Hezbollah could advance into Israel in next war, official warns

Military source says terror group could seize parts of Galilee, including Israeli towns, for several hours; IDF is unaware of any tunnels

Marissa Newman is The Times of Israel political correspondent.

Israeli artillery howitzers fire on Hezbollah targets at the Israeli-Lebanese border on July 18, 2006. (Olivier Fitoussi/Flash90)
Israeli artillery howitzers fire on Hezbollah targets at the Israeli-Lebanese border on July 18, 2006. (Olivier Fitoussi/Flash90)

A senior IDF official warned Sunday that while Hezbollah has no immediate plan to attack Israel, a minor security incident could erupt into a full-fledged war on Israel’s northern front during which the terror organization would likely try to capture swaths of the Galilee.

“The situation in the north is quiet; we don’t assume we are headed toward war,” the Northern Command official said, according to Channel 2. “On the other hand, there are many developments, there are small things that can create larger events. The instability can develop and erupt into war.”

The army also distributed pictures Sunday showing armed Hezbollah members near the border with Israel.

In the event of a confrontation with Hezbollah, the fighting would likely last some four months, would have the Israel Defense Forces face some 30,000 troops, would incur extensive civilian casualties on the Lebanese side, and may see infiltration into northern Israeli towns to carry out attacks, the IDF official predicted.

Hezbollah operatives spotted near the northern border with Israel (photo credit: Courtesy/IDF)
Hezbollah operatives spotted near the northern border with Israel (photo credit: Courtesy/IDF)

According to the assessment, Hezbollah could capture the Rosh Hanikra area, including a small Israeli town near the border with Lebanon, for several hours, if Israel does not strike the group preemptively.

He said the army was working on a plan to evacuate the northern residents if need be, but warned there would be casualties on the Israeli side.

“If we imagine that we will be able to protect the civilians with zero successes for the enemy, there is no such thing. We are deluding ourselves and the public.”

However, he said Israel would likely be able to recapture whatever land Hezbollah managed to sally into.

“I can say that if it does capture part of our land, we have the capabilities to take it back,” he proclaimed, adding that, of Hezbollah’s 30,000-strong force, only a small fraction were actually properly trained.

“When Hezbollah talks about capturing the Galilee, it’s not an occupation as you would imagine it — it could capture the [Rosh Hanikra area] for 3-4 hours. If we managed to capture the Golan Heights, this is not a problem,” he added.

The official added that, despite Hezbollah’s prowess in tunnel-digging, he was not aware of any attack tunnels extending into Israel’s territory.

“It’s likely Hezbollah has been engaged in this, but I don’t know of any tunnel in the area that is ready for attack. Hezbollah entered the underground world before Hamas even thought of it, and Hezbollah explained to Hamas how to prepare this sort of action,” he noted, adding that infiltrations into northern towns were possible without the use of tunnels, such as the 1980 attack on Misgav Am.

The official also maintained that the Syrian civil war had improved Hezbollah’s military capabilities.

Should there be a flare-up on the northern front, the Israeli public must be prepared for an extended campaign, he warned.

“If Gaza took 50 days, it’s possible the war will last four months. The campaign could be short, but it could also be long.

“It’s important to convey the message to the world: Since Hezbollah is located within a civilian population, in villages, there will be immense damage to Lebanon. In the war, there will be many casualties among those uninvolved [in the fighting].

“In Gaza one can say that, on average, 50 percent of those killed were Hamas fighters, and 50% civilians. I don’t know of any army in the world that managed to reach this ratio of civilian casualties in such a complex environment for warfare.”

He said international jihadi groups do not pose a threat to Israel at this moment, but noted that the security situation could change in a matter of months.

The unnamed officer’s comments came 10 days after Channel 2 carried an extensive report from the Lebanon border which said the Israeli army was “making plans and training” for “a very violent war” against Hezbollah, without specifying when this war might break out.

That report, for which the army gave Israel’s Channel 2 access to several of its positions along the border with Lebanon, featured an IDF brigade commander warning that such a conflict “will be a whole different story” from the Israel-Hamas conflict. “We will have to use considerable force” to quickly prevail over the Iranian-backed Hezbollah, “to act more decisively, more drastically,” said Colonel Dan Goldfus, commander of the 769th Hiram Infantry Brigade.

The report said Hezbollah has an estimated 100,000 rockets — 10 times as many as were in the Hamas arsenal — and that its 5,000 long-range missiles, located in Beirut and other areas deep inside Lebanon, are capable of carrying large warheads (of up to 1 ton and more), with precision guidance systems, covering all of Israel. Israel’s Iron Dome rocket defense system would not be able to cope with that kind of challenge, and thus the IDF would have to “maneuver fast” and act forcefully to prevail decisively in the conflict, Goldfus said.

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