Hezbollah officials say they are preparing to use the strategies and techniques they learned fighting Syrian rebels along the border with Lebanon to conquer Israel’s northern Galilee region.
The Iranian-backed Shia Islamist group has been making steady gains in its hard-fought campaign to wrest control of the Qalamoun region in Syria from Sunni rebels, including jihadists from Al Qaeda’s Nusra Front, despite itself incurring significant losses.
But although that battle is still ongoing, a series of remarks by Hezbollah officials and propaganda outlets, translated by MEMRI, reveal that the terror group still has its eye on a future conflict with Israel.
Among them was Hezbollah official Hashem Safi Al-Din, who told Lebanon’s Al Mustaqbal newspaper that “the resistance can replicate its newly acquired experience from the Al-Qalamoun mountains and Syria in the Galilee.”
Other unnamed Hezbollah officials echoed his comments to Kuwait’s Al-Rai daily, explaining in more detail how Hezbollah plans to apply the lessons learned from its tough mountain battles with Syrian rebels to IDF forces in the Galilee.
“The internal front behind the defense lines will be attacked, and all the [military] positions, outposts and concentrations of forces will be shelled until direct contact is achieved through a direct attack on the settlements and military positions,” one source explained, referring to both civilian and military targets.
According to MEMRI, officials also said that Hezbollah’s leadership “was waiting to see the outcome of the battle in Al-Qalamoun in order to draw lessons from it and improve the performance of their troops. They assessed that the war in the Galilee will be easier than the war in Al-Qalamoun, where Hizbullah is fighting forces imbued with deep faith that impels them to fight to the death, ‘unlike the Israeli army.'”
Hezbollah – and other jihadi groups – often attempts to portray the Israeli army as weak and faithless in its propaganda.
In an article hailing Hezbollah’s capture of the strategically-important Tel Moussa – one of the highest peaks in the Qalamoun mountain range – Lebanese pro-Hezbollah daily Al-Safir said the achievement constituted “a message to Israel that the resistance [Hezbollah] is in better shape than ever and that the war in Syria has not exhausted it but has [only] strengthened it and improved its capabilities.”
It added that Hezbollah’s battle for Al-Qalamoun “may be a rehearsal for a similar scenario that may unfold in the occupied Upper Galilee in any future war that might erupt.”
Al-Safir reporter Khalil Harb went further, suggesting Hezbollah victories in Qalamoun, in nearby Al-Qusayr and in the Homs area had granted it “strategic depth for any future conflict with Israel, which will provide the resistance axis with broader options in the field.”
Harb went on to imply that Hezbollah would in fact have an easier time in the Galilee, given that the terrain there is not as difficult as the mountains of Qalamoun.
But, as noted in the MEMRI report itself, the bravado may be meant more for public consumption back in Lebanon than an actual statement of intent.
Hezbollah’s involvement in brutal sectarian wars in Syria and Iraq – as well as more recently in Yemen, according to numerous reports – has turned Sunni public opinion, once broadly supportive due to its attacks on Israel, firmly against it.
Even many of its Shia support base have voiced concern over how Hezbollah has been dragging a fragile Lebanon into the Syrian conflict, particularly in the aftermath of several deadly terrorist attacks by Sunni Islamists in revenge for Hezbollah’s support of the Assad regime.
Portraying its role in the Syrian civil war as a dress-rehearsal for its struggle with Israel may well be an attempt to repair some of that damage.
Hezbollah chief Hassan Nasrallah has threatened on numerous occasions that his terror group was prepared to “conquer the Galilee” in its next war with Israel and wipe the Jewish state from the map.
However, in a recent interview with Syrian state TV Nasrallah backtracked on his previous rhetoric, admitting that a now much-weakened Hezbollah – stretched throughout multiple theaters of war in the Middle East at Iran’s behest – was in fact no match for the IDF.
“Are we supposed to lie to our people and ourselves, saying that we are capable of launching a war against Israel, wiping it off the map, and liberating Palestine? Hezbollah is incapable of doing this all by itself,” Nasrallah said.
He added that his threats to conquer the Galilee were purely “hypothetical.”
“I did not take an oath. I only said that this could happen,” he cautioned.