The main change that has taken place over the past year on the Israeli-Lebanese border involves Hezbollah’s new military preparedness. Following about five years in which most of Hezbollah’s efforts, and most of the people in its top units, were mired in the Syrian civil war, the fighters have returned home, to southern Lebanon.
Members of Hezbollah’s Radwan commando force have been released from the Assad regime’s battle for survival and have returned to their original positions in Lebanon, near the front line. Some of the units are deployed relatively close to the border with Israel, with a presence south of the Litani River as well, in violation of the terms of the cease-fire spelled out in UN Security Council Resolution 1701 at the end of the 2006 Second Lebanon War.
At an observation post overlooking Lebanon from the Israeli side of the border, it’s possible to make out observation points facing in the other direction, which were established by Hezbollah more than two years ago on the pretext that they belonged to an environmental group. Some of Hezbollah’s activities along the border are carried out in civilian garb and without weapons being visible, in coordination with the Lebanese army. But Israeli intelligence has been gathering documented proof of the activity, as part of its regular wrangling with Lebanon over violations of UN resolutions.
In the Israeli army, it has been difficult to identify which of the activists are Radwan members and which belong to Hezbollah’s regional defense network, which has been deployed in the south over the years: Commando activists move around differently and are equipped differently from regional activists.
Hezbollah’s years of fighting in Syria alongside Iranian Revolutionary Guards and Russian army officers have given the organization and its commanders critical experience in fields that were unfamiliar to them in the past. This experience, however, came coupled with heavy loses. (In Israel the estimate is that about 2,000 Hezbollah fighters were killed and more than 8,000 were wounded).
But the return to the south gives Hezbollah another advantage: The proximity of its top units to the border theoretically shortens the time it needs to carry out a surprise attack against Israel, in the nature of a move talked about it recent years – a surprise takeover of communities or Israeli army positions along the border.
The General Staff and Northern Command officers are aware of this risk and a number of changes have been made in the army’s defense and intelligence alignment to thwart the danger.