Israel’s Northern Border


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Israel’s northern border with Lebanon and Syria has long been a hotbed of confrontation. Syria and the Lebanese-
based terror organization Hezbollah backed by Iran, continue to threaten Israel’s fragile security.

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Israel’s Northern Border

  1. 1. Northern Border Kit Updated: Mar. 11, 2013 C o n t e n t s 1 About TIP 3 Israel’s Northern Borders 3 Lebanon The Hezbollah Threat 4 Iran’s support for Hezbollah 6 Hezbollah’s guerrilla positions in South Lebanon 7 U.N. Resolution 1701 7 Hezbollah in Syria 8 Syria 9 Key events in 2012 in Syria in relation to their weapons of mass destruction 9 The Golan Heights
  2. 2. ABOUT TIP The Israel Project (TIP) is a non-profit educational organization that gets facts about Israel and the Middle East to press, public officials and the public. The Israel Project is not affiliated with any government or government entity. Our team of trusted Middle East multi-lingual experts and former reporters provides journalists and leaders with fact sheets, backgrounders and sources. TIP regularly hosts press briefings featuring leading Israeli spokespeople and an- alysts that give journalists and members of the diplomatic community an opportunity to get information and an- swers to their questions face-to-face. By providing journalists with the facts, context and visuals they need, TIP ena- bles hundreds of millions of people around the world to see a more positive public face of Israel. This helps protect Israel, The Jerusalem Office The Israel Project’s (TIP) Jerusalem Office is a non-governmental resource working with foreign journalists and lead- ers based in Israel. It provides reporters and members of the diplomatic community with needed facts and information before they file their stories and reports. TIP’s Jerusalem team features several Middle East experts and former jour- nalists. TIP’s Israel team, led by Marcus Sheff, includes experts who are fluent in numerous languages. Contacts Marcus Sheff Executive Director Tel: 972 2-623-6427 Cell: 972 54-807-9177 E-mail: David Harris Director of Content Tel: 972 2-623-6427 Cell: 972 54-807-9498 E-mail: Eli Ovits Director of Communications Tel: 972 2 623-6427 Cell: 972 54-807-9093 E-mail: Shimrit Meir-Gilboa Director of Arabic Media Program Tel: 972 2-623-6427 Cell: 972 54-801-5982 E-mail: The Israel Project Jerusalem Office Tel: 972 2 623-6427 Fax: 972 2 623-6439 @israelproject theisraelproject tipinfo ISRAEL’S NORTHERN BORDERS Israel’s northern border with Lebanon and Syria has long been a hotbed of confrontation. Syria and the Lebanese- based terror organization Hezbollah backed by Iran, continue to threaten Israel’s fragile security.
  3. 3. In 1993 Israel and the PLO signed the Oslo Accords, which was followed by a peace treaty with Jordan. PLO attacks from Lebanon ceased, although attacks continued by Hezbollah and other terrorist groups including Palestinians that share Hezbollah’s opposition to the peace process. In 2000, the government of Israel completed the withdrawal of its forces from the security zone in southern Lebanon to the international border. UNIFIL forces remain to watch the violent threat from the Iranian and Syrian-backed Hezbol- lah.  In December 2012, Israel filed a complaint with the U.N. Security Council concerning Hezbollah’s rearming in Lebanon: “Hezbollah has built its arsenal to unprecedented levels, amassing 50,000 deadly missiles in Leba- non - more missiles than many NATO members have in their possession. These missiles can reach all of Is- rael and well beyond.” 1  Fighting from the Syrian civil war has spilled over into Israel several times during 2012 2  In 2011, Hezbollah, the Syrian regime and Palestinian factions within Syria orchestrated “protests” along the border in May and June, sometimes successfully breaching and crossing the international line. 3  In July 2006, Hezbollah launched a combined military attack across the international border, targeting an Is- raeli army border patrol also indiscriminately pounding Israeli towns and villages with rocket fire. Eight Israeli soldiers were killed and two more kidnapped. It later transpired they were also dead. This unprovoked assault by Hezbollah sparked the Second Lebanon War, which lasted four weeks until a U.N.-brokered ceasefire came into effect under U.N. Security Council Resolution 1701. LEBANON: THE HEZBOLLAH THREAT The Lebanon-Israel border predates the establishment of Israel in 1948. There are no territorial disputes between the two countries and Lebanon did not participate in the 1967 or 1973 Arab-Israeli wars. The lush, rolling green hills of this northern frontier mask a political pressure-cooker that could explode at any moment, as it has countless times since Israel was established in 1948. Hezbollah – Brief Background Hezbollah (the Arabic for Party of God) is a Lebanese Shiite terrorist organization and political party.  The Lebanese-based organization is designated a terror organization in the Netherlands and the United King- dom. Outside Europe, Australia, Canada, Israel and the U.S. have passed legislation labeling the Iranian backed group as proliferators of local and global terrorism. 4  Born in Lebanon in 1982 but nurtured in Iran, Hezbollah has gone from a radical offshoot of the Shiite Amal Party and militia to a major force in regional politics. It is now recognized as a highly skilled, worldwide terror- ist network operating as far away as Africa and Latin America. 5 Since 1992, Sayyed Hassan Nasrallah has headed the terror organization and orchestrated world-wide terror attacks as well as overseeing the group’s increased control of the Lebanese political and societal arenas. In addition to an ongoing conflict with Israel, Hezbollah has been increasingly involved in Syria. According to docu- ments from the U.S. Department of the Treasury, it is in fact Nasrallah who is in charge of coordinating Hezbollah’s 1 2 3 Lappin, Yaakov, “Syrian ‘Nakba’ protester arrested in Tel Aviv,” Jerusalem Post, May 16, 2011, 4 5 TIP Briefing by Ely Karmon, March 1, 2012, Tel Aviv.
