Media Fails to Connect the Dots on Hezbollah’s ‘Next War’

Lebanon’s Hezbollah, the Iranian-backed, U.S.-designated terrorist group, is gathering intelligence and gaining battlefield experience for attacking Israel—and many major U.S. news outlets are failing to take note.

Hezbollah routinely calls for the destruction of Israel and the genocide of the Jews. It has been involved in terrorist plots throughout the world that target Israelis and others deemed enemies of its Shiite brand of Islamic supremacism. And Hezbollah is now battle-hardened courtesy of its fighting on behalf of Syrian dictator, Bashar al-Assad, in that country’s civil war.

Israeli officials and analysts have expressed concern that Hezbollah’s newfound abilities may be put to use against the Jewish state.

As The Times of Israel noted, Israeli Defense Forces (IDF) Lt. Colonel Eliav Elbaz said Hezbollah was “obsessively gathering” information about Israel, including its security forces (“IDF officer: Hezbollah gearing up for war, just like in 2006,” April 28, 2016).

Elbaz’s remarks echoed those made by IDF Maj. Gen. Yair Golan earlier in the month. Golan noted that Hezbollah’s growing capabilities could result in a “full-scale war” with Israel. Golan said that a future conflict with the terror group would be “decisive.”

Hezbollah seems to hope so.

The group’s participation in the Syrian conflict has taught it how to coordinate with irregular militias, provided it with enhanced intelligence capabilities and counterinsurgency tactics. Hezbollah reportedly possess an arsenal of nearly 100,000 rockets, some with advanced guidance and extended range that could allow them to hit major Israeli cities. As one unidentified Hezbollah member recently told Voice of America, “In some ways, Syria is a dress rehearsal for our next war with Israel (“Hezbollah Develops New Skills in Syria, Posing Challenges for Israel,” April 27, 2016).”

Hezbollah has improved its technological capabilities, including using artillery more effectively, and upgraded its ability to use unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs, also known as drones). Michael Rubin, a scholar at the American Enterprise Institute, a Washington D.C.-based think tank, expressed concerns over Hezbollah’s potential use of drones in April 19 congressional testimony.

Speaking to the U.S. House Foreign Affairs Committee, Rubin warned that Iran and its proxies, including Hezbollah, have “openly deployed” drones “into Syria and perhaps Lebanon as well. Iranian UAVs fly over Syria’s largest city in Aleppo and so could just as easily fly over the Golan Heights, over the Galilee or into international air paths over Tel Aviv’s Ben Gurion International Airport or Israel’s smaller regional airports. That Iranian sources openly brag about their development of both ‘suicide’ drones and new satellite-guided drone navigation capabilities augments concern. Neither Iran nor its proxies need to be able to strike an aircraft or an airport to be successful. Simply interfering with civilian air traffic will likely augment Israel’s isolation as airlines suspend service into Tel Aviv.”

Matthew Levitt, the director of the Stein Program on Counterterrorism and Intelligence at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy, a Washington D.C.-based think tank, noted that although the group has taken great losses in Syria, “overall it is seeing higher recruitment levels and more people are being drawn to the cause.”

That cause, as Hezbollah’s head Hassan Nasrallah, has made clear, is “the elimination of Israel (“Nasrallah, in vicious public address, calls for the destruction of Israel,” The Times of Israel, Aug. 2, 2013).”

The perch from which Hezbollah hopes to launch attacks against Israel?

One Middle East analyst, Aram Neguizian, told VOA that Iran and Hezbollah are hoping to use the Syrian conflict to try and gain “a stable footing in the Golan and leave troops there after the Syrian civil war is over.”

Yet, many major U.S. news outlets have failed to report Hezbollah’s growth and enhanced capabilities. Although Voice of America and non-U.S. media have noted the threat, a Lexis-Nexis search of major U.S. news media coverage in recent months, including The New York Times, The Washington Post, The Los Angeles Times and others, reveals no detailed reporting of Hezbollah’s growing prowess.

Some U.S. media outlets have mentioned, in passing, the looming threat on Israel’s borders from unspecified “jihadist forces,” but failed to provide greater details.

The New York Times, in an April 18 article on Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s April 17 statement that the Golan Heights (taken during the Arab-initiated 1967 Six-Day War) “will remain under Israel’s sovereignty,” the paper dismissively wrote “the presence of jihadist forces along the border have given many Israelis pause and given Mr. Netanyahu arguments to justify holding the territory (“Israel Will Never Give Golan Heights to Syria, Netanyahu Vows”).”

Similarly, an April 17 Washington Post article that detailed Netanyahu’s comments on the Golan, vaguely mentioned “chaos in Syria and the proliferation of Islamists militant groups in the country”—but omitted the specific threat posed by a battle-hardened Hezbollah (“Netanyahu vows that Israel will never give up Golan Heights”).

If the next war between Israel and Hezbollah is “decisive,” major U.S. news media may have no option but to belatedly report the terrorist group’s enhanced capabilities. But by then it will be too late.

Durns is media assistant for the Washington D.C. office of CAMERA, the 65,000-member, Boston-based, Committee for Accuracy in Middle East Reporting in America. Views expressed here are his own.

About the Author
Sean Durns is a Senior Research Analyst for the Washington D.C. office of CAMERA, Committee for Accuracy in Middle East Reporting in America.
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