Hezbollah’s secret, grandiose plan to invade Israel in the post-tunnel era

Hezbollah’s secret, grandiose plan to invade Israel in the post-tunnel era

The group is threatening to conquer the Galilee even after its greatest asset was destroyed, and likely still has a plan to take border towns, army posts

Avi Issacharoff

Avi Issacharoff, The Times of Israel's Middle East analyst, fills the same role for Walla, the leading portal in Israel. He is also a guest commentator on many different radio shows and current affairs programs on television. Until 2012, he was a reporter and commentator on Arab affairs for the Haaretz newspaper. He also lectures on modern Palestinian history at Tel Aviv University, and is currently writing a script for an action-drama series for the Israeli satellite Television "YES." Born in Jerusalem, he graduated cum laude from Ben Gurion University with a B.A. in Middle Eastern studies and then earned his M.A. from Tel Aviv University on the same subject, also cum laude. A fluent Arabic speaker, Avi was the Middle East Affairs correspondent for Israeli Public Radio covering the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, the war in Iraq and the Arab countries between the years 2003-2006. Avi directed and edited short documentary films on Israeli television programs dealing with the Middle East. In 2002 he won the "best reporter" award for the "Israel Radio” for his coverage of the second intifada. In 2004, together with Amos Harel, he wrote "The Seventh War - How we won and why we lost the war with the Palestinians." A year later the book won an award from the Institute for Strategic Studies for containing the best research on security affairs in Israel. In 2008, Issacharoff and Harel published their second book, entitled "34 Days - The Story of the Second Lebanon War," which won the same prize.

In this photo from December 13, 2018, Israeli soldiers stand guard next to cameras at their new position in front of a Hezbollah flag, near the Lebanese southern border village of Mays al-Jabal, Lebanon. (AP Photo/Hussein Malla)
In this photo from December 13, 2018, Israeli soldiers stand guard next to cameras at their new position in front of a Hezbollah flag, near the Lebanese southern border village of Mays al-Jabal, Lebanon. (AP Photo/Hussein Malla)

In his latest speech, Hezbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah again boasted that his terror group can easily penetrate into Israeli territory from Lebanon.

Hezbollah’s cross-border tunnel network may have been destroyed, but even in its absence Nasrallah insists that his commandos will try to storm Israel in secret and raid communities and army bases in the north. While Hezbollah knows it would pay a heavy price for such a step, the propaganda achievement would be crucial.

Like a broken record, in every speech Nasrallah delivers he threatens a military operation in Israeli territory if a war breaks out. Sometimes he calls it “conquering the Galilee,” sometimes just “penetrating.” Last month that ritual repeated itself when Nasrallah told his supporters that Hezbollah has the ability to “easily penetrate the Galilee.”

The question now is how, now that the Israeli military has revealed and destroyed Hezbollah’s secret strategic weapon — the cross-border tunnels — the Lebanese organization plans to operate inside Israeli territory and take control of a town or a piece of land.

Perhaps Hezbollah doesn’t have another strategic weapon like the tunnels, but it can be assumed it still has an extremely ambitious and detailed plan to occupy communities and military posts on Israel’s northern border.

The tunnel project was meant to shock Israel, funneling hundreds of members of the terror group’s Radwan commando unit into the country to carry out various attacks.

IDF reveals what it says is the longest cross-border attack tunnel dug by Hezbollah from Lebanon into Israel, May 29, 2019. (Israel Defense Forces)

“Radwan” was the alias of Imad Mughniya, Hezbollah’s military chief who was assassinated by Israel in 2008. Members of that unit are given high priority in almost everything: budget, equipment, resources and logistics. Sometimes their activities resemble those of elite IDF units, such as combat soldiers trained to use ATVs or navy commando fighters supposed to sneak into Israel in small underwater vessels.

In the absence of the tunnels, the mission of Radwan members will likely be to covertly get thousands of fighters into Israel at once through several points on the border while bombarding the border region, hoping that will overwhelm the IDF and allow some of the fighters to reach an Israeli border community or army post.

Hezbollah’s hope at the moment is that a heavy artillery bombardment of the entire border area, plus the use of high-caliber rockets that can destroy targets such as military posts, will do the trick.

The group today possesses significant firepower that could theoretically wipe out the entire Israeli frontline upon command — every post, every antenna.

Illustrative: A Hezbollah fighter is seen standing at attention in an orange field near the town of Naqura on the Lebanese-Israeli border on April 20, 2017. (AFP PHOTO / JOSEPH EID)

Apart from the artillery meant to serve as cover for thousands of troops invading Israel, Hezbollah’s attack plan will likely involve a logistic and intelligence apparatus, including drones that would transmit real-time intelligence and could carry out “kamikaze” bombings of Israeli targets.

It also has a designated command center meant to direct a wide-ranging operation along the border.

A land barrier built by Israel in recent years will make it difficult for such an operation to be carried out, but Hezbollah decision-makers nevertheless think that at least some of the attackers will manage to penetrate into Israeli territory.

Indonesian UN peacekeepers stand in front a poster of Hezbollah leader Sheikh Hassan Nasrallah, as they patrol the Lebanese side of the Lebanese-Israeli border in the southern village of Kfar Kila, Lebanon, Tuesday, December 4, 2018. (AP/Mohammed Zaatari)

It is clear to the leaders of Hezbollah’s military wing that such an operation would have harsh consequences for its personnel, but they consider the ensuing psychological effect in Israel as critical. The operation is supposed to force the IDF to invest in defense, shock Israeli public opinion and create pressure to quickly end the fighting. One can only guess the sort of effect images of Hezbollah fighters in the northern Israeli town of Metulla could have.

But Hezbollah’s highly ambitious war plan is exceptionally risky for the organization itself, and its leaders are aware of that. Sending or trying to send thousands of its best warriors across the border might ultimately prove too dangerous a gamble. It would, after all, present an excellent opportunity for the IDF to eliminate the elite fighting force of Hezbollah in a matter of hours. That, in turn, would expose Hezballah‘s home front to counterattacks and ease the IDF’s path to a clear victory in a future war.

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