  4. 4. movements in Syria aiding President Bashar Al-Assad and his regime. 6 The U.S. Department of Defense in the spring of 2012 detailed how “the Iranian military trains Hizballah and Palestinian extremist groups at camps throughout the region.” 7  According to statements by Nasrallah in 2012, Iran has for years provided Hezbollah with training, weapons and funding: “we received moral, and political and material support in all possible forms from the Islamic Re- public of Iran since 1982.” 8 Nasrallah in February 2013 said: ”When we think deeply on Islamic and national levels we find that the most danger threatening the nation is ˈIsraelˈ, and the only logic choice is the popular resistance.” 9 He added specifications of the type of attacks he sees as part of his group’s holy mission: infrastructure and electricity stations in the Jewish state “need only a few rockets” to leave the country paralyzed. 10 Iran’s support for Hezbollah Iran and Syria have supplied Hezbollah with so much weaponry that they now possess 50,000 rockets 11 – some 35,000 more on the eve of the Second Lebanon War. 12 In addition to arms and technology, Iran supplies Hezbollah with funding, training, assistance and political support. Counterterrorism expert Matthew Levitt summed up the close relationship between Tehran and Hezbollah 13 :  “What we see now is that Hezbollah is going to do things today that are in Iran’s interest even if they expressly run counter to the interests of Lebanon and Hezbollah’s own interest there.”  “The relationship between Hezbollah and Iran, which has changed over time, is now extremely close. The U.S. intelligence community has publicly described this as a “strategic partnership.” But people don’t fully ap- preciate Hezbollah’s ideological commitment to the concept of velayat-e faqih, or guardianship of the jurists, which holds that a Shiite Islamic cleric should also serve as supreme head of government. For Hezbollah, this means the Iranian leadership is also their leader--not for every foot soldier, but for Hezbollah’s senior leaders absolutely.”  Experts in 2011 said that “Iran is the chief financial supporter of Hezbollah, and Hezbollah survives on Iranian support.” 14 It is estimated that the group receives as much as $200 million a year from Tehran. 15  Iranian General Ahmad Vahidi (Revolutionary Guard) confirmed that the drone Hezbollah launched into Israeli air space in October 2012 belonged to Iran and “proves the Islamic Republic’s military capabilities.” 16  Iranian General Qassem Suleimani (Al-Quds force, the external operations branch of the Revolutionary Guard) has increasingly directed Hezbollah since 2008. 17 Suleimani reports directly to Iran’s Supreme Leader 6 military.html?ref=hassannasrallah&_r=2& 7 8 9 10 11 12 Harel, Amos, “Defense officials: Renew diplomatic pressure on Syria as Hezbollah rearms,” Haaretz, July 13, 2008, 13 14 15 16 17 world.html
  5. 5. the Ayatollah Khamenei, and said of Lebanon in 2012 that the region is in “one way or another subject to the control of the Islamic Republic of Iran and its ideas.” 18  In 2008 alone, 3,000 Hezbollah soldiers underwent training led by the Quds Force. 19  In April 2012, American experts said “Iran has provided Lebanese Hizballah with increasingly sophisticated weapons, including a wide array of missiles and rockets that allow Hizballah to launch weapons from deeper in Lebanon or to strike Israel.” 20  Hezbollah now has a stock of 40,000 rockets near the Lebanese-Israeli border. The weapons are located in hiding places in villages throughout southern Lebanon. 21 Hezbollah in Lebanese politics In Lebanon’s June 2009 elections, the movement won 13 seats in the Lebanese parliament and the Hezbollah-led alliance took 58 of the 128 parliamentary seats. 22 In June 2011, Hezbollah gained sweeping control of the Lebanese government, gaining 18 out of 30 cabinet seats. Hezbollah’s pre-eminence in Lebanon is perceived as a major tilt to- wards Iran and Syria and away from Western democracies and moderation. 23 Implicated in the 2005 murder of former Lebanese prime minister Rafiq Hariri, Hezbollah and its allies walked out of Lebanon’s cabinet on Jan. 12, 2011. 