While unrest and violence in Egypt continues to move the country towards civil war, its northern neighbor, Israel, is increasingly concerned about its border with Syria. Even while Hezbollah has been fighting in support of Syrian President Bashar Assad’s regime, Hezbollah’s leader, Hassan Nasrallah, has taken time out to unleash fiery oratory against Israel. He has threatened reprisals against Israel for attacks on WMD convoys and storage facilities in Syria, and, most recently, he blamed an Israeli-American-Takfiri (Muslims who accuse other Muslims of apostasy) plot to divide Muslim groups. It may be that Hezbollah is stretching itself too thin – in the Syrian war, in an increasingly unstable Lebanon, and in its preparation for a long-promised war with Israel. But Israel is taking no chances.
The Israel Defense Forces is once again reported to be bolstering its military on the northern frontier with Syria, in anticipation of a possible attack by Hezbollah. The terrorist organization has been armed to the teeth by Iran since its last war with Israel in the summer of 2006, and Hezbollah has positioned tens of thousands of rockets and missiles in Lebanon, aimed towards strategic positions in Israel, including its major cities. The fear is that now that Hezbollah is well-ensconced in Syria as well, they are provided with another front from which to operate against Israel.
Although a UN observer force is supposed to monitor the no-man’s-land between Syrian and Israeli force they have had little impact. The narrow strip of land, which runs 45 miles along the border, continues to be a source of concern for Israel, and there have been several incursions over the last few months from Syria. UN observers have little impact on Hezbollah activities.
Before the Syrian war broke out, the border had been relatively quiet. Now intelligence and counter-intelligence on both sides indicates that the situation could heat up with very little warning, should a serious attack against Israel ignite a strong Israeli response. Hezbollah has been trying to build a beachhead along the Syrian-Israeli border, taking over small Syrian towns and bringing in equipment and weapons.
Hezbollah’s unequivocal support for Assad, however, has left itself with little support in the rest of the Arab world. Even in Lebanon, its home base, over which Hezbollah has held a stranglehold for many years, Hezbollah is now being threatened as well. Earlier this week, a huge car bomb exploded in a crowded shopping center in south Beirut, a Hezbollah stronghold. The market was crowded on the day before the beginning of the Muslim holy month of Ramadan.
As the situation in Syria continues to deteriorate, the support of Iran and Russia may not be enough to keep Hezbollah powerful. Unintuitively, a weaker Hezbollah is no less dangerous than they are in a strong position. Desperation may also be a trigger for an attack that is likely to end badly for all involved. Last May, Hassan Nasrallah, threatened to turn the Golan into a new front against Israel. Whatever its position, Hezbollah still has possession of a huge store of powerful weapons and, quite possibly, chemical weapons as well. One of Israel’s greatest concern is that Hezbollah will acquire chemical or biological weapons in Syria and use them against Israelis.
Israel’s high-tech surveillance system deployed along the Syria front serves as an early warning system that offers considerable protection should threatening movement from Syria be detected. But there is no fool-proof defense against the deployment of WMD, a fact that Israel fully comprehends. The combined threat of Hezbollah’s huge store of weapons and its possible acquisition of WMD is not one to be taken lightly. Israel’s enhanced capability on the border serves as an indication that the danger from Hezbollah is far from over.