Hezbollah's attack policies and modus operandi
In 2007, Hezbollah continued to avoid perpetrating terrorist attacks against Israel (not even in the Sheba Farms, a hotspot of Hezbollah activity until the second Lebanon war, where the organization claimed its terrorist attacks were “legitimate”). Hezbollah’s avoidance of terrorist attacks for more than a year and a half following the second Lebanon war was unprecedented since Hezbollah’s establishment in the first Lebanon war (1982). Such a policy harms the warlike jihadist image the organization has been nourishing for many years by constantly attacking Israel.
In our assessment, the explanation is twofold: first, Hezbollah is interested in a period of calm to carry out its reconstruction and military buildup without interference from Israel, UNIFIL and the Lebanese government. Hezbollah fears that changing its policy of terrorist attacks would lead to a strong retaliation by Israel, particularly since Israel’s deterrence has increased. Second, Hezbollah is focused on its internal political struggles against Seniora’s government (struggles which peaked with the ongoing presidential crisis), and it has no interest in becoming involved in conflicts with the Lebanese army and with UNIFIL, which might trigger harsh criticism within the internal Lebanese arena. However, it also seems that stopping terrorist activities is a result of Syrian-Iranian policy, according to which Hezbollah must not become involved in a conflict with Israel if the circumstances are inconvenient, and that it should continue building its military infrastructure without interruptions from Israel.
As a result, 2007 saw an unprecedented calm in south Lebanon and along the Israeli-Lebanese border.
Rebuilding Hezbollah's military infrastructure in Lebanon
In 2007 Hezbollah rehabilitated most of the military infrastructure in south Lebanon (south and north of the Litani River), adapting its activities to the new situation created in south Lebanon following the deployment of UNIFIL and the Lebanese army. For example, Hezbollah has given up its visible presence along the first line of outposts along the border (as was the case before the war), it conceals its weapons transfers, and makes sure that its operatives keep a low profile and avoid frontal confrontations with UNIFIL and with the Lebanese army.
Hezbollah took advantage of the calm in south Lebanon to restore its military infrastructure, damaged in the second Lebanon war, placing particular emphasis on replenishing its rocket arsenal. Noteworthy were the following activities:
i) Creating a new and improved rocket arsenal in south Lebanon which poses a considerable threat to Israel’s home front (to the Tel Aviv region and beyond). Hezbollah places a particular emphasis on its thousands of 40km-110km (29-68 miles) mid-range rockets (of the kinds used in the first Lebanon war, such as 122mm rockets for ranges of up to 40km, 220mm, Fajr-3, 302mm rockets for ranges of 110km and 115km). It is possible that Hezbollah has also long-range Zelzal rockets. Hezbollah’s rocket arsenal is deployed from the Blue in the south to the Awali River in the north. Hezbollah has now completely replenished the rocket arsenal it possessed on the eve of the second Lebanon war (about 20,000 rockets), and in our assessment even considerably increased it.
ii) Restoring the military infrastructure in south Lebanon: Hezbollah has restored its military infrastructure in south Lebanon, which is mostly located inside Shi’ite towns and villages. Hezbollah is deployed in civilian buildings and underground facilities which serve as headquarters, command posts and stations. To avoid confrontations with UNIFIL and with the Lebanese army, Hezbollah has relocated its operative posts away from the Israeli border and lowered the profile of its activity in uninhabited zones. At the same time, the organization has expanded its military infrastructure north of the Litani River and has significantly improved its deployment there.
iii) Recruiting and training new operatives: during the war, Hezbollah lost a significant number of operatives (about 650 fighters), most of them highly trained. As part of the restoration process, Hezbollah operatives in south Lebanon have gradually resumed routine military activities. In our assessment, south of the Litani River there are several thousand Hezbollah operatives deployed of the total of 10,000-15,000 who Hezbollah can employ during a war.
iv) Acquiring weapons and ammunition: To rebuild its military infrastructure, Hezbollah smuggled a significant quantity of weapons and ammunition into Lebanon in 2007, mainly rockets, anti-tank weapons, and anti-aircraft weapons. South of the Litani River there are hundreds of advanced anti-tank systems, hundreds of personal anti-aircraft missiles and anti-aircraft guns, and a large quantity of IEDs. They are hidden mostly in Shi’ite population centers which support Hezbollah.