24 This was only a few days before the Special Tribunal for Lebanon, the U.N. body tasked with investigating Hariri’s murder, submitted its recommendations about the Hariri assassins to a judge on Jan. 17. Hezbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah threatened to “cut off the hands” of anyone who tried to link his group with the as- sassination and paralyzed Lebanese politics in response to the indictments. In January, Nasrallah toppled the gov- ernment of prime minister Sa’ad Hariri, son of the slain leader, and prevented incoming Prime Minister Najib Mikati from forming a new administration. Israel remains committed to preventing any renewal of Hezbollah aggression and also to the peaceful resolution of any outstanding disputes with Lebanon. Hezbollah’s guerilla positions in South Lebanon Since the withdrawal of Israeli forces in accordance with U.N. Security Council Resolution 425, Hezbollah has main- tained positions directly opposite the Israeli border. 25 With Iran’s aid, Hezbollah has been actively building up its arse- nal and guerilla-warfare capabilities since its war with Israel in 2006. Both are direct violations of U.N. Security Council Resolution 1701, which calls for Hezbollah to disarm. 26 The quality and quantity of Israeli surveillance and UNIFIL patrols mean that if a Hezbollah unit has not found an in- conspicuous hiding place, it moves continuously. As a result, the entire area of south Lebanon serves Hezbollah as a 18 19 20 21 22 Schenker, David, “What To Do With Hezbollah Now,” CBSNEWS, June 19, 2009, 23 Fassihi, Farnaz, “Hezbollah Leads Lebanese Cabinet,” The Wall Street Journal, June 14, 2011, 24 “Lebanese government collapses,”, Al Jazeera, Jan. 13, 2011, 25 Norton, Augustus Richard, and Boston University. “Hezbollah Assessment.”FDCH Congressional Testimony (n.d.): Military & Government Collection, EBSCOhost (accessed January 9, 2011). 26
  6. 6. base for terrorist activities.  The Litani River area is Hezbollah’s main base of operations. Using a combination of underground fortifica- tions and hiding in the towns and villages of South Lebanon, Hezbollah has managed to keep a considerable force within 25 miles (40 km) of the Israeli border. 27  There are two forward elements, mainly located in rural fortified positions and in the local populated areas. The units are meant to delay and stall any Israeli advance, causing as many casualties as possible but not meant to hold out indefinitely.  The Northern Unit is effectively a reserve force, ready for deployment. In addition, Hezbollah can count on fur- ther reinforcements from the Beirut area and the Bekaa Valley on the Syrian border. 28 The bulk of Hezbollah’s forces still lie in the Litani area. Hezbollah concentrates its forces in the Shiite areas. As part of its understanding with its Christian and Druze interests, Hezbollah reportedly does not place its forces or weapons in or around Christian or Druze villages. 29  Hezbollah stores weapons and stations its forces in Shiite villages and towns. Hezbollah’s strategic policy is to hide in populated areas, where any military exchange with Israel would result in significant civilian casualties. An example of this can be seen in the village of Al-Khiam, located fewer than 4 miles (6 km) from the Israeli border. However, fixed positions are not the mainstay of Hezbollah tactics. Despite its high level of organization and commu- nication, Hezbollah ground units continue to comprise small mobile squads of fewer than a dozen men, usually armed with machine guns, some sort of assault rifle and a number of anti-tank weapons. 30 It was units like these that caused the most casualties to the IDF in the Hezbollah-Israeli conflict in 2006, not the static defense posts which, once identi- fied, are vulnerable to air-strikes. 31 U.N. Security Council resolution 1701 calling for ceasefire between Hezbollah and Israel in 2006 states32 :  That there be no armed groups in Lebanon apart from the Lebanese army. This includes Hezbollah.  That no arms be supplied to any Lebanese militia or armed group other than the Lebanese army. This is to be enforced by UNIFIL.  That Hezbollah withdraw all personnel, weapons and other assets from the territory between the Israel- Lebanon border (Blue Line) up to the Litani River. 33 27 Israel Defense Forces Spokesperson. “Hezbollah Activity Four Years After Second Lebanon War – 2010.” IDF Blog. August 31, 2010. (accessed January 9, 2011). 