Vol. 11, No. 18
- In recent weeks Hizbullah leader Hasan Nasrallah held a series of meetings with his top-level military command as well as field commanders responsible for preparing for war with Israel. According to a source close to Hizbullah, Nasrallah’s operational directive was that in the next military conflict with Israel, Hizbullah will hit Tel Aviv with missiles at the outset of the war, while also dispatching forces to conquer the Galilee.
- Hizbullah forces are being trained to fire at least ten thousand missiles, right at the war’s outset, at military and strategic targets such as airfields, military camps, and vital facilities including maritime ones, followed by the firing of rockets from launch sites whose location will come as a surprise to Israel.
- The operational plan was formulated in tandem with senior Iranian strategic experts and will include a force of five thousand fighters who have recently trained in Iran, tasked with taking over designated zones in northern Israel including Nahariya, Shlomi, and Carmiel.
- It was said that engineering units of the Iranian army had mined areas in the eastern Bekaa Valley that were seen as possible landing sites for Israeli special forces, and that Hizbullah had equipped itself with “smart” Iranian anti-tank missiles that can disrupt the defensive systems of Israel’s Merkava tanks.
- Nasrallah’s recent escalation of public statements stems from heightened fear in Hizbullah that an Israeli and/or American attack on Iran is drawing nearer. As a strategic arm of Iran, Hizbullah sees itself as Iran’s first line of defense against Israel.
On 27 October 2011 the Lebanese newspaper Al Joumhouria reported that in recent weeks the leader of Hizbullah, Hasan Nasrallah, held a series of meetings with the organization’s highest level military command, as well as field commanders and operational-level commanders responsible for preparing Hizbullah’s military force for war with Israel. Nasrallah updated his commanders on regional developments, the situation in Lebanon, and on Hizbullah’s internal and organizational affairs. Nasrallah emphasized the supreme importance of maintaining the organization’s field security, given U.S. and Israeli intelligence organizations’ successes in penetrating Hizbullah and recruiting individuals holding sensitive posts. The exposure of agents within Hizbullah was profoundly unsettling to Nasrallah and the other leaders.
According to a source close to Hizbullah, Nasrallah’s operational directive to the commanders was to prepare for the fact that in the next military conflict with Israel, Hizbullah will hit Tel Aviv with missiles at the outset of the war, while also dispatching forces to conquer the Galilee. The source stressed that this is an operational directive and not a matter of psychological warfare.
Hizbullah’s conclusion from the lessons of the Second Lebanon War is that, next time, Israel will have no red lines in waging all-out war against Lebanon and Hizbullah. Hence, Hizbullah is planning “many surprises” that will change the force equation with Israel both at the start of the conflict and during its operational phase.1
The Operational Plan
The operational plan to conquer the Galilee was first aired in Nasrallah’s announcement on 16 February 2011, as part of events marking the third anniversary of the assassination of Hizbullah commander-in-chief Imad Mughniyeh. Nasrallah told his fighters to be prepared for the fact that, should Israel launch a war against Hizbullah, they will be conquering the Galilee. Since that announcement, Hizbullah forces have been training and preparing to carry out Nasrallah’s order. This preparation includes:
- Identifying landing sites for Israeli helicopters where explosive charges have been laid and dispersed.
- Deploying substantial rocket and artillery firepower in areas Hizbullah does not see as suitable for guerrilla warfare, mainly in parts of the Bekaa Valley.
- Visits by commanders to the front, which have included delegations of military experts headed by Haj Zu Alfikar. He is none other than Mustafa Badr Aldin, Mughniyeh’s replacement as the most senior security-military figure in Hizbullah, who is continuing to act despite an extradition order against him for the murder of Prime Minister Rafiq Hariri. The senior military delegation visited the Bekaa Valley and southern Lebanon.
- The end of a series of intensive training sessions for some 727 fighters in Iran, who learned new combat methods for guerrilla and special commando units.
- The completion of courses for operators of advanced missiles and anti-tank weapons. Here it was said that Hizbullah had equipped itself with “smart” Iranian anti-tank missiles that can disrupt the defensive systems of Merkava tanks on the way to striking them.
The military scenario for which Hizbullah forces trained is the firing of at least ten thousand missiles, right at the war’s outset, at military and strategic targets such as airfields, military camps, and vital facilities including maritime ones, followed by the firing of rockets from launch sites whose location will come as a surprise to Israel.
