiles. Israel declared that the transfer of those weapons to Hezbollah would constitute a red line. Israel allegedly struck a convoy transporting weapons thought to be SA-17s from Syria to Lebanon last month. Stepping up its reconnaissance missions, Israeli jets and drones have been carrying out flyovers in Lebanese airspace. One such mission included a mock raid.
Lebanese member of parliament, Jean Ogassapian, issued a warning statement of the “dangers of an Israeli strike against Lebanon. There is information that Israel told UNIFIL to take precautions.” Ogassapian also told Lebanese television, “This warning should be linked to the smuggling of arms from Syria to Lebanon.” For his part, Hezbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah warned that “rockets would rain down on Tel Aviv and cities across the Jewish state if it attacked Lebanon.” He also plans to order “intervention forces” to launch raids on Israeli communities to obtain control of the roads located along the border with Israel.
In preparation for the next round, Hezbollah is preparing some 180 Shiite dominated villages in Southern Lebanon, including the placing of rockets caches in the homes of private citizens, setting up camouflaged defensive positions, and planting roadside bombs. Hezbollah’s arsenal contains more than 65,000 rockets and missiles.
Given the region’s upheaval, it would likely not take much of a spark to ignite a further conflict. Ensuring that more advanced weapons from Syria and Iran do not reach Hezbollah will remain an Israeli priority.