28 Norton, Augustus Richard, and Boston University. “Hezbollah Assessment.”FDCH Congressional Testimony (n.d.): Military & Government Collection, EBSCOhost (accessed January 9, 2011). 29 Sharp, Jeremy M. Lebanon: The Israel-Hamas-Hezbollah Conflict. Congressional Report, Washington, D.C.: Congressional Research Service, 2006. 30 Norton, Augustus Richard, and Boston University. “Hezbollah Assessment.”FDCH Congressional Testimony (n.d.): Military & Government Collection, EBSCOhost (accessed January 9, 2011). 31 Alagha, Joseph. “THE ISRAELI-HIZBULLAH 34-DAY WAR: CAUSES AND CONSEQUENCES.” Arab Studies Quarterly 30, no. 2 (Spring 2008): 1-22. Military & Government Collection, EBSCOhost (accessed January 9, 2011) 32 33 “Behind the Headlines: U.N. Security Resolution 1701,” Israel Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Aug. 12, 2006, +UN+Security+Council+Resolution+1701+12-Aug-2006.htm
  7. 7.  That UNIFIL assist the Lebanese Government in protecting its borders and preventing the entry of illegal arms and other material  Support the Lebanese armed forces in their deployment throughout the south and along the Blue Line (Israel- Lebanon border)  Establish, together with the Lebanese armed forces, an area between the Litani River and the Blue Line free of armed personnel or any weapons except for those of the Lebanon government or UNIFIL troops deployed in the area. 34 Hezbollah in Syria In February 2013, Free Syrian Army spokesman Louai Meqdad reported that the Lebanese-based group had "invaded Syria and launched a war against the rebels," with over 1,000 operatives crossing over the shared border attacking three villages held by the rebels. 35 Meqdad further said “Hezbollah’s invasion is the first of its kind in terms of organi- sation, planning and coordination with the Syrian regime’s air force.” 36  In October 2012, senior Hezbollah official Ali Hussein Nassif was killed in Homs. The group praised him, stat- ing he had died in carrying out “his jihadi duties.” 37  Hezbollah has been supporting Syrian President Assad and the regime in the violent campaign against the Syrian civilians. 38 As the Syrian resistance started pressing the army, Hezbollah increased its support for As- sad’s military. 39  The Free Syrian Army captured 12 Hezbollah fighters in October 2012 40 and it was reported that Hezbollah over the summer of 2012 was preparing graves for its members in Lebanon should they die in battle. 41  Hezbollah’s attempt to save Assad is aligned with Iran’s need for maintaining a leadership in Syria loyal to Tehran. 42 34 “UNIFIL,” United Nations Web site, accessed June 25, 2007, 35,7340,L-4346090,00.html 36 37 38 39 40 beirut.ashx#axzz2A7yDdrAU 41 42
  8. 8. SYRIA The Syria-Israel border along the Golan Heights has been mostly quiet since the end of the 1973 war. Since then, Syr- ia has been ruled by two ruthless leaders: Haffez Al-Assad and his son Bashar, both of whom expressed virulent anti- Israel rhetoric, but for strategic reasons maintained stability along the mutual border. This status quo is changing as the Syrian civil war escalates and the Assad regime loses control. 43 There are fears that Syria’s stockpiles of chemical and biological warfare weapons may fall into the hands of terrorists – both the Iran-backed Hezbollah 44 in Lebanon and various Al-Qaeda-related groups 45 fighting in Syria. The Syrian chemical-weapons arsenal 46 is primarily based on the deadly nerve agent sarin. It is estimated that Syria possesses thousands of aerial bombs and more than 100 Scud missiles with warheads containing this lethal chemical warfare agent in operable state. A smaller inventory of aerial bombs and ballistic warheads contain the more advanced persis- tent nerve agent VX, mainly in the form of bomblet munitions. In addition, Syria possesses rockets filled with nerve gases and mustard gas. 47 The International Institute for Strategic Studies wrote in 2012: 48  “The greatest danger is that external non-state actors could get their hands on Syria’s chemical weapons. In- deed, groups like al-Qaeda with factions operating in Syria have shown an interest in acquiring them. The Syr- ian elite has also hinted at the possibility of transferring some of their weapons to groups like Hizbullah, should their survival be at risk and in order to destabilise the region.” Key events in Syria in relation to their weapons of mass destruction  On July 23, 2012, Syria admitted it possesses chemical weapons of mass destruction and would use them in case of a foreign attack. 