The Iranian terror group Hezbollah is laying the groundwork for a large-scale attack on Israel’s northern border, according to new warnings from a former member of the Israel Defense Forces' Intelligence Corps.
Hezbollah forces have been building complex tunnels and amassing arms along Israel’s northern border with Lebanon in recent months, generating concerns the Iranian-backed terror group is planning a large-scale attack reminiscent of its 2006 cross-border raid that resulted in the deaths of three Israeli soldiers and the capture of two others.
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The militant group is consolidating its forces and conducting movements reminiscent of the lead-up to that 2006 attack, according to former IDF intelligence officer Sarit Zehavi, who spent 15 years in the Israeli military and now runs the Alma Research and Education Center, which has been investigating Hezbollah movements along the border area with Israel. Zehavi briefed reporters on the developing situation on Wednesday during a call hosted by Israel’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs.
Despite the coronavirus pandemic, which has hit the Middle East particularly hard, both Iran and its affiliates in Hezbollah have communicated a growing desire to strike Israel. A series of mysterious explosions across Iran targeting its military and nuclear infrastructure have exacerbated tensions with Israel, which Tehran suspects of conducting the recent attacks.
Zehavi, who lives near the Israeli border with Lebanon, said she has tracked a significant increase in Hezbollah traffic in the area, including recent operations likely meant to test Israel’s border security. A year and a half ago, the IDF discovered at least six complex tunnels stretching from Lebanese territory into Israel. The tunnels stretch more than 250 feet into the ground and run for nearly a mile, enabling Hezbollah to smuggle hundreds of soldiers into Israeli border towns. These tunnels—which have electricity, air conditioning, and phone lines—"prove that somebody can actually cross with nobody noticing," according to Zehavi.
Zehavi said that Hezbollah has been preparing for a war with Israel for at least the last decade. It's recent movements indicate the desire for cross-border attacks.
"Hezbollah will respond in a limited way to its operative's death in Syria by an alleged a Israeli attack. Limited may be against IDF soldiers – the same way Hezbollah retaliated in previous times when Israel allegedly killed Hezbollah combatants in Syria," she said. "Yet, there is a possibility that even if Hezbollah's intention is to carry out a limited terror attack in the Syrian or Lebanese border – it could degenerate into war."
Hezbollah is believed to have a massive stockpile of more than 100,000 different missiles and rockets. This equipment is "pointed at Israel and hidden in civilian infrastructure," Zehavi said. It is likely that at least a portion of these missiles could strike deep into central Israel. In just the past week, Zehavi’s Alma Center uncovered 28 separate launch bases scattered throughout Beirut, including bases hidden in soccer fields, churches, and homes. It is likely that many more are hidden even closer to Israel’s northern border.
Hezbollah also has brazenly established bases along the Lebanese border with Israel. Zehavi said she has identified several installations flying flags depicting Iranian general Qassem Soleimani, who was killed by an American drone in January.
"I'm coming to get you," the flags indicate, according to Zehavi. "If Iran will give an order to Hezbollah to attack Israel … Hezbollah will have to follow the order."
While many in the West believe that Iran and its terror proxies are not seeking a full-scale war given the global tumult resulting from the coronavirus, Zehavi disagrees. She said that recent tensions point to a "growing interest" by Hezbollah’s Iranian leaders to strike Israel.
Hezbollah’s participation in Syria’s civil war has provided it with significant military experience, making it even more deadly than it was in 2006. Militants learned useful tactics from their Russian and Syrian patrons, Zehavi said.
"They have the experience to do so because they have been fighting in Syria … for years," she said, explaining that Hezbollah militants "learned how to maneuver hundreds of soldiers and take over a community or areas. This knowledge has been brought to the Israeli-Lebanon border."
Update 4:37 p.m.: This post has been updated with further information.