Category Archives: Hezbollah

The new Hezbollah: How Israel’s No. 1 enemy is preparing for third Lebanon War

Hezbo 2

Ronen Bergman

On Friday, May 15, a convoy of about 12 bright black vehicles left Beirut along with a number of off-road vehicles packed with uniformed fighters. The convoy turned east and drove quickly towards the Syrian border. They didn’t raise too much attention among the passersby: Similar convoys of Hezbollah members have been entering the bleeding battlefields in Syria for the past two years. Only some of them will get to see Lebanon again.

But this time, it was different. The black vehicles were carrying Lebanese and Western journalists – including correspondents for Reuters, The Associated Press, The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, German media, etc. – not the population segment which Hezbollah is usually fond of.

They were driven to the border of the fighting zone in the Qalamun Mountains in Syria in order to view the lands Hezbollah recently conquered from the “takfiris” (the infidels, a combination of Arabic and English, as Hezbollah refers to the rebels in Syria). The goal was clear: To show the world how Hezbollah is fighting the Islamic State and other members of the “radical and dark Islam,” according to one of the escorts on behalf of Hezbollah, which the West is so afraid of.


One of the participants of this unusual tour told Yedioth Ahronoth last week in a conversation from Beirut that the escorts had gone out of their way to make sure that the journalists were satisfied and received everything they wanted, so that they would produce a favorable article. He said there had been some preconditions – no “political talk” and handing over all cell phones at the beginning of the tour – but the refreshments were not bad and there was a pleasant atmosphere. Relative to Hezbollah, of course.


Journalists' tour of fighting zone in Qalamun Mountains. The goal was clear: To show the world how Hezbollah is fighting the 'radical and dark Islam' (Photo: AFP)
Journalists’ tour of fighting zone in Qalamun Mountains. The goal was clear: To show the world how Hezbollah is fighting the ‘radical and dark Islam’ (Photo: AFP)


The tour began in Baalbek, the organization’s most important stronghold in Lebanon. From there, the convoy drove up to the mountains bordering Syria. The Hezbollah fighters proudly pointed at charred remains of vehicles and weapons and said they used to belong to members of Jabhat al-Nusra, the jihadist Sunni militia fighting Syrian President Bashar Assad.


The journalists were impressed. “Entire areas of the border, from Brital (a town in eastern Lebanon) and southward, are protected and controlled by Hezbollah. There is no Lebanese army there, and there is no Syrian army. The Hezbollah organization is the one protecting Lebanon from an ISIS invasion: Posts, weapon convoys and dozens of overly armed fighters, who are willing to stop any attack with their bodies,” one of the journalists reported.


The tour continued, stopping at Shiite villages in the area. There, the journalists met civilians, who naturally thanked Hezbollah for helping them keep their heads attached to their necks – although ISIS and its friends are right here, around the corner.


“I would be happy if the Lebanese army could protect us,” one of the villagers told the journalists. “But Israel and the United States are preventing the transfer of advanced arms to the Lebanese army for fear that it would attack Israel later on, so it’s failing to become a significant military power. Therefore, there is no one who can protect us. Apart from Hezbollah.”


And that’s the exact message that Hezbollah of the summer of 2015 is trying to convey: Hezbollah is the real defender of Lebanon and the last force preventing the Land of Cedars from falling into the hands of radical Islam. Therefore, despite its conflict with Israel, when it comes to fighting ISIS and its partners – Hezbollah is actually helping the West.


But as usual, where Hezbollah Secretary-General Hassan Nasrallah is concerned, it’s only part of the picture. The journalists were not shown the many graves, scattered across southern Lebanon, of Hezbollah fighters killed in the battles in Syria. There was also no mention of the fact that the unrest against the organization is increasing in Lebanon, and in general, that Hezbollah is in one of the most difficult moments in its history.


They were also not told that in the meantime, Hezbollah is also speeding up its preparations for the third Lebanon war, and that this time it has no intention of settling for firing rockets and missiles at Israel.


There are those in the Israeli intelligence community who are now referring to the organization as “Hezbollah 3.0″ or “Third Generation Hezbollah”: The first generation was the founding generation during Israel’s presence in southern Lebanon; the second is Hezbollah of the Second Lebanon War; and now it’s a completely new Hezbollah. On the one hand it is sinking on the Syrian mud, and on the other hand it is gaining vast combat experience and new weapons – and is planning to use both in due course. The only question is when.


Through research reports and conversations with intelligence sources, Yedioth Ahronoth outlines an internal profile of the military force, which was and will likely remain Israel’s No. 1 enemy. Yes, even when ISIS sits on the fences.


Killing the ‘takfiris’

Up to a year ago, Hezbollah was still doing everything in its power to cover up its involvement in the battles splitting Syria. The organization, which gave each of its fighters who died in the battle against Israel a huge pathos-filled funeral, actually concealed the funerals of its fighters who were killed in masses in Syria. They were buried quietly, in the darkness, in the presence of the families only. Nasrallah anyway found it difficult to deal with the criticism leveled at him: Instead of fighting Israel – the reason for Hezbollah’s existence – the organization is now busy killing other Muslims.


