On a hill overlooking the ancient city of Baalbek, where the Romans built one of the empire’s largest temples, Lebanese Islamic militant group Hezbollah has turned an air defense base into an open-air jihad tourism museum.
On display are tanks seized from Israeli and Islamic State forces, parked alongside military jeeps equipped with machine guns for children to climb. Some drones were built by Hezbollah under the supervision of Iranian engineers. There are boats equipped with mortars.
“We have a lot, a lot,” says Abu Fadel, a local guide appointed by Hezbollah.
He gestured to a Soviet-designed tracked vehicle with three missiles pointed into the sky. This is an SA-6 surface-to-air missile system, the type used by Syria to shoot down an Israeli plane in 1973. It’s shown here for a reason, it’s meant to show you what you don’t see.
“We’re intentionally showing this so people know there are other anti-aircraft weapons out there,” Fadell said. He suggests that includes his S-300, which is a more sophisticated system. “You don’t think there’s an S-300?” he said, switching to English for effect. “If Iran has the S-300, Hezbollah will definitely get the S-300.” Such claims cannot be verified.
The war between Israel and Hamas: maps and graphics showing how the conflict is unfolding
But that very possibility underscores the potential threat posed by Hezbollah as Israel wages war against Hamas militants who control the Gaza Strip.
Hamas, like Hezbollah, is backed by Iran and has long opposed Israel, sometimes using armed violence. But Hezbollah has amassed far more formidable firepower.
One of the most dangerous questions for Israel is whether actions in Gaza will force Hezbollah to direct all its military forces to a second front.
“Everyone is looking at Hezbollah and wondering what they are going to do,” said Nicholas Branford, a Beirut-based fellow in the Atlantic Council’s Middle East program.
The sounds of fighting are already echoing along the Lebanon-Israel border, with Lebanon sending helicopters to attack so-called military targets in Lebanon on Sunday after anti-tank shelling killed one Israeli cooperative man. did. Israel has now removed a four-kilometre buffer zone from its border with Lebanon.
Since the signs of war with Hezbollah are serious, the United States is taking preemptive action. Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin said Saturday that the United States is sending two aircraft carrier groups to the eastern Mediterranean, one of which He said the ship has already been deployed.
Hezbollah is considered the most powerful non-state actor in the world.
Its equipment and training form a key part of Iran’s defense against Israel and provide Tehran with a powerful shield against any attempt to destroy Iran’s nuclear capabilities.
Hezbollah, formed in 1982 when Israel invaded Lebanon, has decades of combat experience, most recently in Syria. Before that, in 2006, she and Israel waged a 34-day war. He has spent 13 years since transforming into a more formidable opponent.
Israeli military planners call Hezbollah their country’s biggest threat. Observers say Hezbollah’s number of fighters has swelled to more than 60,000, at least 12 times the number in 2006. The sub-ballistic missile can fire a 500-kilogram warhead to a target 300 kilometers away with an accuracy of 10 to 20 meters. It has anti-ship missiles and an estimated 130,000 rockets, enough to counter Israel’s vaunted Iron Dome air defense system.
“They think they can attack everything from nuclear reactors to power infrastructure to water infrastructure, all across Israel,” said Randa Slim, a senior researcher at the Middle East Institute. “Israel will have to suffer it during the fight against Gaza. It will be a very big blow.”
Hamas’ attack on Israel on October 7 shattered old assumptions, she said.
“We are now in a period of transition where the new rules of the game are being violently renegotiated.”
Old assumptions, such as the idea that Iran would mobilize Hezbollah only if Iranian territory was attacked, may no longer hold true. Rather, the Iranian government’s desire to maintain an “axis of resistance” means that if any part of that axis faces an existential threat, such as Israel seeking to destroy Hamas or at least eliminate its leadership, It may force you to take action.
“Iran today is more radical, more confident, and Hezbollah is more confident in its ability to make Israel pay a very high price,” Slim said.
As Israeli forces prepare for a ground invasion of the Gaza Strip this weekend, Iranian Foreign Minister Hossein Amirabdollahian said on Sunday that “if Zionist aggression is not stopped, all parties in the region will It’s triggering,” he warned in a comment. State media reported.
For Hezbollah to go to war with Israel would mean an abandonment of the bloody ceasefire the two countries have kept since 2006. Meanwhile, both countries have continued to fire, but within ranges calculated to avoid escalation to war. Tobias Bork, an expert on Middle East security studies at the Royal United Services Institute in London, said even the escalation in recent days appeared to be “deliberately sending a message” by Hezbollah.
The message, he said, was “‘Hamas, we are with you, including in unity.'” But at the same time, he says, “Israel, this is not something we’re doing big.” ”
Israel’s heavy shelling of Gaza concretely illustrates the impact it would have on Hezbollah if it escalated, and Hezbollah has already lost its ability to carry out surprise attacks across borders or take hostages. There is.
“No one in their right mind would open a front against Israel from Lebanon,” said Hilal Kashan, a political scientist at the American University of Beirut. “Hamas did it knowing it would be suicide.”
Hezbollah also needs to consider the domestic consequences of its actions. The group is deeply involved in Lebanon, which has been in a years-long political and economic crisis. “There will be a massive backlash in Lebanon against Hezbollah’s involvement in the war and its further destruction,” said author Branford. Warriors of God: Inside Hezbollah’s 30-year struggle against Israel.
Unless the Hamas attack shows Iran has abandoned its historical calculus, he said, Iran is unlikely to bet too heavily on “the most effective elements of the deterrence architecture.” It is also unclear whether Israel has any incentive to open a second front at this time.
Branford said that rather than an all-out showdown with Hezbollah, it was more likely that the clashes would escalate into a conflict that would last several days but would “not amount to all-out war,” as has already happened. Ta.
Still, the current daily bloody attacks on the Israeli-Lebanese border raise the risk of miscalculation.
In Baalbek, Mr. Fadel gives a dark warning about the days ahead.
“If Israel decides to invade Gaza by land, something else will happen,” he says.
It means, “I will see, and you will see, too.”