‘Ghosts of Silwan’ terror cell stopped by Shin Bet
An eight-man terrorist cell in Jerusalem nicknamed the “Ghosts of Silwan” was uncovered and dismantled by Shin Bet (Israel Security Agency), police and the Border Police undercover unit in recent weeks, the security organization said on Tuesday.
Eight men, who are Israeli citizens, were arrested in connection with planning to carry out shooting attacks on Israeli vehicles and other targets in the east Jerusalem neighborhood of Silwan.
According to the investigation the cell members were involved in several attacks in the Silwan area such as throwing Molotov cocktails, fireworks, and stones at security forces and security vehicles.
The investigation also found that the cell planned to purchase weapons in order to carry out a shooting attack against Jewish targets in Silwan, such as against Jewish vehicles or homes in the neighborhood.
According to the Shin Bet, the head of the cell identified as 19-year-old Silwan resident Muhammad Farouk was in contact with sources in Lebanon and Gaza who were financing the cell.
Other cell members arrested by security forces were identified as Amir Farouk, 19, Saud Alian, 18, Mahmud Abu Tayiah 19, Amjad Shwachi, 19, Ali Abasi, 19, all from Silwan, and Ahmad Abu Halif, 18, from the Abu Tor neighborhood near Silwan. Another member of the cell who was arrested, a minor, is suspected of planning a shooting attack, involvement in an arson attack on a security patrol car and other firebombing attacks.
“The results of the investigation reflect a rise in the characteristics of terrorist activity on the ground, inter alia due to the violent events surrounding the Temple Mount, following the attack on the Mount last July,” the Shin Bet said, adding that there has been an escalation in activity ranging from stone throwing and Molotov cocktails to shooting attacks.”
Earlier this month Shin Bet chief Nadav Argaman told cabinet ministers following a deadly attack on Temple Mount that left two Israeli policemen dead, that there was a threefold increase in the number of terrorist attack warnings compared to June, stating that in July and August his agency prevented approximately 70 terrorist attacks.
Indictments against the suspects will be filed with the Jerusalem District Court on Wednesday. (Jerusalem Post)
‘Israel prepared more than ever for war’
Israel is more prepared than ever in case of a military conflict but needs to continue to improve in order to deal with growing regional threats, Defense Minister Avigdor Liberman said at a ceremony in Jerusalem.
“As someone who has been observing the IDF since 1996 [when he became director-general of the Prime Minister’s Office], I can say that in terms of readiness of the army, it is unprecedented today,” Liberman said on Monday at a ceremony marking the laying of the cornerstone for a military college in Jerusalem.
“The Land of Israel was bought not by virtue of force, but by force of right,” Liberman said, quoting Menachem Begin, “and Jerusalem is our right and the source of our strength and power, and we are simply going to exercise it.”
More than NIS 1.4 billion has been invested in the college, which will spread over 30 hectares (74 acres) near the former Swedish Village institution and will be used for offices, hotels and cultural and recreational institutions.
The ceremony was also attended by members of the General Staff, Jerusalem Mayor Nir Barkat and IDF Chief of General Staff Lt.-Gen. Gadi Eisenkot. The IDF chief said that the choice to establish a military college in Jerusalem attests to the close ties between the military and the people and its heritage.
Liberman continued, “At the moment, in terms of the army’s readiness, I can say with full confidence, to the credit of the chief of staff and the generals of the General Staff, we are much more prepared than ever, but that is not enough. We will likely need to prepare even more in light of the developments and in light of the declarations we all heard today.”
On Monday, Maj.-Gen. Abdolrahim Mousavi, commander-in-chief of the Iranian Army, threatened to raze Haifa and Tel Aviv to the ground if Israel acts against the Islamic Republic.
“We will destroy the Zionist entity at lightning speed, and thus shorten the 25 years it still has left,” Iranian media quoted Mousavi as saying. “I warn the [Zionist] entity not to make any stupid move against the Islamic Republic of Iran,” he threatened.
“Any [such] stupid act will [have us] turn Tel Aviv and Haifa into dust.”
Israeli officials have repeatedly voiced concern about Iran and its proxies such as Hezbollah entrenching themselves in Syria.
Eisenkot said, “These days, the strategic map is changing dramatically.
The IDF is following developments beyond its borders and is working to ensure the readiness of the forces for any kind of scenario.”