No one ever dreamed that Western journalists would be invited to tour the battle zone either. Wafik Safa – the man notoriously remembered in Israel from the return of the bodies of kidnapped IDF soldiers Ehud Goldwasser and Eldad Regev – conveyed filtered messages, most of which were only directed at the Lebanese public. These messages were relayed through media outlets under full Hezbollah control: The organization’s television station, Al-Manar; a series of websites led by Al-Muqawama (“the resistance”) and the blog “Sayyed Hassan Nasrallah”; and (quite a large) number of Lebanese journalists perceived as being loyal to the organization.


ISIS execution in Syria. The 'new Satan' in the eyes of the West
ISIS execution in Syria. The ‘new Satan’ in the eyes of the West

 Hezbollah’s contact in the press, Ibrahim Mousawi, turned down any request for a response or for joining the organization members on any type of activity. The few attempts made by media outlets to document the night funerals were met with an even more aggressive opposition. Even interviews with Hezbollah’s representatives in the Lebanese parliament (Majles al-Nouwab al-Lubnani) were blocked.


But then Nasrallah realized that the depth of his organization’s involvement in Syria can no longer be concealed – and that he should even use it for his own benefit. It happened when the beheading videos turned ISIS into the new Satan in the eyes of the West. And who is on the ground to fight it? That’s right, Hezbollah.


Nasrallah changed his approach by 180 degrees: The new Hezbollah is no longer ashamed of the fact that its soldiers are getting killed in Syria; on the contrary, it is proud of it. They are dying in order to eradicate an enemy which is endangering all of humanity. Almost overnight, the funerals of the fighters killed in Syria turned into huge ceremonies and well-covered military shows of force.


That was also the start of an image change. Ibrahim Mousawi was replaced a year ago by Mohammed Afif, who previously served as the Al-Manar station manager. Afif has been tasked with rebranding the radical organization. It’s not easy, but the fact that there is someone more radical around, with a special fondness for horrific executions, helps him greatly.


“It’s very important to Afif,” says a journalist representing a major Western European media outlet in Beirut, “to stress that ISIS and Jabhat al-Nusra are enemies shared by all of us – Hezbollah, the Lebanese people, the Syrian people and the West. They are saying: You, the West, see all of us as one bloc of radical Arabs, but it’s not true. There is an enlightened and progressive Islam, which is the Shiite Hezbollah’s Islam, and there is a dark and horrible Islam, the radical Sunnis. They are the ones we must all fight.”


But Israeli officials have no doubt about the real intentions of the new “defenders of the West” from southern Lebanon. “Hezbollah is Israel’s most challenging enemy and our main reference point for some 30 years now,” says Colonel (res.) Ronen Cohen, the former director of the Terrorism Desk at the IDF Military Intelligence Directorate and deputy head of Military Intelligence’s Research Division. Today Cohen is one of the owners of Inspiration, a company specializing in managing security projects and providing intelligence collection and information processing and analysis services in Middle Eastern and Persian Gulf countries.


“Hamas is an important challenge as well, of course, but it was always the ‘small brother’ standing in Hezbollah’s big shadow. Since the Taif Agreement (1989), which left Hezbollah as the only armed militia in Lebanon, we realized it is the main strategic threat as far as we are concerned. The operation of command and control systems, the Iranian-sponsored training, the weapons, and especially the rocket arsenal and warfare perception have been duplicated in Gaza time and again.”


The Israeli intelligence community understands very well that Hezbollah’s situation has changed extremely since the end of the Second Lebanon War. Last June, Nasrallah’s rhetoric against Israel became particularly aggressive. During one of the weeks that month he delivered as many as three speeches, which included direct threats against Israel.


At the moment, intelligence experts believe, Hezbollah is not planning to attack Israel in the near future, mainly because it is investing its power in the fighting in Syria. And what will happen there? Some estimate that eventually – despite the huge support Assad is receiving from Iran and Hezbollah, the Syrian president will slowly wear out, and collapse. Only then will Nasrallah return to Israel’s northern border, redeploy and seek to restore his initial position – Lebanon’s “defender” against Israel – as soon as possible.


Other estimates raise the possibility that Nasrallah won’t even wait for the results of the war in Syria and will launch a move against Israel even before Assad’s collapse.


In any event, “Hezbollah is in the most difficult situation in its history,” Brigadier-General (res.) Dr. Shimon Shapira, a former Military Intelligence official and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s military secretary during his first term, estimated recently. We spoke in early June, before he was appointed as the foreign minister’s chief of staff.


Shapira mentioned one of Nasrallah’s recent speeches, in which the secretary-general said that “our existence is being threatened”. “Hezbollah is getting dragged into an increasingly deeper involvement in Syria at Iranian orders,” Shapira says.


Hezbollah supporters in Lebanon. Harsh criticism from outside the organization and the Shiite faction (Photo: Reuters)
Hezbollah supporters in Lebanon. Harsh criticism from outside the organization and the Shiite faction (Photo: Reuters)


But this involvement comes with a bleeding price tag. According to an updated Military intelligence estimate, the number of Hezbollah members sent to fight in Syria is higher than 6,000 and may have even reached 8,000. This is a huge number for the organization, and it is essentially the majority of its finest combat power. The Israeli intelligence’s updated estimations are that about 1,300 of the organization’s soldiers have been killed so far in the battles in Syria.