The main channel for smuggling weapons and ammunition is Syria, where they are loaded on vehicles and sent to the Lebanon Valley through the open Syrian-Lebanese border. From the Lebanon Valley, the weapons and ammunition are transported to Hezbollah’s storehouses across Lebanon, including the southern part of the country. Another channel for smuggling weapons is Turkey. That was illustrated on May 25, 2007, when the Turkish army discovered a shipment of weapons in the boxcar of a train travelling from Iran to Syria. On two occasions, the Lebanese army stopped vehicles transporting weapons from Syria for Hezbollah: on February 8, 2007, a truck with weapons and ammunition was stopped in the Beirut neighborhood of Hazmiyeh. On June 6, 2007, another truck was stopped in the Baalbek region. Those, however, were unusual incidents, rather than part of a Lebanese government policy. Another potential smuggling route is sending them by sea to the Beirut port.
v) Training: Hezbollah operatives are trained in south Lebanon and in the Lebanon Valley. They are also sent for training to Iran, a practice used by Hezbollah before the second Lebanon war. Basic training is conducted in Lebanon while advanced training in specific kinds of weapons (such as anti-tank missiles) takes place in Iran. Of note was an extensive military exercise held by Hezbollah in south Lebanon in early November 2007. An article in Hamas-affiliated newspaper Al-Akhbar described it as the “largest exercise in Hezbollah history.” It lasted for three days and methodically tested Hezbollah’s military capabilities, including rockets and anti-tank fire, based on the lessons learned in the second Lebanon war. The exercise was also designed to send a message of deterrence to Israel, to the effect that Hezbollah learned its lessons and it was highly prepared to face Israel in a military conflict.
Hezbollah's direction of and support for Palestinian terrorism
According to Israel Security Agency data, since 2004 Hezbollah has spent over $10 million a year to encourage Palestinian terrorist activity against Israel. Investigations of arrested terrorist operatives show that Hezbollah focuses mostly on carrying out a large number of terrorist attacks, rather than showcase attacks. In most cases, the Palestinian terrorist organizations collaborate with Hezbollah to receive financial assistance, not necessarily for ideological reasons. The organizations which cooperate most with Hezbollah are Fatah’s Tanzim and the Palestinian Islamic Jihad.
In 2007, there was a drop in the number of networks directed by Hezbollah. The Israeli security forces exposed about 65 such networks (compared with about 80 in 2006, on the eve of the second Lebanon war, about 50 of which were from Judea and Samaria). According to the Israel Security Agency, one of the reasons for the decrease is the Amnesty Plan, following which Fatah operatives who joined it severed ties with Hezbollah. In our assessment, another possible reason is Hezbollah’s disillusionment with the efficiency of the Palestinian terrorist networks. Therefore, Hezbollah preferred to focus on transferring knowhow for improving combat methods and the independent manufacture of weapons (Hezbollah’s experience inspired the Hamas’s military build-up in the Gaza Strip).
Global jihad networks in Lebanon and their recent activity
In 2007, global jihad networks continued their extensive efforts to strengthen their foothold in Lebanon, the result of a decision made by the Al-Qaeda leadership to expand its presence in Lebanon for use as a staging point for terrorist attacks against Israel and foreign targets in Lebanon. The hotspots of global jihad activities and terrorist operations in 2007 were Palestinian refugee camps, specifically Ein el-Hilweh, near Saida, and Nahr al- Bared, near Tripoli.
Ein el-Hilweh, a large refugee camp near Saida, south Lebanon. which is not controlled by the Lebanese government, has become a center for terrorist organizations which have affiliated themselves with the global jihad, and has become a potential hotspot of terrorism against Israel, UNIFIL, the Lebanese government, and Western targets in Lebanon. The jihad networks in the Ein el-Hilweh refugee camp keep in touch with other like-minded networks in the PA-administered territories.
The Ein el-Hilweh refugee camp is home to several terrorist networks associated with the
i) Fath al-Islam, which relocated its headquarters from Nahr al-Bared to Ein el-Hilweh
ii) Usbat al-Ansar (“The Gathering of Supporters”)
iii) Jund al-Sham