The IDF recently completed a large scale drill in the country’s north, with tens of thousands of soldiers drilling for a war with Hezbollah, including simulating occupying Lebanese territory in order to force a UN resolution that improves the security situation on the northern border.
Eisenkot said “the regular and reserve forces exercised their defense and attack capabilities in depth and deep inside ‘enemy’ territory. IDF commanders and soldiers will continue to act resolutely and vigorously to fulfill the mission of defending the State of Israel.” (Jerusalem Post)
Egypt’s Sisi Urges Palestinians to Unite, Co-Exist With Israelis
Egyptian President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi urged Palestinians to overcome their differences and be ready to co-exist with each other and with Israelis in safety and security.
“I tell the Palestinian people it’s extremely important … to overcome the differences and not to lose opportunities and to be ready to accept co-existence with the other, with Israelis in safety and security,” Sisi told the annual U.N. General Assembly gathering of world leaders in New York.
Following Egyptian-mediated reconciliation talks with Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas’ Western-backed Fatah faction, Islamist Hamas said on Sunday it would dissolve its “administrative committee” to enable Abbas’ administration to retake control in the Gaza Strip.
Hamas urged Abbas on Tuesday to respond by ending his sanctions on the impoverished enclave.
Addressing the Israelis, Sisi said: “We have an excellent experience in Egypt in peace with you for longer than 40 years.”
“We can repeat this experience and this excellent step once again – the peace and security of the Israeli citizens together with the peace and security of the Palestinian citizens,” Sisi told the 193-member General Assembly to a round of applause.
Israel and Egypt signed a 1979 treaty that began with overtures toward peace in 1977.
Qatar’s Emir Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad al-Thani also appealed on Tuesday, during his speech to the General Assembly, for the Palestinians “to complete national reconciliation and unify positions and words in confronting the dangers and challenges facing the Palestinian cause and the future of the Palestinian people.” (Reuters)
Israel sends 70 Home Front Command Soldiers to Mexico in quake aftermath
Israeli rescuers are taking part in the search for the survivors of a deadly earthquake that struck Mexico Tuesday, killing nearly 300 people and destroying dozens of buildings in the capital city and surrounding states.
The delegation of 71 soldiers and officers, mostly reservists in the IDF’s Home Front Command and the Israel Air Force, is headed by Col.(res.) Dudi Mizrahi, Commander of the National Search and Rescue Unit in the Home Front Command.
Mizrachi briefed Defense Minister Avigdor Liberman Friday on the activities of the delegation, explaining that they have worked on a number of large sites — including offices and a school — since they arrived in the devastated city with cutting edge technology to aid in the efforts.
Nicknamed “Kol Shofar Lamerhak” (“The sound of the Shofar carries afar”), the delegation landed Thursday. Its mission: to assist in the mapping and scanning of buildings damaged by the quake to determine whether they are at risk of collapse.
“We left our homes ahead of the holiday (of Rosh Hashana) but priority is always given to such a mission — to save lives, even if it is thousands of kilometers from home,” Mizrachi said. “It is a great honor for us to be part of this effort.”
The delegation, which left Israel Wednesday, is made up of mostly structural engineers. Mexican authorities made it clear they did not need search and rescue or medical forces.
In November, Israel’s emergency medical response team was recognized by the United Nations as the “number one in the world,” and classified as its first “Type 3” field hospital.
By receiving the Type 3 classification, Israeli teams will be the first on the scene of any disaster. Israel was the first foreign emergency medical team to receive such a classification, which has a strict set of criteria created by the World Health Organization (WHO) to classify foreign medical teams during sudden disasters.
The WHO’s classification system describes a Type 3 medical team as having “at least 2 operating tables in two separate rooms within the theater area, at least 40 inpatient beds (20 per table) and have the capability to treat 15 major or 30 minor surgical cases a day.”
Israel’s field hospitals, which can be set up in under 12 hours, can hold 86 inpatient beds and 4 operating rooms.
IDF Rescue Team
Israel has often aided countries struck by natural disasters, sending teams from the IDF Medical Corps and Home Front Command to provide search and rescue and medical aid in field hospitals in countries such Haiti, the Philippines, Japan, Turkey and Nepal.
Non-military teams, including ZAKA and iAID, have also joined in the rescue efforts in Mexico, working with the IDF delegation and local officials.
