"five-times" stronger than it was during Israeli war
Published 15 Aug 08
In terms of weaponry, strategic and political positioning, and its
ever-expanding international reach; Hezbollah is "five times more
capable today," than it was at the beginning of the July 2006 war with
Israel: A fact, according to experts, that prompted Israeli Defense
Minister Ehud Barak to tell his troops during a Tuesday morning tour of
positions along the Golan Heights, "It's not for nothing that we're
Not for nothing indeed. Poised just over the border in south Lebanon
is Hezbollah; a Lebanon-based Shiia terrorist army, organized somewhat
on the Taliban model, heavily funded and equipped by Iran and
operationally supported by both Iran and Syria.
Hezbollah has strengthened its strategic positions across Lebanon in
recent months. And in recent weeks, its military training and posturing
has increased in regions of the country far beyond its traditionally
recognized southern defenses (below the Litani River) and Al Dahiyeh (Hezbollah's
south Beirut stronghold near the airport).
Worse, Hezbollah's newfound political power - literally forced on the
government at the point of a gun after Hezbollah turned its weapons on
the Lebanese citizenry in May 2008 - has enabled the terrorist group to
both maintain its private militia status (including its possession of
military grade weapons and a massive private telecommunications system)
and position itself as a "legitimate" arm of the Lebanese Defense
apparatus. And the West - including the virtually impotent United
Nations forces in Lebanon - has done absolutely nothing to prevent any
All of this – accomplished despite the will of the pro-democracy
majority in Lebanon - has emboldened Hezbollah, and created an
environment wherein the terrorist group now feels comfortable
openly-flexing its muscle in areas of Lebanon that suggest ominous plans
for that country's future.
Since the attacks in May, eye-witnesses and open-sources from
Arab-language newspapers have reported an increasing number of Hezbollah
paramilitary exercises - scouting, navigating, night operations - many
of those exercises being conducted provocatively close to Christian
areas of Lebanon, and along-or-near strategically vital roads that pass
through the mountains between the coast and the Bekaa Valley to the
For instance, in the months before and weeks since the May attacks,
Hezbollah and Pasdaran (Iranian Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps)
fighters - according to more than one independent source - have
conducted small military exercises in the area around the town of
Jezzine, east of Sidon.
"Reports about this have been limited because journalists either
don't fully recognize the strategic significance or they are afraid of
Hezbollah," says Col. Charbel Barakat (Lebanese Army, ret.), a former
infantry brigade commander who today directs the office of
counterterrorism for the pro-democracy World Council of the Cedars
Revolution. "Almost no Western journalists have reported this, and only
a few Lebanese have."
Further north in the Sannine mountains west of Zahle, Hezbollah has
reportedly set up guided-missile batteries and early-warning radar.
Civilian hikers unfortunate enough to venture into this area reportedly
have been detained, held, and interrogated for several hours by
Also in recent weeks, Hezbollah and Pasdaran reportedly have been
observed training and setting up temporary outposts in the Aqura area on
the road between Aqura and Baalbeck - and the security teams surrounding
the exercise zone in one instance were reportedly wearing Lebanon
Internal Security Forces (ISF) uniforms, though the ISF according to our
sources denied they had policemen in the area at that time.
Aqura is key, because it is along the east-to-west road from Aqura to
the coast that in a future war, Hezbollah plans to cut the country's
largest Christian area in half. In such an attack - similar to what
Hezbollah has previously done in Druze areas of the western Bekaa -
Hezbollah fighters would knife through the Christian area, accessing
pre-staged weapons and ammunition from the Shiia villages of Lasa, Almat,
Ras Osta, and Kafr Salah which are located along (or fairly close to)
the Aqura-to-Jbail trek.
"Hezbollah is establishing layered-defenses north of the Litani, in
the southern and central Bekaa, and they have reinforced their presence
in southern Beirut." says Dr. Walid Phares, director of the Future of
Terrorism Project for the Foundation for the Defense of Democracies. "They
also have created new positions in Mount Lebanon and in the far north
near the highest peak of the Cedars mountains. Which means technically,
Hezbollah - which means Iran – controls the highest ground in the region
south of Turkey."
Strategic positioning is behind Hezbollah's activity: Controlling as
much of the commanding high-ground as possible and being positioned to
cut roads and divide-and-isolate Sunni, Druze, and Christian areas in
the event of war.
"Hezbollah knows that he who controls the mountains - consequently
the mountain passes - controls all of Lebanon," says Barakat. "Hezbollah
is also telling itself, 'I am afraid the Israelis will attack me north
of the Litani (so I will strengthen those positions above the Litani)
and I am not allowed to have my weapons and missiles south of the
Litani, so I will move them north.'"
Like the Israelis, Hezbollah is not simply training for "nothing."
Unlike the Israelis - who train solely to defend their state - the
ultimate goals of Hezbollah are to control as much of Lebanon as
possible, further the aims of the Iranian Revolution, and generally
What makes Hezbollah particularly scary today is the organization's
increasing political clout, the attempt in some circles to whitewash
who-and-what they are, and as Phares says, "Hezbollah today is
five-times more capable militarily than it was during the July 2006 war."
— W. Thomas Smith Jr. - a former U.S. Marine rifle-squad leader and
counterterrorism instructor - is a journalist, author, and military
analyst whose work has appeared in the New York Post, USA Today,
U.S. News & World Report, BusinessWeek, CBS News, and many others.
Smith has covered conflict in the Balkans, on the West Bank, in Iraq and
Lebanon, and has provided analysis for the U.S. Department of Defense.
Visit him online at uswriter.com.
W. Thomas Smith Jr. can be reached at
© 2008 W. Thomas Smith Jr.