IDF Chief of Staff Gadi Eizenkot said Sunday that Israel’s next war would be fought against Hezbollah, the Lebanese terror group that currently operates in in the Bekaa Valley, the southern suburbs of Beirut and southern Lebanon, adjacent to the Israeli border.
Speaking at a ceremony marking the transfer of leadership over the IDF Northern Command from Maj. Gen. Aviv Kochavi to Maj. Gen. Yoel Strick, Eizenkot said the IDF was not fooled by the recent silence from Hezbollah and that the IDF continues to follow developments in Lebanon and Syria with extreme vigilance.
“The Hezbollah group continues in its efforts to mobilize and arm itself with increasingly precise and deadly weaponry in order to harm the Israeli heartland. We endeavor to protect the security interests [of Israel] and operate in order to prevent transfer of advanced weapons to Hezbollah, and we will continue to do so in the future,” Eisenkot said.
In 2006 the two sides fought a 50-day war after Hezbollah kidnapped three Israeli soldiers in a cross-border attack. The Israeli air force destroyed much of Hezbollah’s military capability during the fighting but the group has steadily increased its strength over the ensuing years.
More recently, the terror group has kept the border with Israel quiet, but military officials in Israel view Hezbollah as a well-trained, well-equipped army. The group has taken an active role in the Syrian civil war, with Hezbollah forces fighting to keep President Bashar al-Assad in power. At the same time, Iran has helped the group expand its missile capability, both in terms of quantity and quality, and Hezbollah members have gained valuable combat experience in Syria.
Eizenkot’s remarks followed a report yesterday (Sunday) by the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights confirming that Israeli warplanes bombed a car on a road last Friday near the Syrian town of Quneitra, located in the Golan Heights near the Israeli border. The driver was killed in the attack, but neither Damascus nor Jerusalem has responded to the report.
Also last week, IAF aircraft attacked and destroyed a shipment of what has been reported as a strategic weapons shipment destined for Hezbollah. The IDF spokesperson confirmed the attack, but did not release any information relating to the target. The attack was in response to the Arrow missile defense system successfully intercepting incoming Syrian missile as an apparent message to Russian President Vladimir Putin that Israel will act to block weapons shipments and will not tolerate Iranian involvement near the Syria-Israel border.
Netanyahu met with Putin on March 9 to discuss Iran’s aspirations to establish dominion over parts of Syria, including plans to construct a naval base at Latakia, following the conclusion of the civil war.
Netanyahu told Putin that Israel does not oppose any political arrangement for Syria as long as doesn’t include the permanent presence of Iran or one of its proxies near the Israeli border.
The prime minister and Defense Minister Liberman have repeatedly stated that Israel will not permit Iran to transfer advanced weaponry to Hezbollah and would act to defend the country’s security.
Incoming Maj. Gen. Yoel Strick stated that the reality in the north continues to shift at a very rapid pace and that the IDF will continue to enhance deterrence capabilities to prevent war. But added that if war should be break out the army would respond with determination and force.
Kochavi also emphasized a turbulent Middle East, but also said that Israel strives to maintain a unique balance of military strength with humanitarian concern.
“On one hand, [we] thwart enemy cells, and on the other [we] bring wounded civilians and children from an enemy country to Israel for medical treatment,” Kochavi said.
Kochavi will be promoted to deputy Chief of Staff.