Anna Ahronheim, Military & Defense Correspondent at The Jerusalem Post, spoke to Middle East Forum Radio host Gregg Roman on May 20 about Hezbollah’s Shi’ite “terror army” and its ongoing threat to Israel’s northern border with Lebanon.
In response to Israel’s targeting of its operatives in Syria, Hezbollah’s Secretary-General Hassan Nasrallah has recently warned that the group is prepared to launch attacks along Israel’s entire northern border. This is not bluster in Ahronheim’s estimation; she anticipates that the next full-blown conflict between Hezbollah and Israel risks encompassing “the entire Northern front from the Mediterranean Sea all the way to Hermon” in the Golan Heights.
Due to Iranian assistance, Hezbollah now has an estimated “130,000 rockets of different ranges and payloads … that could even reach Dimona,” where Israel’s Negev Nuclear Research Center is located. Although Israel’s “air defenses have been improving on a year-to-year basis … it’s not ever 100% … you’re still going to have rockets landing in Israel, deep in the home front.”
The IDF’s main concern is Iran’s effort to upgrade these rockets with precision guidance systems “that can hit within five meters of the target,” putting at risk such high-value targets as Israel’s natural gas platforms in the Mediterranean Sea, where Sa’ar-6 corvette warships armed with the naval Iron Dome system have been stationed to offer protection. The “Hezbollah precision missile project” has replaced the Iranian nuclear threat as the number one threat to Israel, said Ahronheim
Under Hezbollah’s “Conquering the Galilee” plan, the group’s so-called Radwan special forces units will infiltrate Israel’s northern border and attempt to seize entire villages. These operatives “know that they’re not going to come back alive from a mission like that.” Their goal is to “take as many pictures that they can of killing Israeli soldiers and civilians” and let the media “do the rest,” explained Ahronheim. “In Israel, if you see pictures of dead civilians or dead soldiers, that hits a nerve, and Hezbollah knows that.”
Although Israel has discovered infiltration tunnels and flooded them with cement, Hezbollah hardly needs tunnels to cross the border in force. “South Lebanese towns are military fortresses full of Hezbollah operatives waiting for the order to infiltrate and kill,” which can be done simply by “cutting the fence or smashing through the wall” separating the two countries.
Israel has “up[ped] the ante” by targeting the Iranian-backed Hezbollah threat with its “War Between Wars” air campaign. Israel’s aim is to prevent “all of Syria turn[ing] into south Lebanon” and eventually to eject Iran and Hezbollah from Syria altogether. Iran has recently been “withdrawing from several bases” in Syria and “moving their forces closer to the Iraqi border” due to the Israeli air campaign.
Iran’s partial retreat in Syria may also reflect pressure on the home front, where its leaders are “losing legitimacy in the eyes of their own people” for spending millions on foreign adventurism. The recent assassination of IRGC Quds Force commander Qassem Soleimani from an American strike was also a serious blow. Soleimani’s replacement “is not going to fill his shoes, and Iran knows that.”
An all-out war with Hezbollah and other Iranian proxies would likely erupt if Israel found it necessary to launch a pre-emptive strike on Iran’s nuclear facilities, but it could also be triggered by conflict between the U.S. and Iran. “One little misstep could lead … to a huge conflagration which [would] reverberate across the entire Middle East,” said Ahronheim. “[It] could start in the Gulf of Oman [or] it could start in Iraq, and in the end it [would] end up here in Israel.”
Marilyn Stern is the producer of Middle East Forum Radio.