Hezbollah’s capabilities pose serious problem to Israel

Friday 10/07/2015
Hezbollah fighters in Qalamoun region

DUBAI - The heavy and escalating Hezbollah involvement in the Syrian war is seen by many, inside and out­side Israel, as a blessing because it has kept the arch-enemy of the country preoccupied in a war of attrition that has been draining its resources and undermining its popular base domestically and regionally.
However, Israeli military and defence analysts have been watching with increasing concern the valuable experience Hezbol­lah fighters are picking up in Syria, especially in conducting offensive operations.
Hezbollah has led massive as­saults on positions of Syrian re­bels in different parts of Syria, especially in the areas along the Syrian-Lebanese borders such as Qalamoun and Quneitra.
Recent battles led by Hezbollah reveal that it has vastly improved its capabilities in the following ar­eas:
– Hezbollah formations are no longer confined to small squadron-size groups. They are deployed in platoon- and battalion-size forma­tions in coordinated attacks. Hez­bollah has succeeded in structur­ing its fighting units and rotating them regularly in a way that com­batants are not left on front lines for more than a few months.
It is believed that Hezbollah has, at any given time, at least 5,000 fighters in Syria. This number spiked in the Qalamoun confron­tations to about 10,000. This in­cludes the hard-core fighters and support units.
– Hezbollah has been using artil­lery cover in a better and coordi­nated way. The group used to use its arsenal of missiles to bombard Israeli settlements and military positions for defensive purposes. However, in Syria Hezbollah is us­ing artillery as well as missiles to provide firepower to cover the ad­vances of its attacking forces.
– Hezbollah is using drones more effectively in reconnaissance and surveillance operations to gather vital intelligence needed to pro­tect the advancing forces and to pre-empt rebel attacks. The party has reportedly used drones to at­tack enemy positions.
– Hezbollah has considerably improved its logistical operations to support big offensives. It has demonstrated good capability in maintaining a steady flow of sup­plies and ammunition to front lines to keep up the momentum of the attacking formations. Some battlefronts are deep in Syrian ter­ritories in remote and mountain­ous areas. It has used its engineer­ing corps to open roads and build bunkers.
– Hezbollah has demonstrated good capability in training for­eign fighters and fighting along­side them. This is particularly true with the Iranian-backed Shia mi­litias recruited from Iraq, Yemen, Afghanistan and Pakistan. There are scores of Shia militiamen in Syria and, according to Iranian sources, the Iranian Revolutionary Guards (IRGC) intend to have an army of 50,000 fighters in Syria to fight alongside thousands of Hez­bollah troops to support Syrian re­gime forces. Hezbollah is building good experience in handling large numbers of casualties — killed and wounded. This is essential in of­fensive operations to keep high moral among troops and confi­dence in their command.
Hez­bollah has reportedly lost nearly 1,000 fighters in Syria with about 7,000 wounded.
Israel has so far watched Hez­bollah from a distance but with apparent two red lines:
First, it will not tolerate the transfer of any advanced strategic weapons, such as ballistic missiles and anti-ship and anti-aircraft missiles, from Iran to the group via Syria. Israeli warplanes have raided convoys along the borders believed to be carrying weapons to Hezbollah.
Second, Israel will not allow Hezbollah and the IRGC to set up bases in Quneitra province along the Golan Heights. Israeli jets struck a convoy killing Hezbol­lah and IRGC commanders a few months ago in Quneitra in a clear message to the party and Tehran that it was willing to use military force to counter their plans to link up the south Lebanon front with Golan and place Iranian missiles along Israeli borders.
It is not clear how long Israel will tolerate the situation in which not only is Hezbollah gaining valu­able offensive operational experi­ence but also building with Iran a large army of Shia militias along its borders. By early next year Ira­nian-backed militias and Hezbol­lah will have at least ten combat-hardened divisions along Israel’s northern borders. Although it is widely believed that forces being built by Iran and Hezbollah will likely be used to help establish an Alawite state for the Syrian regime between the Syrian west coast and Damascus, these forces can quickly deploy to south Leba­non via Hezbollah controlled lines from southern Syria and across Lebanon. Israel is likely to keep its guard high on Hezbollah’s army and continue to worry about its growing offensive military capa­bilities despite the party’s involve­ment in the bloody Syrian war.
The question is what additional redline Israel might impose on Hezbollah and what would be the trigger point that would lead to the breakout of a new war with Hezbollah that would most likely include IRGC units and Shia mili­tias?