“iAID is in touch with its local partners and UN officials who are monitoring the current crisis on the ground,” said Shachar Zahavi, the founding director of the iAID, which sent 15 members of its international emergency response team to Mexico.
The IDF delegation is slated to return to Israel on September 29 ahead of the Yom Kippur holiday.
Tuesday’s tragedy comes two weeks after an 8.1 magnitude earthquake struck off the southern Pacific coast of Mexico leaving close to 100 dead in the states of Oaxaca and Chiapas. The quake, which rattled the capital of Mexico city as well as the states of Morelos, Puebla Guerrero and Oaxaca, struck on the anniversary of the deadly 1985 quake that killed at least 5,000 people just hours after the country drilled on earthquake preparedness. (Jerusalem Post)
Israeli volunteers vacate kids from Mexico City school
Twenty five ex-IDF volunteers from the Heroes for Life NGO help evacuate students of Mexico City school to safe areas while local teachers dumbstruck; school principle: ‘Israelis’ cool saved lives.’
While local teachers were at a loss for what to do, the Israeli volunteers took over and moved children out of the school and into the open.
The Israelis—who have been volunteering at the school on behalf of the Heroes for Life NGO—were teaching the children English, math and more.
When the quake hit, the newly-discharged soldiers—some of whom served in elite units—never lost their cool and evacuated all 460 of the school’s students out of the building.
Alon Nissim, 27, from Jerusalem, recounted the events. “The quake caught us in the middle of an English lesson. All of a sudden, I and another member of our group standing next to me felt the entire building move like a house of cards. The children were really spooked and tried going down an iron staircase, which was overloaded with people, and then a commotion started. The stairs led to a basketball court, where we decided to round up the children,” he said.
“We noticed a cement staircase that was still free and took off running like madmen towards it while directing every kid we came across along the way to follow. As soon as we hit terra firma we started routing children to safe spots and calming them down, just like we would a platoon in the army. The children started crying and panicking. I ran to our room and got some water bottles and candy and started handing them out, while other members of my group started talking to the kids and calming them down,” Nissim added.
“I was on autopilot without thinking how much danger I was in. My only thought was for the kids and their families,” Nissim continued. “I’m filled with satisfaction and am prouder than ever of being Israeli. Everyone here is singing our praises, Israel’s praises. Everyone knows Israel is the first to come help when disaster strikes, even before the locals do, but this is probably a new record.”
Shir Volotzki, 23, from Haifa, added, “Within seconds I realized I was expected to start doing something without regard to my own life, but only those of the sweet children. The situation was incomprehensible. We took the kids out of the classrooms and I saw their panic at this unexpected natural disaster. I started moving from one to another and try to calm them down. A few minutes after the quake, parents started coming into the school to pick their kids up and we enveloped the kids who were mortified at the fact their parents were not there yet with love and support.”
Hodaya Lakaw, 24, from Ashkelon, said, “The alarm hit and we thought it was a drill, because just two hours earlier the school held an actual drill. A few seconds later, the floor started shaking, and we just took off for the stairs. I’m usually a pretty upbeat person, but I was sure I won’t survive this. It broke my heart to see the kids crying. I wanted to scream with fear but decided to stay strong for them, because they needed me to. It was business as usual from there.”
School principal Romero Sanchez thanked the Israeli volunteers. “The Israeli volunteers’ cool saved lives here. We were shocked at how 25 Heroes for Life volunteers simply sprang into action and moved the children out of the building. It seemed like they were ready for the quake to hit. We’re thankful for everything they did. Their actions saved lives,” he raved. (Ynet News)
Body of rabbi pulled from Mexico’s earthquake rubble
The body of a Mexico City rabbi has been pulled from the rubble following a powerful earthquake on Tuesday that killed more than 300 people.
Volunteers for the Mexico branch of the emergency response organization ZAKA found the body of Rabbi Haim (Jaime) Ashkenazi of the Kehillat Magen David community on Sunday in a collapsed office building, ZAKA said.
The volunteers worked through the Jewish new year on Wednesday night and Thursday after receiving religious guidance from Mexico’s chief rabbi, Shlomo Tawil.
Jewish law prohibits any form of labor on this and other Jewish festivals, except when lives are endangered.
ZAKA International Rescue Unit Chief Officer Mati Goldstein said, “Immediately after the Sabbath went out in Mexico (early morning Israel time), we received an update from our team in Mexico that they had recovered the body of the missing Jewish man.