“This is an intolerable price as far as Hezbollah is concerned,” says Shapira. “It’s more than they lost in all the battles and wars with Israel put together.”


This price is beginning to evoke criticism within and around the organization. “Hezbollah is making a huge effort to silence authentic voices coming out of the Shiite faction against the involvement in Syria,” says Shapira.


The loudest speaker was Subhi al-Tufayli, the organization’s first secretary-general. Al-Tufayli announced that as far as he is concerned and according to his religious perception, whoever dies in battles in Syria is not a “shahid” (martyr), and will therefore not reach heaven. It’s difficult to underrate the power of this statement, which rocked the organization.


“After he said what he did, al-Tufayli received a scathing visit at his home in Brital, and has since moved to the ‘Keeping the Silence’ organization,” Shapira reports.


Al-Tufayli is not alone. A series of Shiite intellectuals, including women, are harshly attacking Hezbollah over its aid to Assad.


Hezbollah is also starting to feel the discomfort among the fighters and their family members. Only recently, Nasrallah issued an unusual order: In families of a fighter who died in Syria, there will be no additional recruitment to Hezbollah’s combat units.


“Hezbollah used to brag about parents who had one child killed in battles with Israel and immediately announced that they were putting their other children at the organization’s disposal,” says Shapira. “Today you don’t hear such things anymore. Why? Many in Hezbollah understand that while the enemy is the ones Hezbollah refers to as ‘takfiris,’ at the end of the day they are Muslims. It’s a war within Islam, between Sunnis and Shiites. Not a war against Israel.”


Nasrallah’s problems

But the main criticism against Hezbollah is leveled at it from outside the organization and the Shiite faction. Why, ask the Sunnis – the Druze and Christians in Lebanon, is Hezbollah claiming that it remains an armed militia in order to fight Israel, but is actually helping Assad massacre the citizens of Syria?


Hezbollah’s support for Assad has even led to terror attacks against Hezbollah carried out by Syrian Sunni organizations, some of which belong to the global jihad.


Jabhat al-Nusra is not sparing any efforts either to reiterate that its members will never forgive and never forget. The organization’s commander in the Qalamoun Mountains, for example, wrote in a few tweets on his Twitter account on July 7: “A message to Hezbollah: Your support for Nusayri (a derogatory nickname for Assad’s regime) demonstrates your hatred towards the Sunnis. You jailed their women and betrayed (the refugees) who sought your help, begging to be given a shelter in your country. Don’t you dare think that you will escape our anger even many years later. We promise you the same destiny as God promised the people of Israel, when they turned to idolatry. We won’t lay down our sword until the Sharia law (the Islamic religious law) dominates the country and until we avenge our dignity.” Hezbollah, it seems, has created another front for itself.


At first Nasrallah tried to deal with the problem by founding a satellite organization called Hezbollah Syria, thereby perhaps slightly diminishing the direct link between Hezbollah of southern Lebanon and the Hezbollah which kills Muslims in Syria. Hezbollah’s graphic designers even designed a flag for the organization with the caption “We yearn for you, Zaynab” (Zaynab is the daughter of Ali, the first Shia imam. There is a very sacred Shiite compound named after her in the outskirts of Damascus. Hezbollah claimed at first that it only entered Syria in order to defend this compound).


The idea was that the Hezbollah Syria organization would settle down near the Golan Heights, and later open another front against Israel. Nasrallah put Jihad Mughniyeh, the son of Hezbollah commander Imad Mughniyeh who was killed in 2008 in an assassination attributed to Israel and the United States, in charge of the unit. Nasrallah sought to create a symbol, a sort of future generation – the son’s revenge for the death of his martyr father.


The son did follow in his father’s footsteps, but not the way Nasrallah had planned: In January 2015, an assassination – which was also attributed to Israel – ended Jihad Mughniyeh’s life (and the life of another high-ranking Iranian general). Instead of Mughniyeh, Nasrallah appointed Samir Kuntar, the murderer of the Haran family from Nahariya, to command the organization. Dr. Shapira sees it as a Hezbollah attempt to also recruit the Syrian Golan’s Druze, who are paying a bloody price for the Sunni rebels’ fanaticism.


IDF strike in Beirut in the Second Lebanon War. 'Nasrallah and his men are operating on the ground as if the war with Israel is about to break out tomorrow morning' (Photo: Reuters)
IDF strike in Beirut in the Second Lebanon War. ‘Nasrallah and his men are operating on the ground as if the war with Israel is about to break out tomorrow morning’ (Photo: Reuters)

 Meanwhile, Hezbollah hasn’t had too many successes on the Israeli front either. Since Imad Mughniyeh’s death, the organization has been hit with a series of blows, most of which it attributed to Israel: Assassinations of a few other activists, led by Hassan Lakkis, the head of Hezbollah’s arms development wing; mysterious explosions in the organization’s armament sites; and repeated bombings of weapon convoys from Syria to Lebanon.


