The Iran-backed terror group Hezbollah is gaining valuable experience while “learning to fight on a large scale” in Syria, a former Shin Bet chief told a visiting delegation of U.S. congressional advisers on Monday, Israel Hayom reported. The warning came just days after Israel uncovered a bag of explosives near the Lebanese border, which security officials believe were smuggled in by Hezbollah.
Avi Dichter, the former head of Israel’s security agency Shin Bet and current chairman of the Knesset’s Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee, told the delegation that “Hezbollah’s participation in the Syria fighting is both bad news and good news for Israel.”
“The good news is that thus far, Hezbollah has lost more than 1,600 terrorists in battle and has about 5,000 wounded. [Syrian] rebels are taking terrorists from the group captive, including in Aleppo last week,” he said. On the other hand, Hezbollah and Syria are “learning to fight on a large scale, in platoons and battalion, while using sophisticated weaponry and heavy, precise arms that they receive from Iran,” Dichter added. These new capabilities will ensure that the “next round” in the conflict between Hezbollah and Israel will be much different, although “that also holds advantages for Israel,” he continued.
Similarly, Nadav Pollak of the Washington Institute for Near East Policy assessed in a paper published this month that Hezbollah’s position within the so-called “resistance axis” of Israel’s enemies “has been strengthened” due to its participation in Syria’s civil war.
A report published by the Foundation for Defense of Democracies (FDD) last month noted that Israeli officials believe that any future war with Hezbollah has the potential cause “thousands of civilian deaths” in Israel. (This past February, Hezbollah threatened to attack ammonium tanks in Haifa, which could kill tens of thousands of people.)
Jonathan Schanzer, vice president of research for FDD, explained that Hezbollah’s widely-reported tactic of hiding military assets in civilian areas may also lead to mass casualties. Reports emerged two years ago that Hezbollah was offering reduced-price housing to Shi’ite families who allowed the terrorist group to store rocket launchers in their homes. An Israeli defense official told The New York Times in May 2015 that the buildup of Hezbollah’s terror infrastructure in southern Lebanese villages meant that “civilians are living in a military compound” and that their lives were at risk. A few days later, a newspaper linked to Hezbollah bolstered the Israeli assessment.
Sheikh Hassan Nasrallah, chief of Hezbollah, boasted in June that all of “its weapons and rockets” come from Iran. Nasrallah’s speech seems to confirm an assurance given to him last August by Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif that the nuclear deal presented “a historic opportunity” to confront Israel. Iran recently announced that its military spending would increase by 90% in the coming year.
Nasrallah’s comments also call into question assurances made by Secretary of State John Kerry that the U.S. would ensure that Iran could not arm Hezbollah, despite the lifting of nuclear sanctions against Tehran. “Our primary embargo is still in place,” Kerry said at a Senate hearing last year. “We are still sanctioning them. And, I might add, for those things that we may want to deal with because of their behavior, for instance, Hezbollah, there is a UN resolution, 1701, the prevents the transfer of any weapons to Hezbollah. That will continue and what we need to do is make sure that we’re enforcing it.”
While UN Security Council Resolution 1701, which was passed unanimously to end the 2006 war, forbids the arming of Hezbollah, Iran has continued to send the terrorist group weapons and the Security Council has refused to enforce it.
Correction: An earlier version of this article incorrectly identified the security agency previously led by Dichter.
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