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June 12, 2014 1:15 pm

IDF Chief: Syrian Battlefield Experience Makes Hezbollah a Greater Threat

avatar by John Rossomando

Syria rebel forces shell Hezbollah 50-truck convoy. Photo: Screenshot.

Syria rebel forces shell Hezbollah 50-truck convoy. Photo: Screenshot.

Hezbollah’s combat experience in Syria could make it a more potent threat to Israel, according to Israel Defense Forces (IDF) chief of staff Lt. Gen. Benny Gantz.

“The bad news from our point of view is that while Hezbollah is fighting on three fronts … it is also amassing experience we will one day face,” Gantz said, noting that the terrorist group has more firepower than most states. Gantz warned that this experience combined with the terrorist group’s firepower makes it a force to be reckoned with – one that Israel will eventually have to confront.

Gantz spoke spoke Monday at an annual policy conference in Herzliya, Israel.

Only a handful of nations – the U.S., China, Russia, Israel, France, and the U.K. – have more firepower than the terrorist militia, he said. Hezbollah’s close connection with the “radical axis led by Iran” adds to the threat facing Israel by contributing to the Islamic republic’s strategy of encircling and isolating it. Hamas and Palestinian Islamic Jihad, which threaten Israel with rocket fire from Gaza, also form part of this axis.

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“At the same time, World Jihad elements in Syria are getting stronger,” Gantz said.

He estimates that the Syrian civil war could last another 10 years.

He warned that Hezbollah would be “set back decades” by the damage that Israel would wreak on it in the case of a future war. But the lessons from the 2006 Lebanon war show that an all-out war carries a high cost for Israel.

The war proved that Hezbollah no longer was the ragtag Shiite militia that emerged with Iran’s backing in the 1980s. It grew into an effective, coordinated fighting force that proved challenging to the IDF. Hezbollah stopped Israeli tanks using the latest Russian antitank weaponry and showed unprecedented discipline.

This coordination still exists. Reports from Syria show that the group is organized similar to a regular national army, operating with a military command structure, the latest infantry weapons, and armored vehicles.

Estimates place 4,000 to 10,000 Hezbollah fighters in Syria. Assad owes his grip on power in part to the group’s capabilities, which have helped repel the Free Syrian Army (FSA), Jabhat al-Nusra, and other Sunni jihadist groups.

Although the IDF would still enjoy superiority over Hezbollah in a future war, the terrorist group’s experience in Syria could give it improved combat performance and force coordination against Israel, much like modern national armies. Hezbollah may be able to mount larger-scale offensive operations.

The new threats from Hezbollah and other terrorist organizations mean the IDF will need to adapt to maintain its military supremacy, Gantz said.

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