The next conflict involving Israel will not be another skirmish, according to a terrorism analyst for the Institute for National Security Studies in Tel Aviv.
“They [have] been saying that in the next war, the stakes will be much higher,” says Benedetta Berti. “It will be a decisive war.”
That the stakes are high was affirmed by a statement from Hezbollah on an English-language website that in the case of war, the Galilee region of Israel will be targeted.
Hezbollah has its sights on Galilee because military strategists say it is a key location between the Golan Heights to the east and Lebanon to the north and west.
Berti adds that the rhetoric has become more intense since the 2006 war.
“After 2006 they’ve been talking a lot about the escalation of the next conflict. [Hezbollah leader Sayyed Hassan] Nasrallah said to me that in the last war, there were limited rockets in the north. In the next war they’ll be aiming for all of Israel.
“He’s giving the idea of rockets in the Golan and trying to create the idea of strategic parity,” Berti said. “Talk of the Galilee in this context, trying to say Hezbollah is much more powerful, and they’re trying to say they can inflict a much greater blow in the next round.”
Middle East Forum Executive Director Daniel Pipes says he believes Hezbollah’s claim is more than an empty threat.
“Hezbollah attacked the Galilee in 2006 and did considerable damage. There is every reason to think that its capabilities have increased since then,” Pipes said. But he said he doesn’t know of any grand strategy.
“If there is a master plan, I would not know it. But this is definitely not hot air; Hezbollah has tens of thousands of rockets and missiles at its disposal,” Pipes said.
The Hezbollah site includes confirmation from Nasrallah of the status.
“It is the second time Sayyed Hassan Nasrallah sets Galilee as an inevitable target for the Resistance’s field operations in case ‘Israel’ attacks Lebanon,” the web page statement said.
Later in his statement he said, “According to the scenario of the likely confrontation, whoever takes over Galilee is automatically able to take over South Lebanon and plains surrounding Tabaria (Tiberias) Lake, and vice-versa; liberating any part of Galilee via the Lebanese territories shall petrify ‘Israel’ since most of its settlements are built nearby the Lebanese borders,” the web page said.
However, Berti says there’s a possibility that the web post is psychological warfare against Israel.
“I think it’s important in this case to separate between psychological warfare, which is something both Israel and Hezbollah have been doing since 2006, and reality,” Berti said. “What I mean by that is that I’m skeptical that Hezbollah can take over the Galilee, given the balance of power and the Israeli’s stronger military.
“I think they’re saying that in the context of propaganda and psychological warfare.”
She says actual military capability and “psy-ops” have to be considered.
“What they can do and have been doing is smaller scale incursions. That’s something that Hezbollah fighters have been training to do since 2006. That’s much more realistic – Hezbollah fighters crossing the border and carrying out a smaller operation,” Berti said.
Berti says another factor that determines Hezbollah’s capacity to carry out the Galilee threat is the Iranian-backed group’s involvement in Syria. However, Berti says that in her analysis, the group doesn’t have the logistical means to capture and occupy a large area of territory like the Galilee.
However, Israeli daily Yedioth Ahronoth senior military analyst Ronen Bergman disputes those who doubt Hezbollah’s strength.
Bergman writes in an article for Bloomberg News that Hezbollah has more military power than many of the world’s countries.
“Ever since it forced the Israelis’ panicky retreat from Lebanon in 2000, Hezbollah has been building up an immense military force, with firepower that 90 percent of the world’s countries don’t possess, according to Meir Dagan, the former director of the Mossad, Israel’s intelligence agency,” Bergman wrote.
Although Berti says she doesn’t believe Hezbollah has the manpower to capture and occupy territory, Bergman said in his article that Hezbollah may have a much wider objective in their sights.
“Hezbollah’s launching of a pilotless spy plane, which was shot down by Israel’s air force in the southern part of the country in early October, has been seen as more evidence that the Lebanese militia is preparing for war,” Bergman wrote.
“No doubt it was collecting information in case of another confrontation with Israel, but whether the terrorist group is seeking a full-blown war is a more complicated question that may depend less on what Hezbollah wants than on the heat it is getting from its patrons,” Bergman wrote.
Bergman adds that whether they have the force numbers to occupy territory, Hezbollah is nonetheless a well-armed force.
“The group’s possession of so sophisticated a craft (which was assembled from Iranian-made parts) is further evidence that Hezbollah is the most advanced and best-equipped militia of its kind the world has ever seen,” Bergman wrote.