According to Hezbollah’s perception, the activities it attributes to Israel against it means that the Israeli intelligence has deeply penetrated its ranks. This is quite a blow for Nasrallah: If these actions, or part of them, were indeed carried out by Israel – how is it succeeding, again and again, in infiltrating a closed, departmentalized and idealistic organization like Hezbollah?


Recently, Hezbollah claims, it managed to expose a person spying for Israel within the organization. According to reports, Mohammed Shurba from the southern Lebanon village of Mahrouna began working for the Mossad in 2007. Hezbollah’s suspicions were raised after five failed attempts to avenge Mughniyeh’s assassination. Shurba’s position was in the unit responsible for Nasrallah’s security, and he later assumed senior roles in Unit 910, which is responsible for Hezbollah’s operations abroad.


Shurba was recruited by the Mossad, according to reports in Lebanon, during one of his trips to Asian countries as part of his job. According to Hezbollah, they had their suspicions against Shurba, and then a source in the organization told him about a planned “operation” against one of Israel’s embassies, which would be executed within 48 hours from a certain operations apartments. Hezbollah members were apparently watching the apartment from outside, and shortly after they saw local police forces raiding the place (and finding nothing, of course), Shurba was arrested.


By the way, Shurba was arrested about two months before the assassination of Jihad Mughniyeh. If the claims regarding Israel’s involvement in the assassination are true, then even after Shurba, the alleged “Israeli spy,” Nasrallah’s organization remains transparent to Israel.


Nasrallah’s problems don’t end here. Serious criminal proceedings are underway in The Hague against members of the organization for the murder of former Lebanese Prime Minister Rafik Hariri in 2005. In addition, a series of financial corruption affairs – some of which are unknown outside the organization – have caused Iran to cut its financial support for the organization and have created difficulties in its cash flow. And with ideology alone, as we know, one can’t buy rockets.


‘A sensitive matter’

Despite Hezbollah’s tough situation – and perhaps because of it – Nasrallah and his men are constantly busy preparing for the next war in Israel. “They are operating on the ground as if the war is about to break out tomorrow morning,” says a senior military source.


Two years after the Second Lebanon War, Nasrallah announced that his forces were ready with more missiles and more people than they were on the eve of the war, in July 2006. Since then, the organization is only growing stronger.


“They gave the keys to the new apartments in the Dahiya area, instead of the ones that were destroyed, to the tenants three-four months after the war, and only after they finished rebuilding all the military facilities destroyed by the Air Force,” says Colonel (res.) Ronen Cohen. Their list of priorities is clear.”


According to estimates, Hezbollah currently has 80,000 to 100,000 missiles and rockets, which are all directed at Israel. In addition, the organization has greatly improved its unmanned aerial vehicles and has built a unit of “suicide” aircraft, which can reach many areas in Israel and explode on selected targets.


“Hezbollah has an interest to divert the attention from what is happening in Syria,” the journalist from Beirut says,” and to repeat all the time: Don’t think that the fighting in Syria is discouraging us from fighting Israel.”


A Lebanese journalist was recently permitted to enter some of the “modern bunkers” built by the organization. He was led there with his eyes covered, and the cover was only removed once the door behind him was closed. His report spoke about new electricity and ventilation systems, modern encoded communication with the Hezbollah headquarters in the Dahiya, and more. All this, he was explicitly told, is part of the preparations ahead of the next war with Israel.


Israel is not blind to these Hezbollah efforts and has significantly increased its routine intelligence monitoring of every movement made by the organization’s forces in Lebanon. The alleged Israeli drone which crashed into the sea in Lebanon earlier this month could be an example of these efforts.


The IDF is also very busy with the tunnel issue in the north. The IDF Spokesperson’s Unit confirmed only recently that following complaints of digging sounds heard at night, the army is holding a comprehensive investigation into suspicions that Hezbollah is digging tunnels under the Israeli border. It’s unclear how reliable this inquiry is, as there is still no reliable technology allowing the detection of tunnels – apart from some parts of the southern border, where the defense establishment is building a seismic fence against tunnels.


Sources in the IDF say the army has failed to find any evidence of tunnels being excavated by Hezbollah. A military source told us, however, that data received from the company which carried out the investigation did not rule out the existence of tunnels.


The question is: If Hezbollah does have tunnels, what will it do with them? According to Ronen Cohen, “Since the great admiration which captured us when we saw the Americans’ performance against Iraq in 1991, we raised the banner of ‘counter warfare': Massively using the Air Force combined with special units and very little ground invasions, if any.


“A new security perception was built around the ‘counter warfare,’ which relied on deterring the enemy and was backed by statements from senior officials in the military and political echelons that Israel could not reach a clear victory and that we should therefore just try to prolong the periods of time between one round and another.


“Today, Hezbollah has reached the understanding that we can’t beat them. After six rounds of fighting – Operation Accountability, Operation Grapes of Wrath, the Second Lebanon War, Operation Cast Lead, Operation Pillar of Defense and Operation Protective Edge – in which Israel failed to score a victory, Nasrallah realized that because of the social and political price concerning dead soldiers, we are incapable of defeating him.


