IDF on manoeuvres as Nasrallah hints at war

Chief of Staff Gabi Ashkenazi (centre) visiting an IDF combat unit in the Golan Heights earlier this month

Chief of Staff Gabi Ashkenazi (centre) visiting an IDF combat unit in the Golan Heights earlier this month

The IDF's Nahal infantry brigade is carrying out its annual manoeuvres on the Golan Heights.

Traditionally, this is considered tank country, a potential battlefield between Israeli and Syrian armoured formations, but the column of soldiers moving under cover of darkness into dawn attack positions are training for war against another adversary.

"We learnt in the Second Lebanon War that any future battle with Hizbollah will necessitate long night marches," says one of the brigade's commanders. A colonel nods approvingly. "We are reaching a maximum readiness status," he says of the series of gruelling manoeuvres that Nahal, "but it's not connected to any recent developments in the news or whatever Nasrallah is saying. Lebanon and Hizbollah remain a central theatre of operations, whatever happens."

The field officers may claim to be unconcerned about developments in the news but that is not the mood in the higher echelons. Last week, the IDF Chief of Staff's office released some unorthodox comments made by Lieutenant General Gabi Ashkenazi in a meeting with his Canadian counterpart.

Next month's publication of the UN tribunal's report on the assassination of Lebanese Prime Minister Rafik Hariri could "cause serious political implications in Lebanon", said General Ashkenazi, adding that "the organisation may even take over the country". This is just the latest and most overt Israeli statement regarding the increasingly precarious situation of its northern neighbour.

There is no longer any real doubt that the UN tribunal will finger senior Hizbollah officials in the 2005 assassination plot. Hizbollah themselves seem to be certain that they are about to be accused.

A Lebanese newspaper allied with the Shia movement quoted its leader, Sheikh Hassan Nasrallah, describing Hizbollah's reactions to the report as "ranging from doing nothing to embarking on a wide path that will cause a major political change with all that means".

American State Secretary Hillary Clinton replied that "Hizbollah should know that resorting once again to violence in Lebanon runs completely counter to the interests of the Lebanese people, the interests of the region, and of the United States. They should also know that if the goal of violence is to stop the tribunal, it won't work."

Israel and the US differ though on the best way to counter Hizbollah. While the Americans are trying to prop up the government of Sayed Hariri by supplying the Lebanese Army with modern equipment, Israel is worried that American arms could eventually find their way into the hands of the pro-Iranian organisation.

    Last updated: 10:51am, November 26 2010