Israeli officials believe that a Hezbollah attack on the Jewish state will be supported by the Lebanese Armed Forces (LAF), The Jerusalem Post reported Saturday.
The LAF did not participate in the last Israel-Hezbollah war, in 2006. But the LAF has improved its capabilities since then, with an arsenal rebuilt via aid from the United States, France and Saudi Arabia.
Though the LAF is mostly Christian in makeup, it serves under recently-elected President Michel Aoun, an ally of Hezbollah. Aoun said last month that the Iranian proxy militia’s arms buildup did not pose a threat to Lebanon, and he welcomed Iran’s continued support of the terror group “indefinitely.”
“As long as the Lebanese army is not strong enough to battle Israel … we feel the need for [Hezbollah’s] existence,” Aoun said in an interview with the Egyptian TV network CBC, adding that Hezbollah “has a complementary role to the Lebanese army.”
United Nations Security Council Resolution 1701, which was unanimously adopted in 2006, demands “the disarmament of all armed groups in Lebanon, so that, pursuant to the Lebanese cabinet decision of 27 July 2006, there will be no weapons or authority in Lebanon other than that of the Lebanese State.” Despite this, Aoun has continued to defer to Hezbollah, reflecting the degree to which the Iranian proxy really calls the shots in the country. Aoun’s support of Hezbollah’s continued armed status prompted King Salman of Saudi Arabia to cancel a trip to Lebanon scheduled for later this month.
An Iranian official close to Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei boasted in 2014 that Iran controlled capitals in four other countries: Sanaa, Yemen; Damascus, Syria; Baghdad, Iraq; and Beirut, Lebanon.
Iran has exercised its control of these Arab nations in recent months. Last August, Iraqi Prime Minister Haidar al-Abadi incorporated Iran-backed militias known as Popular Mobilization Forces into Iraq’s army to help combat ISIS, further boosting Iran’s influence in Iraq. Iranian support was instrumental in defeating rebel forces in the Syrian city of Aleppo in December, giving a boost to embattled dictator Bashar al-Assad. And it was reported last week that Houthi rebels in Yemen are receiving Iranian arms in order to test them in the battlefield.
In Lebaon, pro-Hezbollah media reported last month that the terror group had received “game-changing” weaponry from Iran. That same month, Hezbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah warned that the terrorist group could use its advanced rocket arsenal to attack Israel’s nuclear reactor in Dimona.
Hezbollah’s growing military capabilities have been an Israeli concern for years. Nasrallah admitted last June that “Hezbollah’s budget, its income, its expenses, everything it eats and drinks, its weapons and rockets, are from the Islamic Republic of Iran,” and insisted that his group “will not be affected” by American sanctions on Iran. “As long as Iran has money, we have money… Just as we receive the rockets that we use to threaten Israel, we are receiving our money. No law will prevent us from receiving it,” he stated.
Nasrallah’s acknowledgement of Iranian aid seems to confirm a public assurance given to him in August 2015 by Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif that the nuclear deal Iran reached with global powers presented “a historic opportunity” to confront Israel. Iran announced in June that its defense spending would increase by 90 percent in the following year.
According to a July 2016 report published by the Foundation for Defense of Democracies, Israeli officials believe that any future war with Hezbollah has the potential to cause “thousands of civilian deaths” in Israel. Hezbollah has, among other things, threatened to attack ammonium tanks in Haifa, which could kill tens of thousands of people.
The think tank’s vice president for research, Jonathan Schanzer, explained that Hezbollah’s widely-reported tactic of hiding military assets in civilian areas would also lead to mass casualties. Reports emerged two years ago that Hezbollah was offering reduced-price housing to Shiite 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.
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