“Nasrallah also understood something else from us: That Israel’s security perception – which requires moving the war to enemy territory as fast as possible – applies to him to. Naturally, Hezbollah doesn’t armored maneuvers like the IDF has, and we are talking about a different kind of fighting, but the principle remains the same: Operating deep within the ground.


“Therefore, Hezbollah’s goal is a ground invasion, which could be made up of a number of elements: Using the underground and aboveground area near the border’s wadis; and an entry of many commando and antitank teams deep into the Upper and Western Galilee in order to survive as long as possible.


“The fighting teams will use explosive devices and antitank missiles like the Kornet, which reaches an efficient rage of 5 kilometers during the day and 3 kilometers at night. Through these ranges, they will be able to control vehicles on the Lower Galilee’s roads from the high mountains of the Upper Galilee, not to mention the Acre-Safed road, the roads going up the Galilee panhandle, etc.


“The topographic structure, the plants and rocks of the Galilee are very similar to what they are used to in Lebanon. At the same time, it’s the exact same fighting they are now acquiring huge experience in through their battles in Syria, much more experience than most of the IDF’s commanders and fighters have.


“We should pay attention to Nasrallah’s statements in this context. Before the Second Lebanon War he promised to release Samir Kuntar and the rest of the Lebanese prisoners. When he kidnapped IDF soldiers Regev and Goldwasser on July 12, 2006, Nasrallah convened a press conference and referred to the abduction operation as ‘the truth guaranteeing operation’ – in other words, fulfilling his historic commitment.


“He is using the same words today regarding the ‘liberation’ of the Galilee: ‘The promise that won’t be broken.’ In other words, a promise which he has to fulfill, on a personal level.”


So what do you think he is planning?


“There is no intention of conquering the entire area for good. But it’s enough for Hezbollah cells to deploy in the area, hide for a while and hit vehicles and meeting points of the fighting forces preparing to enter Lebanon, in order to deeply sabotage any IDF plan of action.”


Cohen’s scenario has quite a few supporters in the IDF and Israeli intelligence. Others say Nasrallah will try to reach a achievement such as a “victory shot” – in the form of waving a Hezbollah flag over an Israeli community or spot which has been “occupied.” Even if the IDF terminates the force five minutes later, the effect of such an image, which will likely go viral on social media, will create the real damage.


Cohen says part of the problem stems from the fact that the IDF, against Hezbollah (and also against Hamas) has mainly become a responsive element. “We gave up initiating and pursuing contact with the enemy,” he says, “and searched for a counter response to the development of Hezbollah and Hamas, mainly against the rocket arsenal.


There are those in the IDF who assert that nonetheless, the Second Lebanon War created serious deterrence in Hezbollah from attacking Israel. This deterrence, those sources say, is the reason why Hezbollah is not fulfilling its angry promises of revenge.


This is of course a realistic option, but there are those in the intelligence community who say there is a different reason: Immediately after the battles began in 2006, Israel has learned, a delegation of senior Iranians – led by representatives of the Revolutionary Guards, Hezbollah’s adoptive body – arrived in Beirut. The delegation reprimanded Nasrallah mercilessly. The military preparations we are devoting and giving you for a conflict with Israel were meant for a completely different time, they lashed out at him. They were meant for a response in case Israel bombs Iran’s nuclear facilities. You have revealed the cards and the abilities we have given you without any reason, simply in order to kidnap soldiers and fulfill your promise to bring Samir Kuntar back home. And who is Kuntar anyway, someone added. Just a f**king Druze.


Since that admonition, which almost cost Nasrallah his seat, he has been holding fire and restraining himself, according to that perception, not for fear of Israel – but for fear of Iran.


If that is the situation, then now that the nuclear agreement has been signed, “it will be clear to the Iranians that Israel is not about to attack them, and they will therefore let go a bit and allow Nasrallah to respond as he pleases,” says Cohen. From the moment the nuclear agreement is signed and the sanctions on Iran are lifted, Tehran is able to transfer more funds to Hezbollah, and much more easily.


And there is another point Israel must take into account: The demographic changes in the Lebanese army itself. Traditionally, the Lebanese army relies on a more or less representative sample of the variety of factions in the country. But since 2006, Nasrallah has ordered his people to widely expand the Shiite enlistment with the Lebanese army. He believes that Hezbollah will thereby turn into part of the establishment, and a Shiite army will anyway never act against the organization.


There aren’t any accurate figures about the number of Shiite soldiers in the Lebanese army, but according to estimates, they make up a relative majority or at least the same number as Christian soldiers. The Sunnis and Druze in the army are the small groups.


Many young Shiites, who seek a reasonable and safe salary and haven’t been accepted as fighters by Hezbollah, actually see the Lebanese army as a preferable option and enlist with Nasrallah’s blessing.


“In the next war the IDF will also have to take into account the Lebanese army, which has grown stronger militarily and has become pro-Hezbollah,” says Cohen.


In Lebanon, on the other hand, there are those who say that Israel is actually planning to attack or ignite the situation, wanting to “come full circle” from 2006. There is one thing everyone more or less agrees on: If and when the third Lebanon war erupts, it could very quickly turn much violent, harsh and brutal than all the previous rounds.