The Operational Plan to Conquer the Galilee
The source said that the operational plan Hizbullah has formulated in tandem with senior Iranian strategic experts is based on using a force of five thousand fighters who have recently trained in Iran, particularly in the context of this plan. Another report said that in recent weeks Hizbullah forces had completed intensive training in Iran and had been deployed in southern Lebanon and the Bekaa Valley. It was further reported that in the area of Maydon in the western Bekaa Valley, Hizbullah engineering units had finished excavation work and the improvement of positions, while engineering units of the Iranian army had mined areas in the eastern Bekaa Valley that were seen as possible landing sites for Israeli special forces tasked with attacking Hizbullah’s missile and artillery deployment.2
The source close to Hizbullah said its fighting force would number five brigades, each consisting of a thousand fighters. Each brigade has a designated combat zone in northern Israel that it is tasked with taking over. Each brigade is familiar with the layout and special topographical conditions of its sector and has trained to conquer it.
- Brigade 1 will take over the town of Nahariya or parts of it, after crossing the border in the area of Rosh Hanikra. According to Hizbullah information, means of protection in that area are meager, the distance is small (seven kilometers), and there are no military capabilities or special topography that will retard the unit in achieving its goal. Concurrently, a force of 150 fighters from the first brigade will reach Nahariya by sea in speedboats that Hizbullah already possesses. This force’s mission is to take as many hostages as possible so as to prevent Israel from bombing the Hizbullah forces in this sector.
- Brigade 2 will take over the town of Shlomi, which has 6,500 residents and is about 300 meters from the border. The aim is to cut the IDF’s supply lines and force it to send reinforcements from the east.
- Brigade 3 was ordered to reach the town of Carmiel and conquer areas south of it with the aim of blocking traffic from Acre, on the Mediterranean coast, to Safed.
- Brigade 4 will take over the communities of Malkiya, Ramot Naftali and Yiftach in order to prevent the IDF from firing from these areas into southern Lebanon.
- Brigade 5 will serve as a strategic reserve force for special missions.
Hizbullah is discussing the question of whether Bashar Assad will take part in the war, and is not excluding this possibility, particularly in light of Syria’s domestic situation. On 27 October 2011 the newspaper Al Akhbar, which is close to Hizbullah, disclosed that Nasrallah had met with Assad a few days earlier in Damascus. It said Nasrallah had come to explain to Assad why Hizbullah insists that the Lebanese government stop contributing to the funding of the international investigatory commission (the STL) on former Lebanese premier Hariri’s murder. Assad, according to the paper, did not give a clear answer on the issue and only emphasized the need to maintain the Lebanese government’s representation. If such a Nasrallah-Assad meeting indeed occurred, it can reasonably be assumed that the subject of a military conflict with Israel was central to it.3
A day after the article appeared in Al Akhbar, the paper published a correction saying the Nasrallah-Assad meeting had not occurred and apologizing for the error.4 It should be stressed that the paper is very close to Hizbullah and not infrequently serves as Nasrallah’s mouthpiece. It is hard to imagine that it would publish a detailed report of this meeting, including specific quotations, against Hizbullah’s wishes. It could be that, on second thought, Hizbullah decided the timing of the article was unwise. As Assad kills his people, Hizbullah faces bitter criticism for supporting him and is losing its standing in the Arab street. Indeed, since the reports in the Lebanese press on Hizbullah’s operational plan and preparations to implement it, Hizbullah has in no way related to these matters either directly or indirectly.
Nasrallah’s recent escalation of public statements on concrete targets for the next war – rocket fire on Tel Aviv at its outset and the conquest of the Galilee, along with the completion of military preparations – do not come in a vacuum. They stem from heightened fear in Hizbullah that an Israeli and/or American attack on Iran is drawing nearer. Hence, as a strategic arm of Iran that sees itself as Iran’s first line of defense against Israel, Hizbullah is seeking, with Iran’s help, to deter Israel. This explains Nasrallah’s care in emphasizing that he is not referring to an offensive thrust by Hizbullah but, rather, a harsh response to an Israeli move that would engulf Lebanon in war. But even if what is envisaged is a reaction by Hizbullah, let alone a surprise move by Nasrallah, it is important to see the picture as reflected in Hizbullah’s vision.
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1. Al Joumhouria, 27 October 2011.
2. Al Shiraa, 27 October 2011.
3. Al Akhbar, 27October 2001.
4. Al Akhbar, 28 October 2011.
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Brig.-Gen. (ret.) Dr. Shimon Shapira is a senior research associate at the Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs.