Hezbollah is preparing Syria as second battlefield against Israel

Hezbollah intends to wage its next war against Israel from deep within Syria, according to a report on a pro-Hezbollah news site last week.

The report, found on the web site Ya Sour, quoted Hezbollah sources saying the group intends to fire long-range projectiles at the Jewish state from the Qalamoun and Anti-Lebanon Mountain ranges, areas firmly under the Shiite group’s control on both the Syrian and Lebanese sides of the border.

There is reason to suspect that Hezbollah has indeed built up a missile arsenal in those areas, particularly as the city of Baalbek, the heartland of its Beqaa Valley stronghold, lies nearby. Israeli airstrikes against the group in Syria have been concentrated in Qalamoun. Moreover, a spokesman for the opposition’s Syrian National Salvation Front, named Fahd al-Masri, said in Dec. 2016 that Hezbollah was nearing completion of a tunnel in the Zabadani valley linking these two areas. Hezbollah seeks to facilitate the transfer of weapons and “reinforce its presence in the strategically important areas” in the western Damascus countryside, which includes Qalamoun, according to al-Masri.

Earlier in 2016, satellite images revealed a Hezbollah weapons warehouse slightly north of that area in Qusayr, where the group reportedly housed Katyusha rockets, mortars and howitzers. Reports also claimed Hezbollah was storing longer-range, Iranian-produced ballistic missiles there, including the Shahab-1, Shahab-2 and Fateh-110/M-600, which the organization could use to strike Israel. Intelligence has long suspected that Hezbollah possesses these missiles, but that has not been confirmed.

The Hezbollah sources told Ya Sour that the group was shifting its missile operations to the Qalamoun and Anti-Lebanon Mountain range because it would be easier “to camouflage the rockets and protect their storehouses and launchers from the danger of Israeli military planes.” They added that the Qalamoun’s vast expanses made the region ideal for easily and safely firing long-range ballistic missiles at Israel.

This latest report coincides with others that Hezbollah has transferred its longer-range rockets to Syria as part of a restructuring of its forces, as they require launching pads too large to be hidden in Lebanon from Israel’s aerial surveillance.

Hezbollah has good reason to prefer placing its longer-range weapons in Syria. This would place those projectiles out of range of IDF ground troops, and could be hidden in the Syrian army’s hardened shelters to better insulate them from air strikes. On the second day of the 2006 Second Lebanon War, it took the Israeli Air Force 34 minutes to destroy most of Hezbollah’s medium and long-range missiles tucked away in the rugged Lebanese terrain.

By dispersing the weapons across the Qalamoun Mountains, Hezbollah would complicate Israel’s task of replicating that success. Israeli jets would now have to cover a much larger area to locate and destroy these rockets, while also worrying about ducking Syrian and Russian air defenses.

However, these added difficulties are not insurmountable for Israel. The concentration of Israeli strikes in the Qalamoun region – 43 to date – demonstrates that Hezbollah’s arsenal in that area lies well within the IAF’s reach. The size of the launching pads and long-range missiles, their fueling time, and their lack of mobility would make them easy prey for Israeli jets operating over Qalamoun, allowing Israel to replicate its 2006 success. Israel also has experience in overcoming Russian-made air-defenses, as it did during the 1982 Lebanon War against Syria’s Soviet-built surface-to-air missile network in the Beqaa Valley. Israel’s new squadron of F-35 jets, expected to go into service by the end of 2017, will help surmount that challenge once again in a future war against Hezbollah.

The number of fronts on which Hezbollah will attempt fight is also part of the “surprises” to come in a future war, “which is right around the corner or closer,” the Hezbollah sources reportedly said. They claimed Hezbollah had already finished preparing the Golan Heights as an additional front to south Lebanon and had transferred high quality and specialized weapons there, fulfilling a long-standing promise by Hezbollah chief Hassan Nasrallah. Interestingly, the sources reportedly made this assertion two days before Harakat al-Nujaba, an Iranian-controlled Iraqi militia – which once described itself and Hezbollah as “twins of the resistance –  announced the formation of its “Golan Liberation Brigade” to fight Israel.

Despite Hezbollah’s claims, fighting the IDF on multiple fronts will not be enough, on its own, to overwhelm Israel. The Israelis have successfully fought such wars in the past against conventional armies. It is Hezbollah’s reliance on guerilla tactics that make it a more elusive and formidable foe. However, those tactics – which depend on Lebanon’s more rugged topography – will be less effective in the relatively flat Syrian side of the Heights, where Israel controls the high ground.

More importantly, the claim that Israel and Hezbollah are on the verge of war must be taken with a grain of salt, as the organization remains too bogged down in Syria to seriously confront the IDF.

David Daoud is an Arabic-Language Analyst at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies.

4 Comments

  • mike worosz says:

    Very informative as all of your articles are.

  • den says:

    Yes, bogged down for now. All this was known to be planned long ago. Hezbollah is nothing,…without Iran. There are more important things to be done first. Iraq has to be settled first, then Syria, then getting the Americans to leave, after everyone tells them to. Then stabbing the Russians in the back to make them leave. Iran then , after also pushing the u.s. out of Yemen will fall on the Saudi house as if they were so much sheep. Doesn’t anyone see this? It’s plain as day. We have inadvertently (?) Given the ayatollahs what they needed, a reason. As if that isn’t enough, this has also made the islamists, and all those sitting on the sideline, believe they MAY…have a chance at taking …Jerusalem. We will come to the point where we, as Americans, will have to decide where will we draw a line. Israel…THE ultimate prize at this dance. Will we stand beside them as we said we would for six odd decades? Are we still willing to send the best we have? My son,…your son.. or daughter? Put all the election crap behind us….our children , and their children are waiting for us, me and you, to make a logical decision that may get most of them killed or maimed for life. The Iranians have made their choice and are playing it out as we speak. Are we really going to sit about and debate while our enemies are already laying ground work to see our demise? If you play chess, you know the power of the lowly pawn, a game derived from actual combat. The smallest mistake, ends the game. Good luck America, we may need to be bad to be good. God bless us all.

  • Enoch says:

    Iran and Hezbollah will ultimately find Syria to be what past colonial enterprises found: She is fiercely independent and well-disposed towards being impossible to manipulate. Do Syrians appreciate Iran/Hezbollah setting their homeland up for Israeli attack? I doubt it.

    Despite Iran’s contemporary “success” in imposing itself into the Arab heartland, Syrians share no heart with their Persian guests, nor their Lebanese lap-dog, Hezbollah. Iran has so many weaknesses, that it is on the verge of overreaching, if it hasn’t already.

  • matt says:

    We we see if they fight better on two fronts than they did in 2006. Fighting us in Iraq and Israel in Lebanon. They had to withdraw forces back to Lebanon and some of those boys never returned deceased or crippled to Iraq before the surge. They the Hizbullah wanted a ceasefire via the UN. W let it run a little longer. They have little choice but to fight in Syria to secure the Syrian/Lebanon border above the Litani. Assad does not have ali Chemicali. Nor the assets he never owned via Russia, depleted via the civil war. His regime is fragile. Any action by Israel in a war against Hizbullah will not be received well be Russia inside Syria. But also harms their efforts to secure Assad. He is symbolic.

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