The IDF Spokesperson’s Unit offered the following response: “The IDF is carrying out routine security activities on the northern border, focusing on diverse defense and intelligence components,

out of an understanding that the tunnels are among the various threats in the area, and is consistently carrying out intelligence operational activity to uncover tunnels, if those indeed exist.


“So far, every appeal regarding noises and a suspected tunnel has been checked by designated forces and ruled out. To this very day, neither a shaft nor a tunnel have been found. The IDF is carrying out extensive activity for the development of new technologies.”

950 Hezbollah operatives, 300 Hamas members in Germany – intelligence report

Lebanese Hezbollah supporters gesture as they march during a religious procession to mark Ashura

Obama Now Appeasing Hezbollah


by // Obama deserves some credit. He’s being consistent.

He’s pandering to Iran on nukes and Persian Gulf piracy in international waters. He’s pandering to Iran’s Houthi terrorists on Yemen and to its Shiite militias in Iraq. Why not finish it off with some pandering to Hezbollah?

And that’s exactly what he’s doing.

The U.S. cut funding for a civil society program in Lebanon that seeks to develop alternative Shiite political voices to Hezbollah, the powerful Iranian-backed militia and political party.

The group that received the U.S. support and critics said that the Obama administration was curtailing its efforts to counter Hezbollah to avoid confronting Shiite Iran, with which it is negotiating to conclude a historic nuclear accord this month.

The Hayya Bina program in question was funded through the International Republican Institute, which promotes democracy overseas. It sought to support diverse Shiite voices through workshops, publications and public opinion polling. But in April, the institute notified Hayya Bina that the Obama administration was terminating its support for that program.

The State Department “requests that all activities intended [to] foster an independent moderate Shiite voice be ceased immediately and indefinitely,” said the April 10 letter to Mr. Slim, according to a copy seen by The Wall Street Journal. “Hayya Bina…must eliminate funding for any of the above referenced activities.”

Hezbollah’s leader, Secretary-General Hassan Nasrallah, has publicly branded some of his Shiite political opponents as “Shia of the American Embassy,” in recent speeches, as well as “traitors” and “idiots.”

So I guess we’re just going to stick to acting as Hezbollah’s air force while urging the Saudis to stop bombing the Houthis. And the usual excuse for all this covert appeasement of Iran is that if we don’t do it, Iran will walk away from the negotiations that will allow it to develop a bomb anyway.

Hezbollah repels ISIS attack on #Lebanon #Syria border


AP-BEIRUT – Hezbollah gunmen repelled an attack Tuesday by Islamic State extremists in an area along the Lebanon-Syria border as a major battle between the two groups looms in the rugged mountainous region, Hezbollah’s TV station reported.

According to Al-Manar TV, ISIS targeted several Hezbollah positions outside the northeastern Lebanese border village of Ras Baalbek.

The ensuing battle left at least five ISIS fighters dead or wounded, including the group’s leader in the Qalamoun border region identified as Saudi national Walid Abdel Mohsen al-Omari, the channel said. It did not say whether there were casualties among Hezbollah fighters.

Al-Manar said Hezbollah also captured 14 ISIS bodies the militants were unable to retrieve.



ISIS, Nusra, Al-Qaeda, Hezbollah

Jabhat al-Nusra supporters protest against Syrian President Assad and the international coalition in Aleppo on 26 September 2014. (AFP/Fadi al-Halabi)

Hussain Abdul-Hussain

Of the many tales about late Iraqi President Saddam Hussein from his “days of secret activism,” one has it that a group of Baathists were ordered to execute Communist enemies. As everyone shot their rifles, Saddam did not. Instead, he dropped his gun, walked up to his victim, pulled out a knife and severed his head.


Lacking political skills, Saddam was made chief of the Agriculture Committee of the Baath Party. He turned that irrelevant party organ into a formidable killing machine, naming it the “Honein Agency.”


Another story about Saddam is that while heading to a meeting of the Revolutionary Command Council, a member—who was diabetic and had probably started suffering from hypoglycemia—sneaked a peek at his watch. After the meeting, an offended Saddam took the minister to an adjacent room and shot him point-blank.


The stories of handling executions personally was recycled and later told about Iraqi Vice President Ayad Allawi who, during his tenure as interim prime minister, allegedly executed a senior Sunni insurgent, “using his own revolver.”


Whether true or not, Iraqi leaders do not mind such stories because they give them an appearance of being strong and help instill fear in the hearts of their opponents. We know now that Saddam had given up his WMDs long before 2003. In Ronald Kessler’s book The Terrorist Watch, Lebanese-American FBI investigator George Piro quoted Saddam as saying that he gave the impression of maintaining his WMD arsenal as deterrence against Iran. In his just-released book The Great War of Our Time, CIA’s former Deputy Director Michael Morell reaffirmed Kessler’s account.


Iraq’s strongmen, whether from the Baath Party or the Islamic State (ISIS), maintain a brutal image that is often exaggerated.