49  Syria first developed chemical weapons in the 1970s and slowly amassed a sophisticated arsenal under the close supervision of then-president Hafez Al-Assad and, later, his son Bashar, the current president. 50  Amid growing fears in Israel about Syrian chemical weapons use, Israel’s National Security Council head Yaakov Amidror was dispatched to Moscow on Jan. 28, 2012 to convince the Kremlin to help prevent WMDs from falling into the hands of terrorist groups. 51  Hezbollah, the Lebanese Shiite political and armed group, has ramped up its support for the Syrian govern- ment, sending in military advisers to aid in the bloody struggle against the opposition. 52  Of all the Arab states, Syria has far and away the most extensive and sophisticated chemical weapons program. 53 43 44 45 46 47 48 weapons/ 49 50 arsenal/2011/08/26/gIQAFmfVlJ_story.html 51 52 53
  9. 9.  Last summer an American defense official said: “This could set the precedent of WMD [weapons of mass de- struction] being used under our watch. This is incredibly dangerous to our national security.” 54  “We’ve had concerns that Al-Nusra is little more than a front to Al-Qaida in Iraq, which has moved some of its operations into Syria,” said U.S. State Department, spokeswoman Victoria Nuland. 55  The chemical arsenal is stored in numerous locations throughout Syria and is kept under vigilant watch, but this is tenuous. The rebels have yet to capture one of these bases, though one can only imagine this scenario is only a matter of time. The sites are monitored around the clock by Western surveillance, mainly by satel- lite…to be able to spot…evidence of the Syrian military attempting to use the chemical weapons, and also watching to see if any bases fall into the hands of the rebels. 56  Hezbollah has set up several bases in Syria, near known locations where Bashar Al-Assad is holding parts of his chemical warfare arsenal. 57 The Golan Heights The Golan Heights were captured from Syria in 1967 and are a valuable defensive asset. Prior to 1967, Israelis living in the valleys below the Golan Heights suffered from years of artillery fire and terrorist attacks from Syria that killed and wounded scores and made working in the fields a matter of life and death for Israeli farmers. In the 1973 Yom Kippur War, Syrian forces overran much of the southern Golan before being pushed back by an Is- raeli counterattack. Israel and Syria signed a ceasefire agreement in 1974 under which most of the Golan Heights re- mained in Israeli hands, with a narrow demilitarized zone returned to Syrian control. Since losing control of the territory, Syria has made clear that any peace negotiations with Israel would require a full Israeli withdrawal from the territory to the pre-1967 lines. 58 The fact that U.N. peacekeepers were kidnapped by Syrian rebels in March 2013 is of particular concern to Israel. 59 The significance of the Golan Heights to the security and welfare of Israel is outlined below: The topography of the Golan serves as a natural defensive blockade against any military attack from Syria. Advances in ballistic technology in recent years have increased the importance of keeping control of this strategic high ground and maintaining geographic depth. 60 During the 1973 Yom Kippur War, control of the eastern mountain ridge of the Golan helped 177 Israeli tanks to repel 1,400 Syrian tanks. 61 The Golan is essentially one high-altitude plateau that overlooks southern Syria and serves as an excellent defensive vantage point to track offensive Syrian military movements. 62 54 55 56 57,7340,L-4337774,00.html 58 Gresh, Alan, “Israel and Syria on the brink of Peace,” Le Monde Diplomatique, Jan. 2000, 59 edges-closer 60 Ettinger, Yoram, “The Golan Heights and the Facts,” Ariel Center for Policy Research, papers/pp108-xs.html 61 Ibid. 62 “Regions and territories: The Golan Heights,” BBC News, Apr. 26, 2007,
  10. 10. The Sea of Galilee borders the southwestern Golan and provides one-third of Israel’s fresh water supply. In 1964, the Syrians attempted to impair Israeli access to fresh water through a damming project, which the Israel Defense Forces ultimately thwarted. 63 63 “What is the history and current issues involving Syria and the Golan Heights?” Palestine Facts, 2007,