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Hezbollah’s Missiles: A Brilliant Madness?

The Hezbollah movement in Lebanon, whose violent opposition to Israel’s right to exist remains firmly intact, has been stepping up its incessant preparations for war in recent months, clearly unfazed by the intensity of the military projections that Israel could unleash on them and their country, in a future conflict. The most recent reports coming from the region suggest that the movement, fearing the eventual demise of its long-time ally, Syria, has been helping itself to vast quantities of sophisticated military equipment belonging to the Syrian military.

Perhaps this explains why Meir Dagan, the former head of Israel’s formidable secret service, Mossad, recently claimed that the politico-religious movement’s guerrilla arm had amassed missile power equal to that of almost 90 percent of countries in the world. Although the accuracy of his statement cannot be substantiated, Hezbollah is certainly not secretive regarding its determination to confront Israel—which in turn has being making its own bellicose preparations.

But for all the intermittent warnings of severe retaliation coming out of Tel-Aviv, Hezbollah leaders seem to relish the idea of an Israeli military offensive. Perhaps this has something to do with the Islamic movement being in possession of a substantial number of Iranian made Fajr, Fateh and Zelzal rockets, with estimated ranges of approximately 75-200km. This is in addition to several dozen purported M600 surface-to-surface missiles from Syria—each of its warheads carries half a ton of high explosives.

Although no accurate estimates of the number of missiles Hezbollah possesses can be substantiated, it is believed that Hezbollah has well over 50,000 rockets according to U.S. and Israeli sources. If that is true, it suggests that its sworn enemy, Israel, could be showered with several hundred missiles, some with guided systems, over the course of the conflict with Hezbollah. This means that every major city and town in Israel could be hit with around three times as many projectiles as they were during the last war with Hezbollah in 2006.

In that 33-day war, Hezbollah retaliated for Israeli bombardments of Beirut by firing crude rockets at a ratio of around 200 per day, mainly into northern Israel. The scenario of this Iran and Syria backed movement having the capability to fire, at will, upon the 7 million peoples of Israel and the ability to precisely hit most targets, is no doubt inherent in Israel’s calculations when it comes to readying war plans designed to deal with its antagonistic neighbors. It is calculated that the next Hezbollah-Israeli conflict would alter the entire landscape of the Middle East.

In a live address via video link last year, Hezbollah’s secretary general, Hassan Nasrallah, almost spoon-fed audiences with the details. He stated that “most of the Israeli population is on a coastal line…after Haifa through to Southern Tel-Aviv, 10 kilometres or 15 kilometres…in that specific part we have the oil wells, we have the factories, we have the population centres, we have the institutions…everything is in that specific area.” Nasrallah, of course, was identifying targets in the event of any future conflict between the Israeli military and Hezbollah. If Israel endeavours to hit Lebanon first, Hezbollah will respond with tit-for-tat strikes, and both civilians and state infrastructure will be at risk.

Weeks later, in another address, Nasrallah threatened to strike ships (civilian or otherwise) which headed towards Israel’s coast. The message was clear: belligerent reprisals will now have a new dimension. Israel is on increased alert. Perhaps this explains the constant war drills, sabre-rattling, increased drone and reconnaissance flights and attempts to covertly infiltrate Hezbollah. Even as Syria teeters on the brink, Israel seems quietly confident that a desperate Damascus regime will not undertake the suicidal task of initiating a war in order to distract attention from its internal opposition—despite the rumors of them replenishing the missile stocks of Hezbollah.

The Syrians are too weak and disunited to attack Israel. However, the tensions over Iran’s nuclear programme, and Syria’s ability to arm Hezbollah with stockpiles of thousands of missiles as a first strike window of opportunity, weighs heavily on Israeli policymakers. An attack on Iran, be it limited, to cripple that country’s nuclear infrastructure, will no doubt embolden Hezbollah for ideological, political and strategic reasons to launch a first strike missile attack on Israel. An all-out unilateral strike at a powerful military force and a nuclear-armed state, is, on its face value, foolish, if not suicidal.

Although Hezbollah is an extraordinarily strong movement with a tenacious ability to persevere in the face of overwhelming brute force, the resilience of Israeli’s might be a deciding factor. Israelis are adept at confronting external hostile actors. Raining missiles down on them would only serve to cement Israeli society, and harden their resolve. The men and women of Israel no doubt have a steely determination to withstand any new onslaught by Hezbollah. They are well aware that Hezbollah’s primary objective will be to inflict damage on their most precious and sensitive military and civilian areas.

Israelis believe the best defense is resistance, and an uncompromising determination to remain steadfast; only then can they once and for all show their determination not to retreat to the demands of Hezbollah, and by extension, Iran.