JERUSALEM—Israeli army officials say that Hezbollah’s plans for its next round of conflict with Israel will include cross-border ground incursions by select units that have been honed in combat in Syria.
In a briefing to Israeli military correspondents, officers said that the Lebanese militia has gained confidence in the performance of its units in support of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad’s army against rebels. "They’re learning about coordinating hundreds of fighters, coordinating intelligence, firepower, and command and control," said a senior officer. "They are initiating assaults in built-up areas and attacking cities."
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Hezbollah leader Sheikh Hassan Nasrallah threatened in years past that in any future confrontation, Hezbollah would aim at capturing territory in Israel’s northern Galilee. This was generally dismissed at the time in Israel as bombast but in view of Hezbollah’s successes in Syria in the past two years, including the capture of border towns between Lebanon and Syria, it is now taken seriously.
Hezbollah publications in recent months have offered a scenario wherein Hezbollah units, ranging between 100-200 fighters each, would attack at four points along the border after a heavy barrage from some of the tens of thousands of rockets in Hezbollah’s possession. Until recently, Israeli scenarios had focused almost entirely on Hezbollah’s rocket armory and on Israeli retaliation, principally air strikes, but, also, large-scale incursions into Lebanon by tanks, infantry, and special forces.
"The damage in Lebanon would be enormous," said the senior Israeli officer. Wars cannot be waged in a ‘clean’ manner anymore. Hezbollah is operating from the midst of the civilian population (in southern Lebanon). There will be many dead. Hezbollah knows this."
Hezbollah has reportedly positioned rockets in scores of Lebanese villages and towns. Israel says it will attack every locale in which rockets are deployed.
The Lebanese-Israeli border has been relatively peaceful since the last clash with Hezbollah eight years ago. The militia’s current heavy involvement in Syria makes it unlikely that it will challenge Israel in the near future. However, any incident along the border may quickly escalate into a full-blown confrontation, according to Israeli officers.
Additionally, Hezbollah might respond if Israel again interdicts shipments of advanced weapons from Syria to Lebanon, as it has done in the past without drawing significant Hezbollah reaction. Another possible trigger would be a Hezbollah attack on Israeli or Jewish targets abroad, such as the attack on a tourist bus in 2012, which killed five Israelis.