(by Julie Stahl, Feb. 28, 2008, CNSNews.com) Israel-Lebanon Border – Israel, beset with rocket attacks from the Hamas-controlled Gaza Strip, is preparing for another escalation along its northern border with Hizballah, a senior Israeli officer said on Tuesday.
Following the brief Israel-Hizballah war in 2006, Hizballah never stopped building its forces in South Lebanon, Lt.-Col. Guy Hazut, an army operations officer with the Galilee Division, told journalists on Tuesday during a tour of the border region.
The force-building began long before the assassination of arch-terrorist Imad Mughniyeh two weeks ago, Hazut said.
(Hizballah has vowed revenge against Israel for Mughniyeh’s assassination in a Damascus car-bombing, even though Israel has denied any involvement — and Mugniyeh’s widow this week accused Syria of involvement.)
Hizballah leader Hassan Nasrallah used the occasion of Mughniyeh’s funeral to declare that the Israel-Hizballah war was never finished. “It is ongoing, and no ceasefire was ever declared,” he said.
Most analysts doubt that Hizballah will launch a cross-border attack at this time. They said a more likely scenario is a terror attack against an Israeli embassy or Jewish institution somewhere else in the world or even the assassination of a senior Israeli official.
Still, Israel is taking no chances. Israel tightened security along the northern border and deployed a U.S.-made Patriot anti-missile missile battery around the large northern coastal city of Haifa following Mughniyeh’s assassination.
The army was never under the illusion that Hizballah would open a peace process with Israel, Hazut said.
“We learned a lot from this war,” Hazut said. “We are well-prepared today for the situation that we will have another escalation on the northern border.”
Under the United Nations resolution that ended the war, the Lebanese Armed Forces (LAF) deployed in southern Lebanon for the first time in decades, and the mission of the international peacekeepers — United Nations Interim Forces in Lebanon (UNIFIL) – was expanded to help the LAF gain control of the area.
Hizballah, however, apparently has continued its build-up “under cover” of the peacekeepers.
Hazut made it clear that Israel is not looking for trouble and will respond only if its sovereignty is violated. If Hizballah and other terror organizations in South Lebanon are not controlled by UNIFIL and the LAF, then there is a danger that the situation will escalate again, he said.
At the moment, Lebanese villages along Israel’s northern border appear peaceful with no outward signs of Hizballah activity.
Overlooking South Lebanon from the Israeli border community of Misgav Am, an army intelligence officer, who spoke at a background briefing, noted that prior to Israel’s war with Lebanon in 2006, Hizballah visibly occupied these hills. Yellow Hizballah flags flew proudly and Hizballah gunman patrolled the area openly.
Still, the officer said, Israel knows that Hizballah is active in southern Lebanon and is now disguising most of its maneuvers as civilian activity, he said.
“Shepherds” and “hunters” (hunting is forbidden by the Lebanese government in Southern Lebanon) come close to the border to observe the Israeli Army, the officer said.
Hizballah conducted a major training exercise there recently, and Nasrallah says openly that his group has arms ready to “resist” (fight) Israel, he said.
Not only does Nasrallah say that Hizballah is prepared to carry out attacks but he is once again threatening Israel’s annihilation as he did several years ago, the officer said.
Hizballah launched some 4,000 rockets at Israel during the Israel-Hizballah war. Nasrallah now says he has 20,000 rockets, and Israel estimates that his organization — which took a pounding during the war — has returned to its pre-war strength.
“We understand that Hizballah is as strong as it was before the war,” the officer said.
As for the bunkers that Hizballah built prior to the last war, which effectively protected the militants from Israeli retaliation, the officer said its likely Hizballah would do the same thing prior to another attack.
The officer refused comment on whether Israel believes foreign agents (from Iran, for example) are operating in southern Lebanon, but he did say that jihadist groups could gain a foothold there and attempt cross-border terror attacks.
In the last year and half, there have been two rocket attacks from Lebanon on Israeli communities, the last one in January 2008. Militant Islamic jihadist groups — and not Hizballah — claimed responsibility.
Israel is concerned that in addition to the Hizballah threat, those extremist jihad groups could mount cross-border terror attacks on more than 40 border communities, the officer said.
All the villages on the Israeli side have suffered from deadly infiltrations, the officer said.
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1. Describe two reasons that Israel is preparing for an attack from Hizballah (also spelled Hezbollah).
2. How do most analysts think Hezbollah will attempt revenge against Israel for terrorist Mughniyeh’s assassination?
3. Does Israel want to engage in renewed fighting with Hezbollah?
4. a) Who is Hassan Nasrallah?
b) In addition to vowing revenge on Israel for the assassination of Mughniyeh (which Israel has denied being a part of), what has Nasrallah threatened to do?
5. Describe the additional threat Israel faces on its northern border with Lebanon.
NOTE (from tkb.org):
Hezbollah, whose name means “party of God,” is a terrorist group believed responsible for nearly 200 attacks since 1982 that have killed more than 800 people. It was founded in 1982 in Lebanon’s Bekaa Valley by Shia clergyman educated in Iran. Hezbollah’s stated objectives include:
-the establishment of a Shiite theocracy in Lebanon
-the destruction of Israel
-the elimination of Western influences from the Middle East.
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