Hezbollah chief Hassan Nasrallah in recent weeks directed his military commanders to make sure their troops are prepared to move south to invade the Galilee region of Israel next time there is an armed conflict with Israel - this apparently according to the Lebanese newspaper Al-Joumhouria.
A new report from the Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs, that examined Lebanese media reports, reveals that Nasrallah’s objective is to hit Tel Aviv with missiles and simultaneously dispatch forces “to conquer the Galilee.” The planning is with the direct help of Iran and is linked to Hezbollah’s fear of a possible military attack on Iran, since the group sees itself as the “first line of defense” against Israel. The report’s author Shimon Shapira writes:
• Hizbullah forces are being trained to fire at least ten thousand missiles, right at the war's outset, at military and strategic targets such as airfields, military camps, and vital facilities including maritime ones, followed by the firing of rockets from launch sites whose location will come as a surprise to Israel.
• The operational plan was formulated in tandem with senior Iranian strategic experts and will include a force of five thousand fighters who have recently trained in Iran, tasked with taking over designated zones in northern Israel including Nahariya, Shlomi, and Carmiel.
• It was said that engineering units of the Iranian army had mined areas in the eastern Bekaa Valley that were seen as possible landing sites for Israeli special forces, and that Hizbullah had equipped itself with "smart" Iranian anti-tank missiles that can disrupt the defensive systems of Israel's Merkava tanks.
Lebanon’s Naharnet reveals more details about the planning:
According to information obtained by the [Al Akhbar] daily, a delegation from Hizbullah military experts visited areas in Bekaa and the South [Lebanon] to check on the resistances’ positions, while 727 fighters from Hizbullah finished their military training in Tehran.
Outside Jerusalem, the Galilee is home to some of Israel’s most important religious sites including Nazareth and the Sea of Galilee.
Al Akhbar reports Hezbollah is counting on the help of “Palestinian resistance cells” in northern Israel – that is Arab citizens of Israel – to act as a fifth column. But this may be wishful thinking. During previous Israeli-Hezbollah altercations, even the most radicalized Muslim Israeli Arabs did not join in the fighting against Israel. On the contrary, in 2006, Hezbollah's Katyushas killed Israeli Arabs, including in Haifa and in Nazareth where the three and seven-year-old Taluzi brothers were killed. The majority of Israeli Arabs live in Northern Israel:
“Israel will be surprised by attacks from within the Israeli towns via the Palestinian resistance cells,” sources told the daily.
They added that “the battles will be on the Israeli grounds; therefore targeting the Galilee is a definite option.”
The sources didn’t rule out Syria’s participation in the war “especially if the interior situation deteriorated further more.”
Last February, Nasrallah made public his hopes to one day invade Northern Israel. He told a rally:
“I say to the mujahideen of the Islamic resistance: Be prepared for a day when war is forced upon Lebanon, and the commanders of the resistance may ask you to take over the Galilee. In other words -- to liberate the Galilee.”
In 2006, Hezbollah fired thousands of Katyusha rockets at towns in the Galilee and as far south as Haifa and Hadera (7 miles south of Caesarea), but did not manage to reach Tel Aviv, Israel’s largest city.
It is now estimated to have an arsenal of more than 40,000 rockets, some that intelligence officials believe can hit Tel Aviv. Last week, Israel’s home front command staged a drill simulating a mass missile attack on the Tel Aviv area, as it does around the country several times a year.
In February, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu responded to Nasrallah’s threats saying that “no one should doubt Israel’s strength or its ability to defend itself.”
Mocking Nasrallah, who is often holed up in a bunker hiding from potential assassins as have struck his predecessors, Netanyahu said, “Whoever hides in a bunker should stay in the bunker.”
It would be wise to take well-armed, fanatically religious militia leaders at their word. At the same time, it’s worth remembering that boastful, sometimes exaggerated claims are a feature of Middle Eastern psychological warfare and are a useful ploy to keep supporters energized. After all, Saddam Hussein in 1991 promised the U.S. it would wage “The mother of all battles.”
If anything, talk of grandiose plans to invade Israel and occupy the Galilee reveal Nasrallah’s distress. With next-door neighbor Syria embroiled in revolt, Hezbollah would like to know who will replace Syria as its line of transport for Iranian money and weapons to Lebanon should President Bashar al-Assad’s regime fall. A Sunni regime may not be as sympathetic to the Shi’ite militia as the present leadership in Damascus, who are Alawite, an offshoot of Shi’ite Islam.
This as Hezbollah’s main benefactor Iran is facing international scrutiny and potentially more painful sanctions for its unbridled, once secretive race for nuclear weapons. Add to that threats of military action against Iran and for Nasrallah the stakes couldn’t be higher.