Written by Brig.-Gen. (ret.) Dr. Shimon Shapira
The intensive public discourse in Israel about an approaching attack on Iran’s nuclear facilities has led Iran and Hezbollah to ramp up their threats of harsh retaliation. The military adviser of Iranian Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei, Gen. Yahya Rahim Safavi, made clear on September 8 that Hezbollah would respond to any Israeli attack on Iran.
According to the Lebanese newspaper Al Joumhouria, the secretary of Iran’s Supreme National Security Council, Saeed Jalali, visited Lebanon in August and gave a green light for the immediate use of Hezbollah’s military force against Israel in response to an attack on Iran’s nuclear facilities.
In September 2012, Revolutionary Guards commander Gen. Mohammad Ali Jaafari admitted at a Tehran press conference that his forces were deployed in Syria and Lebanon. Jaafari’s words appear to have been spoken honestly during an unguarded moment and they reflect the real operational state of affairs.
On August 17, Hezbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah declared: “The Israeli attack will give Iran an opportunity to destroy Israel as it has already dreamed of doing for thirty-two years,” adding that “our missiles are prepared and aimed…we will not wait for anyone’s approval.”
The avowal that Nasrallah has received a green light to respond immediately against quality targets in Israel contradicts his previous ambiguous statements that, in the event of an attack on Iran’s nuclear facilities, Hezbollah would convene, consider, and decide how to respond. Such statements by the Hezbollah leader in the past had led to erroneous analyses that Hezbollah is a movement that made independent decisions and did not automatically act according to Tehran’s orders.
The intensive public discourse in Israel about an approaching attack on Iran’s nuclear facilities has led Iran and Hezbollah to ramp up their threats of harsh retaliation. Hezbollah is a central component of Iran’s deterrent and offensive strategy toward Israel and is considered Iran’s first line of defense in the spatial dimension of its conflict with Israel. Senior Iranian spokesmen say so publicly, and Hezbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah backs them up.
The military adviser of Iranian Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei, Gen. Yahya Rahim Safavi, made clear on September 8, 2012, that Hezbollah would respond to any Israeli attack on Iran. “If the Zionist regime does anything against us, resistance groups – especially the Lebanese Hezbollah – as our strategic defensive depth, will give response to this regime more easily.”1 In addition, Deputy Commander of the Revolutionary Guard Gen. Hossein Salami declared on September 8 that if Iran is attacked by Israel, “we will take the war to the borders of the enemies.”2
The secretary of Iran’s Supreme National Security Council, Saeed Jalali, came to Lebanon on August 6, where he visited the grave of Hezbollah’s former military commander Imad Mughniyeh3 and met with Nasrallah. According to an August 28 report in the Lebanese newspaper Al Joumhouria, Jalali gave a green light for the immediate use of Hezbollah’s military force against Israel in response to an attack on Iran’s nuclear facilities.4
The meeting was held near the end of a Hezbollah military exercise that was described as the largest in the movement’s history. It lasted three days and over ten thousand fighters took part, including “special forces,” as well as new recruits aged 16-20 who did not take part in the 2006 war with Israel. Defensive deployments were practiced together with an offensive deployment that simulated the conquest of parts of the Upper Galilee. According to Al Joumhouria, which reported in the past on a similar exercise by Hezbollah,5 Nasrallah oversaw part of the drill alongside Iranian officers from the Revolutionary Guard. It also was reported that Hezbollah had begun preparing residents of southern Lebanon for the possibility of war, including the clearing-out of shelters in the villages of Maroun al-Ras and Aita al-Shaab, and the town of Bint Jbeil.6
It was earlier reported that Hezbollah, supervised by Iranian experts, had finished building a new array of tunnels in the area south of the Litani River, based on lessons learned in the Second Lebanon War. The tunnels are equipped with advanced communication networks and include lighting, ventilation, water, kitchens, and bathrooms to enable fighters to spend long periods underground. Similar tunnels were also reported in Wadi al-Shara in the Hermel area, very close to the Syrian border. These tunnels are of strategic importance because of what is hidden in them, almost certainly various types of missiles.7
In September 2012, a sharp dispute broke out over the issue of the presence of Iran’s Revolutionary Guards in Lebanon, sparked by statements of the Revolutionary Guards commander, Gen. Mohammad Ali Jaafari, at a Tehran press conference in which he admitted that his forces were deployed in Syria and Lebanon. His words were immediately denied by officials in Iran and by the Iranian ambassador in Beirut, who was called to an urgent meeting with the president of Lebanon to explain Jaafari’s remarks.8
Iran is indeed assisting Hezbollah in various military realms such as training and instruction for the militia forces, and the concealment and operation of Hezbollah’s missile stockpile. Revolutionary Guardsmen are stationed at Hezbollah training bases and are involved in ongoing military activities. Various Iranian agents and emissaries, who not infrequently compete among themselves, are also active in Lebanon. Some are from Iran’s Ministry of Culture and Islamic Guidance and Ministry of Education, some are there in the framework of economic assistance, and some have been dispatched by the Iranian Intelligence Ministry to gather information and prepare infrastructures for terror in the Middle East, Europe, and South America.
