After Syria, Hezbollah Will Turn Its Eyes To Israel

News Image By PNW Staff February 24, 2017
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Israel has struck Hezbollah targets near the Syrian capital overnight on Wednesday, once again raising fears that is only a matter of time before Hezbollah and Israel engage in a full scale conflict.

Several threats have been thrown back in force in recent weeks including Israel warning Hezbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah directly via a third-party Arab official, that any attack it may launch on it, be it from its bases in Lebanon or those in Syria, will meet a "colossal military retaliation." 

Nasrallah was also warned that in the era of the Trump administration, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu would be able to more easily garner the support of moderate countries in the region -- most likely in the form of tacit consent -- in the event Israel would have to mount a forceful counterattack against Hezbollah.

Nasrallah on Monday doubled down on his recent saber-rattling against Israel and warned that his terror group would not hold back from attacking sensitive Israeli targets if the Jewish state goes to war with Lebanon. 

The terror chief repeated a previous threat to fire rockets at Israels nuclear reactor in Dimona and at a huge ammonia storage tank in Haifa. 

Hezbollah will not keep to any "red lines" in a future war with Israel, Nasrallah warned.

The Hezbollah threat is real.  What was once a rag-tag terrorist army of bomb makers and violent thugs is now considered a formidable regional military force. 

Generous funding by Iran (thanks to the lifting of sanctions by Obama), heavy weapons acquisitions that include both tanks and more than sixty-thousand rockets, massive recruitment drives that have swelled its ranks and a year of heavy combat in Syria have transformed Hezbollah into an altogether new enemy for Israel. 

Now, with the conflict in Syria likely entering its final stages, the thousands of full-time and battle-hardened soldiers will need a new target. There is little doubt in which direction they will turn, especially the thousands who saw fighting ISIS as a training exercise for their true enemy: Israel.

Israel's border region with Syria, the Golan Heights, used to be among Israel's safest frontiers but now the heavily fortified zone looks out on increasing activity from the ISIS affiliated Yarmouk Martyrs' Brigade, and to the North of their territory, Hezbollah units supported by both Iran and Syrian regime. 

Once Syrian territory, the Golan Heights came under Israeli control during the 1967 June War, or Six-Day War, that saw Israel repelling an invasion on multiple fronts. 

Though held strategically by Israel, Israel didn't fully annex the region until 1981. Today, the Golan Heights acts as a sort of buffer zone to the North East, one in which Israeli tanks faced Syrian army units across a UN patrolled cease fire lines, but with little incident since 1973.

Now the equation has changed. The Assad regime may have shown little interest in sparking a major conflict across the cease fire line, but the Iran-sponsored Hezbollah has different interests. 

This is not the first time Israel has struck at Hezbollah weapons shipments in Syria or Lebannon in an attempt to cut off its supply of rockets that could be used on Israeli populations. 

The shift of Hezbollah away from fighting ISIS and with access to the Golan Heights, Iran now has essential control of a new strategic corridor.

According to Professor Asher Susser of the Center for Middle Eastern Studies at Tel Aviv University, "The changes in Syria have brought Iran closer to Israel's border than ever before." 

Not only does Israel face the threat of attack across the border with Lebanon but now also with Syria in a situation nearly unprecedented within the past fifty years.

Hezbollah has sacrificed much in the Syrian Civil War, as many as five thousand soldiers according to some estimates, and is demanding control in Syria "commensurate with its sacrifices" according to a report by Kurdi-Iraqi journalist Roshun Kassem. 

The result is an Iranian proxy army with the destruction of Israel as its stated goal now gaining access to a strategic corridor at the North of Israel.

As victory of government forces nears in Syria, it is increasingly possible that the ISIS backed militias near the border will be replaced with Iran-backed Hezbollah forces through negotiations with the Syrian government. 

Such a movement would further cement the influence of Iran along Israel's border. There is talk that Syrian leader Assad is also getting ready to allow Hezbollah to fire rockets into Israel from Syrian soil as punishment for it's continued attacks in it's territory.

Russian air power, which shows no sign of exiting Syria, further complicates any attempt for Israel to counter these moves.

Though Israel and Russia have a working defense relationship, including dedicated air force liaison officers meant to prevent any interference, the amount of Russian anti-air firepower in the region meant to protect Syrian assets still poses a threat should Hezbollah attack.

Whatever the immediate result, the fact of the matter is that the Golan Heights has grown more volatile and Hezbollah, which has stated that it saw the Syrian Civil War as training for the coming war with Israel, will soon sit poised to threaten Israel across two fronts. 

With increased combat experience, Iranian funding and military materiel, the threat now posed by Hezbollah is all too real.

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