According to Arab media sources, the Israeli Air Force launched a series of strikes against military targets within Syria in the early morning hours of Wednesday. The attacks, which reportedly targeted a Hezbollah weapons convoy, occurred near Damascus. According to at least one report, a busload of Hezbollah terrorists was hit, though this was not confirmed.
Israel has neither confirmed nor denied its involvement. The muted Israeli response is consistent with Israel’s policy of acting resolutely to preserve its interests while keeping unnecessary rhetoric and gratuitous bravado under wraps. Unfortunately, the same cannot be said for Israel’s enemies who have struck an extremely belligerent tone in recent weeks, even more so than usual.
On Tuesday, Iran’s supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei referred to Israel as a “cancerous tumor” and encouraged Palestinians to revolt until achieving the goal of “complete liberation of Palestine.” Earlier in the week, an unnamed but high-level Syrian official told a Kuwaiti media outlet that Syria “will be partners with Hezbollah in any future war against Israel.”
Not to be outdone, Lebanon’s President Michel Aoun, a corrupt political lackey who is almost certainly on Hezbollah’s (or the Islamic Republic’s) payroll voiced strong support for Hezbollah and its acquisition of sophisticated weapons in violation of United Nations Security Council resolution 1701. He also threatened Israel with an “appropriate response” if Israel violated Lebanese sovereignty.
Of course, the notion of Lebanese sovereignty in any form is laughable since Lebanon is a failed state that is under the full influence and control of the Islamic Republic. In many respects, the state of Lebanon today parallels that of Vichy France. The Lebanese army – a fractured microcosm of a dysfunctional and divided Lebanese society – has taken a subordinate role to Hezbollah and has often acted as an auxiliary force for Hezbollah, coordinating military activities with the terror group. It is thus partly responsible for the degradation of Lebanon’s sovereignty and complicit in violating UNSCR 1701.
But the most cantankerous rhetoric in recent days is emanating from Iran’s premier proxy mercenary force, Hezbollah. Hezbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah, who’s been in hiding since 2006, announced this week that in the next war with Israel, his organization would not be constrained by red lines and would fire missiles at Israel’s Dimona nuclear facility and at the ammonia storage facilities in Haifa. A direct hit on the ammonia storage facilities could cause widespread injuries on a scale not seen since the Bhopal industrial disaster.
Hezbollah is said to possess approximately 150,000 rockets and missiles of all shapes and sizes. In fact, its formidable missile arsenal surpasses the collective strength most Western armies. One of the missiles that worry Israeli military planners most is the Fateh 110. Hezbollah possesses an unknown quantity of these weapons, which were transferred to the terror group by Iran via Syria.
With a range of between 200 and 300 Km, the Fateh 110 is capable of reaching Haifa, Tel Aviv and Dimona. It carries a payload of 500 Kg and can inflict significant damage on dense population centers. Some have suggested that the missile’s guidance system might be as accurate as 100 m CEP (Circular Error Probable); meaning that it has a 50% chance of landing within 100 meters of its target but this is speculative.
Most of Dimona’s critical platforms are buried deep beneath the surface under thick, protective layers of reinforced steel and concrete and plans to relocate the vulnerable Haifa ammonia facility to a more secure location are in the advanced stages. Nevertheless, the warhead carried by the Fateh 110 can vaporize an entire city block and cause skyscrapers like the Azrieli Towers to collapse.
The 2006 Lebanon war lasted 33 days. On the second day of the war, the Israeli Air Force succeeded in wiping out Hezbollah’s entire long-range rocket capabilities in 34 minutes. With surgical precision, the IAF changed the dynamic of the war. Nevertheless, Hezbollah managed to fire some 4,000 rockets at Israel. Civilian casualties were relatively light but northern Israel was paralyzed. Analysts have surmised that in the next conflict, Hezbollah will fire an average of 1,500 rockets per day.
According to published sources, Hezbollah has managed to acquire sophisticated Russian made Yakhont anti-ship cruise missiles. The Israeli military has had success in thwarting Yakhont shipments but some missiles managed to get through to the terror group. Hezbollah already has a number of Chinese C-802 missiles but the Yakhont carries a larger payload and possesses a more sophisticated guidance system that is capable of better coping with electronic counter measures. Of particular concern is the vulnerability of Israel’s offshore gas platforms to Yakhont missile strikes or surprise naval commando attacks. Hezbollah terror tunnels – similar to those uncovered by the Israel Defense Forces during Operation Protective Edge – are also of grave concern.
Why Israel’s enemies have chosen this particular moment to ratchet up the anti-Israel vitriol in what appears to be a coordinated effort is anyone’s guess. The Syrian and Lebanese armies do not pose serious threats. By contrast, threats emanating from Iran and Hezbollah should be taken very seriously.
Nevertheless, it is unlikely that Hezbollah, cognizant of the thrashing it took during the 2006 Lebanon war and already mired in the Syrian quagmire, would dare open a two-front war with virtually no chance of success. Iran too would stand to lose immeasurably if it initiated aggression against Israel. Such an irresponsible action would be contrary to Russian interests and would have negative ramifications on the JCPOA, possibly leading to its unraveling.
This could be just another case of more bark than bite. Nevertheless, Israel cannot afford to rest on its laurels and its military planners are taking every contingency into consideration. Israel has already provided the United States, the EU and UN with incontrovertible proof that Hezbollah is exploiting the civilian population and using homes, schools and hospitals to store its hardware. In the coming round, Hezbollah will not be able to utilize the high civilian casualty rate to score propaganda points – as in did in 2006 – because the world is already cognizant of the organization’s cynical methods.
Moreover, the Lebanese government’s collusion with Hezbollah in turning a blind eye toward Hezbollah’s illegal activities – including permitting Iranian commercial airliners laden with military equipment to land at Rafic Hariri International Airport – will allow Israel greater freedom of action. Lebanese infrastructure including power plants, electricity grids, bridges, airports and other dual use facilities will all be fair game. Lebanon will revert to the Stone Age.
The next round will certainly be a bloody affair but it will be Hezbollah and Iran – not Israel – that will be left with the short end of the stick.