In their book The State of Terror, Jessica Stern and J. M. Berger correctly identified ISIS as a low threat to the West. ISIS might look as dangerous as Saddam once did, but apart from military prowess on its own turf in Iraq’s Sunni areas, it is much less capable.


ISIS might be an offshoot of Osama Bin Laden’s Al-Qaeda, but severing heads on video has never been Al-Qaeda’s thing. Public brutality—like when a mob mutilated the bodies of the Iraqi royal family and paraded them down the streets of Baghdad in 1958, or when another mob killed American security contractors and hung their burned bodies from a Fallujah bridge in 2004—looks like more of an Iraqi practice than international terrorism.


And as ISIS reflects Saddam and his Baath Party, Jabhat al-Nusra re-embodies Syria’s Bashar al-Assad and his Baath Party. What we see in Iraq, Syria and Lebanon are tribal configurations that once acted secular, in line with trends of the time, and are now Islamist in keeping with a changing culture.


Neither the Iraqi nor Syrian Baath Parties were serious about or capable of reviving the “great Arab nation.” And neither ISIS nor Nusra are genuinely interested in the creation of an Islamic state, just as Hezbollah scrapped plans of creating an Iran-style Islamic republic.


Like radical Baathists before them, fundamentalist Islamists are busy terrorizing the local population while causing regional and international trouble to get attention and win legitimacy. The politics and policies of both ISIS and Nusra predate them, and will probably outlast them. Neither ISIS nor Nusra endorse Al-Qaeda’s conviction that after having defeated one empire, the Soviet Union, now is the time to beat the second one, America.


And because for ISIS and Nusra all politics are local, hatred between the two is a continuation of the Saddam-Assad rivalry, which was probably a continuation of animosity between the Damascus-based Umayyads and their successors, the Baghdad-based Abbasids in Medieval times.


As has been the case in the past, the Iraqis are more resourceful and violent, the Syrians more nuanced and shrewd.


In fact, Al-Jazeera’s interview with Nusra leader Abu Mohammad al-Jolani showed the many aspects that set him apart from the average Al-Qaeda leader.


First, unlike headline-hungry Bin Laden, Al-Zawahiri and Al-Zarqawi, by hiding his face Jolani wanted to keep the door open for his coming back in from the terrorism cold. Second, while most Al-Qaeda leaders organize in exile, Jolani—judging by his native northern Syrian dialect—is no foreigner (which makes him an insurgent as per Washington’s definition). Third, despite his announced allegiance to Al-Qaeda’s nominal leader Zawahiri, Jolani broke one of the main tenets of the terrorist organization by declaring that his focus was toppling Assad and promising not to attack Western targets. In the documents that US Navy seals collected after killing Bin Laden in Pakistan, the terrorist leader expressed frustration that Zarqawi was going after Iraqi Shiites instead of targeting Americans.


Like their predecessor Baath parties, ISIS and Nusra are brutal. They are Islamist in line with the dominant regional trend. And unlike Al-Qaeda, they are local, territorial, and are seeking to rule their own states.


America might not like the Islamic states that ISIS and Nusra seek to create, but America is no longer in the business of telling sovereign nations how to run their governments, whether in Islamic Iran or in Communist Cuba.


Meanwhile, it is unfortunate that Washington’s understanding of terrorist groups has not evolved, even though the Obama administration absurdly changed the word ‘terror’ to ‘radical extremism.’


ISIS, Nusra Front and Hezbollah are all on the State Department’s list of Foreign Terrorist Organizations. All three are Islamist. Their sponsor countries are not liberal democracies. They are locked in a bitter and bloody war for control of territory. Their fight is the continuation of millennia-old vendettas.


But none of the three currently pose significant threat to the West, which means it is not in Washington’s interests to side with any of them in particular.


For a political solution like the one Washington wants, ISIS, Nusra, Hezbollah and their respective regional patrons have to sit down together and talk while America leads the world in restoring the Sunni-Shiite balance that was shattered in 2003. The only other alternative to such a scheme is a drawn-out war of attrition in which many more hundreds of thousands will be injured and killed.


Hussain Abdul-Hussain is the Washington Bureau Chief of Alrai newspaper. He tweets @hahussain

Hezbollah’s teen military recruits

Ana Maria Luca

Supporters explain how teens become Hezbollah fighters and why they might want to


Hezbollah mourned last week the death of a teenager killed “on jihadist duty” in Syria. The party’s Al-Manar television reported last Tuesday that “Hezbollah bid farewell to the mujahid martyr Mashhur Fahd Shamseddine.” Neither Hezbollah nor media outlets associated with the party made any reference to the boy’s age. Hezbollah only announced that he had died in a tragic accident while performing his jihadist duty. However, Arabic-language newspapers reported Shamseddine was only 15. Al-Araby al-Jadeed reported that the teenager was killed a week ago in an Israeli raid on Hezbollah positions in the Qalamoun area.


Hezbollah did not explain what kind of jihadist duty the teenager was performing so close to a battlefield, but a close look at how the party recruits its young members is cause for serious concern, says political analyst Ali al-Amine. “Hezbollah does not think that low—they won’t bring a 15-year-old child soldier to the battlefield. They haven’t reached the stage of recruiting child soldiers,” he said. “But sources of Hezbollah said that [the boy] died while he was receiving a military training. This raises a question: why are you giving military training to children?”



