Secretary of Defense Robert Gates recently claimed that Hezbollah possessed chemical and biological weapons. The news comes as the IDF contends the terror organization has now amassed more than 50,000 missiles and rockets, heightening Israel’s concerns over its vulnerability to a Hezbollah assault.
The assertion by Gates followed reports in April 2011 that Libyan rebels had ransacked chemical weapons storage depots in and around the Libyan city of Benghazi. There they obtained at least 2,000 artillery shells carrying mustard gas and 1,200 nerve gas shells, which they sold to both Hezbollah and Hamas.
Not surprisingly, Iran was believed to be the broker of the deal. Of course, Iran has long been accused of supplying Hezbollah with chemical weapons, the last time in 2009 when chemical traces were discovered in a Hezbollah weapons warehouse.
Although Hezbollah denies having chemically-armed missiles or rockets, it doesn’t deny their importance to the terror organization. According to Hezbollah leader Seyyed Hassan Nasrallah, “These are our pride and dignity… no one will be able to grab them, neither in Lebanon nor in the world.”
Unfortunately for Israelis, Hezbollah’s precious stockpile has now surpassed over 50,000 missiles and rockets according to the IDF. The IDF has also determined the number of pre-designated targets of Hezbollah launch sites to have grown from around 200 in 2006 to now somewhere in the thousands.
In fact, in April 2011 Israeli officials had already identified 550 underground bunkers, 300 surveillance sites and 100 other facilities south of the Litani River in southern Lebanon, the zone where Hezbollah is supposedly banned from keeping weapons under the UN-sponsored truce that ended the 2006 Israeli-Hezbollah war.
The entire situation has added to growing Israeli concern over its increasing vulnerability from Hezbollah’s already enormous and growing stockpile of weaponry, which according to former Israeli Defense Minister Moshe Arens can now “reach every corner of Israel and threaten its entire civilian population.”
Even though Israel has a newly deployed Iron Dome anti-missile system, that system remains vulnerable to massive salvos fired from Hezbollah’s short-range missile systems. For example, during the 34-day war in 2006, Hezbollah unleashed nearly 4,000 missiles and rockets – around 120 a day – into northern Israel.
However, 2009 Wikileaks documents reveal Israel expects a new war with Hezbollah to last two months, with 500 missiles a day, including 100 that would reach Tel Aviv. More worrisome is that Israel’s Home Front Command admitted in April 2011 that only 31 percent of Israel’s 7 million people had been supplied gas masks.
Added into this troubling equation are reports surfacing of Hezbollah busily moving weapons from the chaos in Syria and distributing them immediately to its forces so they don’t fall into the wrong hands.
Yet, despite the presence of a 12,000 man UN truce keeping force (UNIFIL) and 15,000 Lebanese soldiers (LAF), both forces have been unable to prevent Hezbollah from stockpiling weapons in southern Lebanon. To that end, Israel has been seeking to have the UN enforce a much tougher mandate than what is currently in place.
As it stands now, most of Hezbollah’s weapons are held in populated civilian areas but UNIFIL forces can’t enter those villages and towns unless it is coordinated with the Lebanese Army. However, more often than not, the LAF tips off Hezbollah prior to such a move.
Still, even if the UN strengthens its mandate, it may have fewer participating nations, as UNIFIL has come under increasing attack. The latest incident came in the form of a recent roadside bombing of UNIFIL forces in southern Lebanon, a bombing that killed one Italian soldier and wounded six. The assault was believed to be part of a broader operation that included launching rockets into Israel.
While the investigation of that attack is currently ongoing, Hezbollah and Fatah al-Islam, an al-Qaeda-linked Palestinian terror group, each accused the other of planning and executing the attack. Despite the blame shifting, it doesn’t surprise that Hezbollah is taking advantage of Lebanon’s current political vacuum to stir up trouble along the UN-mapped frontier with Israel.
The most recent outbreak of violence there came in May when Hezbollah and Syrian-backed protesters stormed the Israeli border but were fired upon by Lebanese troops, killing 10 people in the process. However, a similar such scheduled protest on Naksa Day – the 44th anniversary of the Six Day War – was averted when Hezbollah called it off after Israel had issued a not-so-veiled warning that those behind the protests “would be held accountable.”
Still, despite Hezbollah’s apparent cold feet, it has long been itching for a fight with Israel, most fervently since the assassination in 2008 of Hezbollah’s chief of military operations Imad Mughniyeh. In April 2011, Israelis were already being warned of Hezbollah attacks against Israeli overseas targets.
The preference of Hezbollah according to Israeli intelligence officials was to bomb an overseas target like an Israeli embassy or consulate rather than the Lebanese border region so it would give Hezbollah more deniability. Fortunately, those anticipated attacks never materialized.
Yet while those overseas attempts by Hezbollah may have been foiled, it’s only a matter of time before it targets its deadly arsenal on Israel itself. While Syria and Iran are actively engaging in acts of provocation with Israel, their terrorist proxy organization Hezbollah would be the most likely to lead an actual assault.
It’s certainly a role Hezbollah doesn’t shy from. According to Nasrallah, “Negotiations (with Israel) are the crazy and futile options that don’t achieve any results.” Even the Israelis know what’s coming. As Israeli Defense Minister Ehud Barak said about the current truce with Hezbollah, “This is not forever…You need to be ready for every test.”
The contents of that test were chillingly presented by Nasrallah when he said, “The Jews love life, so that is what we shall take away from them. We are going to win, because they love life and we love death.” Unfortunately for Israelis, Hezbollah’s love of death may soon come in the form of a barrage of missiles and rockets.
Frank Crimi is a writer living in San Diego, California. You can read more of Frank’s work at his blog, www.politicallyunbalanced.com.