Hezbollah says it's ready for fresh war with Israel – and stronger now
Driving through Hezbollah's stronghold in Lebanon's Bekaa Valley, a veteran fighter says the militant group has made significant military advances since their last war with Israel in 2006: 'We have many other surprises for the Israelis.'
Mashghara, Bekaa Valley, Lebanon
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"We are ready for another war and we eagerly await it," says veteran Hezbollah fighter Abu Hadi on a drive through the Bekaa Valley. "We expect the next war to be short. The Israelis will not be able to endure what we will do to them."
Hezbollah's leadership insists it does not seek a war and that its military preparations are a defense against potential Israeli aggression. Yet, the inconclusive outcome of the 2006 war has stoked a feeling here that another war is inevitable.
War drums have been beating faster in recent weeks amid allegations that Syria has supplied Hezbollah with Scud ballistic missiles – a development that has enraged Israel, forced Lebanese leaders to seek international support, and complicated a gradual US-Syria rapprochement. On May 3, President Obama renewed sanctions on Syria for a year because of its "continuing support for terrorist organizations and pursuit of weapons of mass destruction and missile programs."
Hezbollah's strongholds in the Bekaa Valley are likely to be one of several front lines during another war with Israel – a war that threatens to be far more destructive than the one in July 2006. Hezbollah says lessons learned from that conflict have been implemented, including new battlefield tactics and the acquisition of improved weapons systems, surface-to-surface rockets, and possibly advanced antiaircraft missiles.
'Too much at stake'
Many analysts believe that the next war will not be confined to Hezbollah and Israel but will also draw in Syria and possibly Iran in a regional conflagration. Hezbollah's leaders say that it would be of sufficient scale and intensity to change the geopolitical balance in the region. "That kind of war would change every parameter in the Middle East," Hezbollah chief Sheikh Hassan Nasrallah said recently.
The stakes for both sides are so great that the military preparations of Israel and Hezbollah to some extent serve as a mutual deterrent against rash action.
"I don't believe there will be [war]. I think there is too much at stake to lose for all the parties," says Michael Williams, the top United Nations official in Lebanon, after an April 28 meeting with Prime Minister Saad Hariri. "I think tensions have been high the past few days. But I hope these will lower now."
Tensions flared when Israel accused Hezbollah of having Scuds and US officials voiced alarm at the increasingly sophisticated weaponry allegedly crossing the border from Syria to Lebanon. In late April, Defense Secretary Robert Gates said Hezbollah had "far more rockets and missiles than most governments in the world.... This is obviously destabilizing for the whole region," he said following talks with his Israeli counterpart, Ehud Barak.