Hezbollah’s military greenhouse


Getting into Hezbollah’s military ranks was not easy before the group got involved in the Syrian war. They recruit and start training at very young ages—typically at around 10-13 years old, when they join the Imam al-Mahdi Scouts, says 35-year-old Hussein, a former scout. Later, when the scouts are 16 or 17, they can join the party’s military ranks or opt to continue their education.


The Imam al-Mahdi Scouts were founded in 1985 and are registered with the Lebanese Ministry of Education. The organization includes children from four to 17 years of age, split into Cubs, Scouts and Rangers. Besides outdoor activities and charity work, the Imam al-Mahdi Scouts also teach the young to be good Muslims, to volunteer at local mosques, and to defend Lebanon against Israel.


“This is no secret. I was a scout myself, but I did not join the military ranks,” Hussein told NOW. “It was the sheikh at the mosque who chose the ones who were fit for the military [the scouts get intense religious training]. Not all are selected. The family can refuse, of course. But usually they don’t. On the contrary; some bribe the sheikh to pick their sons, because the family gets perks like jobs or free education for the rest of the children.”



The connections


Hussein also said that Lebanese wasta [nepotism] is prevalent in Hezbollah. “Usually, the boys who have family members in Hezbollah have more chances to get picked for the military,” he says. Hussein’s uncle was a Hezbollah member and could have made it easy for him to be recruited, but his own father begged the uncle not to take the boy because his father was blind and Hussein was the only one who could support his family.


It all depends how good the boys are in school. “If you have good grades and a good family, you’re most likely to finish school and go to university. But all boys go to military training until they’re 14 and get the brevet,” Hussein said. The boys are trained in an annual summer camp located in a remote area. After they take their brevet, boys with good grades continue school while the military recruits start real combat training. These rules do not apply to girls. Hezbollah encourages women to join the party, but they are also encouraged to study and to graduate university so that they can later teach, Hussein explained.


“This is exactly what used to happen in the ‘80s and 90s,” Houssein said. “But the mentality has changed in the last 10 years or so. Most people now concentrate on studying and opt for the teaching career. I guess that’s why maybe they have this problem with recruiting fighters now.”



Social class matters nowadays


Mahdi Magazine, the Imam al-Mahdi Scouts magazine for boys between 13 and 17, teaches scouts how to avoid becoming an extremist, among other things. It also features a story about a scout’s first military mission. The boy is sent to scout an area and is not happy because it’s not a real fighting mission and, therefore, not manly enough. “My friend was joking with me. ‘When are you going to get married?’ he asked. ‘When I become a man.’ ‘And when would that be?’ ‘When I go on my first mission on the front.’ The boy is finally sent to the front, gets shot, and is taken to the hospital where he meets a nurse and falls in love with her.


Members of the Imam al-Mahdi Scouts, the youth movement of Hezbollah, some of them future soldiers. (AFP/Mahmoud Zayyat) 


It’s with stories like this that teenagers in the best schools in Dahieh and South Lebanon are enticed to join Hezbollah’s military ranks. A Hezbollah supporter who wished to remain anonymous told NOW his children go to one of the best schools in the southern suburbs of Beirut and frequently go on trips to Hezbollah museums and camps. They watch presentations about weaponry and are told stories of heroes of the Resistance.


He says, though, that despite the indoctrination, it’s up to the family to decide a child’s future. “I encourage my children to be very good in school so that they avoid a military career,” he said. He also says he’s committed to his support for Hezbollah because he feels protected. “I was never asked to join the party directly. But I know that I get a lot in return for being a supporter. If I lost my job, I would get another one the next day.”



Recruiting from the street


Hezbollah is in a very tight spot in terms of human resources on the battlefield in Syria. Its troops are stretched out and many experienced commanders have been killed in the fighting, by Jabhat al-Nusra car bombs and even by Israeli air strikes. There is a lot of recruiting going on in the southern suburbs of Beirut, Hussein said. “If you want to fight, you have to go to one of the offices and they can hire you. It’s not required, but they prefer that you’re a supporter; that you have the preliminary training.”


Al-Amine told NOW that Hezbollah indeed has a problem with the number of troops involved in the Syrian conflict and is recruiting fighters without proper experience. “A very large number of soldiers who went to Syria were not, in fact, proper soldiers of the Resistance, so they were poorly trained. They are supporters willing to fight for the party, rather than members of Hezbollah’s military ranks,” he explained. “The increasing fatalities of Hezbollah in Syria put pressure on the party, but the real pressure is the general feeling among the people that Hezbollah’s victory in Syria is unlikely. This feeling creates a kind of confusion, not to say a reluctance, to fight in Syria.”


Hezbollah has also endeavored to recruit soldiers from the Druze community in Syria, Al-Amin says, which indicates that Hezbollah can no longer rely on its supporters and sympathizers, adding that this is why the party is also accepting Afghans and Iraqi Shiites in its ranks in Syria and Iraq.


Ana Maria Luca tweets @aml1609


Amin Nasr and Myra Abdallah contributed translation