Army: Hezbollah can't yet mass-produce precise missiles

Lebanese border ‘volatile,’ intel chief warns amid tunnel-busting effort

IDF’s Maj. Gen. Tamir Hayman says Tehran significantly pulling back its military presence in Syria over its unpopularity within Iran

Judah Ari Gross is The Times of Israel's religions and Diaspora affairs correspondent.

Military Intelligence chief Maj. Gen. Tamir Hyman, left, speaks at the Knesset's powerful Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee next to its chairman MK Avi Dichter on December 11, 2018. (Yitzhak Harari/Knesset)
Military Intelligence chief Maj. Gen. Tamir Hyman, left, speaks at the Knesset's powerful Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee next to its chairman MK Avi Dichter on December 11, 2018. (Yitzhak Harari/Knesset)

The head of Military Intelligence on Tuesday told lawmakers that the prospect of an intentionally initiated war with the Hezbollah terrorist group is low, but the potential exists for circumstances to escalate out of control.

The general’s warning came a week after the Israel Defense Forces launched Northern Shield, an effort to locate and destroy attack tunnels the army says Hezbollah dug into Israeli territory from southern Lebanon. The IDF operation along the Lebanese border sparked fears internationally that Israel and the Iran-backed Hezbollah could be heading toward a major confrontation, the first since 2006.

Military Intelligence chief Maj. Gen. Tamir Hayman told the Knesset’s powerful Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee that while the northern region — Lebanon and Syria — was “volatile,” Operation Northern Shield was nevertheless critical in that it would remove the “cornerstone” of Hezbollah’s war plans.

According to the military, the terror group planned to use the tunnels to send dozens or hundreds of soldiers into Israeli territory, alongside masses of troops above-ground and a barrage of rockets and mortar shells, as a way to kick off a future war with Israel.

In general, Hayman said, Israel was taking advantage of the fact that the chances of war are low, in part because the country’s enemies are not currently interested in starting one now.

“Regional upheavals are coming to an end, as well as great changes, and this brings with it opportunities as well as risks in all regions,” he said.

Hayman was likely referring to the Syrian civil war, which dictator Bashar Assad is poised to win, as well as larger regional trends like Saudi Arabia and the Persian Gulf states’ increasing cooperation with Israel against mutual enemies like Iran.

“It is an era of thwarting [enemy plans], of redesign and of formation,” the general told lawmakers.

He said Iran was pulling back its troops and its proxies from Syria’s border with Israel’s Golan Heights as the IDF has made fighting Tehran’s effort to entrench itself in Syria a primary concern.

“The cost of Iran establishing itself in Syria has prompted arguments among top decision-makers in Iran, and as a result there has been a trend of stopping and significantly scaling back,” he said, according to a statement from the Knesset.

Hayman also discussed Hezbollah’s massive rocket arsenal, which Israel says comprises 100,000 to 150,000 projectiles.

Israel has long warned that the Iran-backed group is working to convert its “dumb” rockets, which follow a straight line once launched, into smarter, precision-guided munitions that would pose a substantially greater risk to the Jewish state. Earlier this year at the United Nations’ General Assembly, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu presented the coordinates of Hezbollah facilities where the terror group was working to develop such capabilities.

On Tuesday, the Military Intelligence chief said Hezbollah has yet to develop a way to mass-produce such missiles and still possesses only simpler rockets.

Looking beyond the strictly military arena, Hayman said his soldiers were also carefully tracking Iran’s economy in order to see if it is in violation of international sanctions.

“Military Intelligence is successfully monitoring the efforts to get around the sanctions, and is also taking action with the relevant figures in the international community,” the Knesset said in a statement.

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