Jaafari’s words appear to have been spoken honestly during an unguarded moment and they reflect the real operational state of affairs. However, they came at an inconvenient time when Iran faces an international campaign accompanied by economic sanctions over its support for Syria; hence his words were immediately denied.
On August 17, Iran, Hezbollah, and their supporters all over the world marked Jerusalem Day in identification with the Palestinians, as they do each year. Nasrallah, who gave the main speech in Lebanon, portrayed Iran’s military plans as a response to an Israeli attack and threatened that attacking Iran would cost Israel tens of thousands of dead and not three to five hundred (as Israeli officials estimate):
Iran will respond forcefully and resolutely and the Israeli attack will give Iran an opportunity to destroy Israel as it has already dreamed of doing for thirty-two years. Hezbollah cannot destroy Israel, but it can turn the lives of millions of Israelis into hell. You have a number of targets, not large, that can be hit with a small number of high-precision missiles, and these are missiles that are in our hands, they can turn the lives of hundreds of thousands of Israelis into hell. We are aware of these targets and our missiles are prepared and aimed at these targets in great secrecy; we will not wait for anyone’s approval.
Nasrallah hinted that approval had already been given.9
In an interview to a friendly journalist on September 4, Nasrallah said:
The Israelis are always planning to destroy the missile launchers in the first attack. I advise them not to gamble on the first strike because even if a small number of missiles survive the attack, we will be able to turn the Israelis’ lives into hell. Our targets are not only military; we will react with the same force to any Israeli attack. If Israel talks about destroying Lebanon, I say to them that we will destroy everything in the Zionist entity. Israel suffers from many weak points in its economy, in industry, electricity, and nuclear reactors. If Israel attacks targets in disregard of international limitations, we will not have any limitations in responding. Hezbollah’s missiles can reach any target in Israel. I say to the Israelis that Hezbollah can hit their electricity grids and cause enormous economic damage.
Nasrallah went on to deny that Hezbollah had any need for chemical weapons. He claimed Hezbollah did not possess any and would not use them because it was religiously prohibited.10
In the summer of 2012, in a speech to mark the sixth anniversary of the Second Lebanon War, Nasrallah made a surprising and perplexing operational “revelation.” He said that Israel, in an operation known as Quantitative Weight in the first hour of the war, had not succeeded to destroy Hezbollah’s long-range missiles. Nasrallah claimed Hezbollah’s intelligence had exposed Israel’s intelligence efforts to find the exact location of these missiles, and they had been moved without Israel discovering the new location. Thus, when the Israel Air Force bombed the sites, the missiles were already elsewhere. “So the operation that Israel called Quantitative Weight is one that we call Quantitative Illusion.”
“We know,” said Nasrallah, “that Israel is gathering intelligence on us and preparing to attack us. However, we will surprise you in your first attack. We promise the Israelis a big surprise. I want the people to believe in Hezbollah’s [military] capabilities. We won in 2000 [the Israeli withdrawal from Lebanon] and in 2006 [the Second Lebanon War] and we will achieve greater victories in any war with Israel.”11
It appears that the escalation of Iran’s and Hezbollah’s threats to retaliate harshly, while specifying some of the strategic targets in Israel such as nuclear facilities and electric grids, together with “revelations” about Israel’s military weakness in attacking “dummy missiles” at the start of the 2006 war and hints of “surprises” for Israel, largely reflect their growing fears of an imminent Israeli attack.
The more the internal Israeli discourse on the Iranian nuclear issue intensifies, so do Iran’s and Hezbollah’s threats. These two see themselves as joint components in Israel’s war plan, with Israel planning to attack them simultaneously; hence the avowal that Nasrallah has received a green light to respond immediately against quality targets in Israel.
This contradicts his previous ambiguous statements that, in the event of an attack on Iran’s nuclear facilities, Hezbollah would convene, consider, and decide how to respond. Such statements by the Hezbollah leader in the past had led to erroneous analyses that Hezbollah is a movement that made independent decisions and did not automatically act according to Tehran’s orders.
* * *
1. “Hezbollah Will Respond to Any Attack on Iran, Says Army Commander,” NOW Lebanon, September 9, 2012.
3. Al Intiqad, August 6, 2012.
4. Al Joumhouria, August 28, 2012.
5. Shimon Shapira, “Hizbullah Discusses Its Operational Plan for War with Israel,” Jerusalem Issue Brief, v. 11, no. 18, November 2, 2011, Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs.
6. Al Joumhouria, August 28, 2012.
7. Al Joumhouria, July 2, 2012.
8. Ana Maria Luca, “The Iranian Consultants,” NOW Lebanon, September 22, 2012.
9. Radio Nor, August 17, 2012.
10. www.english.maqwema.org , September 4, 2012.
11. NOW Lebanon, July 18, 2012.