Lebanon-Israel border—Tensions between Israel and Hezbollah are on the rise again, and according to a Hezbollah commander based in southern Lebanon, the nature of their next conflict will be shaped by his organization’s gains in the Syrian civil war.
Meeting in the rugged, mountainous Lebanese interior near the southern border, where occupying Israeli forces were driven out by Hezbollah in 2000 and suffered a second setback in the 2006 war, the commander feels emboldened by his Syrian spoils. “Commander Samir,” who declines to use his real name because he is not authorized to speak to the press, contends that his organization has moved new Russian anti-aircraft weapons and long-range missiles from Syria to this border region.
“I can assure you we have a nice, shiny new anti-aircraft system to show them,” says Samir, referring to Hezbollah’s planned response to an Israeli aerial assault. “We’ve got heavy long-range missiles, directly from the Russians, that can hit anywhere in Israel.” He denied requests to see the weapons, citing security concerns.
While he boasts about Hezbollah’s reinforced military capability, Samir says war with Israel isn’t on the agenda at the moment. But he’s convinced that at some point there will be another round of conflict, one that will be very costly for both sides but one that his forces will win.
It appears that Commander Samir’s goal in speaking to The Nation about the Party of God’s readiness to engage Israel is to send a message of deterrence. Friction in the south has been building for months, and includes claims of the Israeli navy firing at a Lebanese fishing boat in Lebanese waters, Israel’s removal of a Lebanese roadblock on the border, and Israeli soldiers forcefully dispersing protesters on the Lebanese side of the border fence.
In February, Hezbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah gave a speech saying his forces could hit Israel’s nuclear reactor in Dimona—which is in the southern Negev Desert, far from the Lebanese border—while at the same time stating his belief that there would not be a war this year. Shortly afterward, Lebanese President Michel Aoun told Egyptian media that he saw Hezbollah’s arms as essential to Lebanon’s defense from Israel.
Aoun, who owes his position to Hezbollah’s parliamentary coalition, is now a strong political ally of the Shiite movement. Even so, his open support of and confidence in an armed entity not under Lebanese army control was unprecedented. The statement was met by Israeli threats to strike anywhere in Lebanon if attacked.