“The ZAKA team, which was on the scene at the time the earthquake struck, will remain until we receive an update that there are no more missing people.”
As rescuers dig through the remnants of 38 collapsed buildings in Mexico City, they have pulled dozens of bodies from the wreckage but numerous survivors, too.
A 71-member Israeli delegation from the army’s Home Front Command has been working in Mexico since Thursday. Two Israeli aid organizations — IsraAID and iAid — also sent delegations to help with the search and rescue efforts.
Mexico’s marines, considered the nation’s most elite troops, said they have recovered 102 bodies and rescued 115 people in the aftermath.
With nature’s forces continuing to pummel Mexico over the weekend, a new, strong, 6.1 magnitude earthquake shook the country on Saturday, killing at least two people, toppling already damaged homes and a highway bridge, and causing new alarm.
The US Geological Survey said the new temblor was centered about 11 miles (18 kilometers) south-southeast of Matias Romero in the state of Oaxaca, which was the region most battered by a magnitude 8.1 quake on September 7, which killed 96.
Buildings swayed in Mexico City, where nerves are still raw from Tuesday’s magnitude 7.1 quake. (the Times of Israel)
Israel works to thwart renewed Palestinian Authority bid to join Interpol
The Palestinian march to gain admission as a full member-state in international organizations continues with the International Police Organization taking up the issue in Beijing at its annual meeting this week.
A Palestinian bid to join Interpol, which represents police forces from some 190 countries, failed last year at the annual meeting in Indonesia, along with bids by Kosovo and Solomon Islands. All three bids were considered on the same ballot, with 62 countries voting to suspend the bid until this year, 56 voting to deal with the issue and 37 abstaining.
At the time, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu praised the vote as a reflection of the change in Israel’s standing in the international community. Netanyahu has joined the Foreign Ministry in efforts this year, as well, to block the move.
A closer reading of last year’s vote, however, showed that Israel benefited from the fact that Kosovo also applied for membership – something actively opposed by Russia. Kosovo is on the ballot this time, as well.
Interpol’s board of directors is scheduled to meet on Sunday and decide what resolution to bring to the General Assembly meeting that begins on Tuesday. If the board decides to again suspend the admittance of new members, that, too, must go to a vote. If it decides to hold a vote on whether to accept the candidates, it will need two-thirds of the 190 members to pass.
Diplomatic sources said that, this time, it appears the Palestinians could muster the necessary support if the matter is brought to a vote.
Israel is adamantly opposed to Palestinian admission to all international organizations, arguing that a state of Palestine does not exist and, therefore, it cannot be accepted as a state in international organizations.
In addition, regarding Interpol specifically, Israel is concerned that if the Palestinians join they would push for arrest warrants against Israeli citizens.
Jerusalem also is concerned that sensitive information it shares with the organization could – if the Palestinians were members – be compromised.
The bid to join Interpol follows by just two weeks a failed Palestinian effort to join the World Tourism Organization. The Palestinians withdrew that bid following diplomatic efforts by Israel that led to considerable pressure from the US to drop the attempt. (Jerusalem Post)
Iran’s New Ballistic Missile Is a Threat to the Entire Free World, Israel Warns
Iran’s new ballistic missile – that can reach most parts of the Middle East, including Israel – is a threat to the entire free world, Defense Minister Avigdor Lieberman said Saturday, in the first Israeli response to the Iranian test launch.
Iran successfully tested a new ballistic missile with a range of 2,000 km (1,200 miles) which it displayed at a military parade on Friday, state media reported on Saturday.
“The ballistic missile Iran fired today is not just a provocation against the U.S. and its allies, including Israel, and an attempt to test them. It is also more proof of Iran’s desire to turn into a world power and threaten not just nations in the Middle East, but also all the countries in the free world,” Lieberman said.
“Just imagine what would happen if Iran managed to get nuclear weapons. That’s what it’s striving for. We must not let that happen,” he added.
The test-firing of the Khorramshahr missile, which Iran said could carry several warheads, is also likely to raise concerns in Washington.
State broadcaster IRIB carried footage of the missile test without giving its time and location, including video from an on-board camera which it said showed the detachment of the cone that carries multiple warheads.
“You are seeing images of the successful test of the Khorramshahr ballistic missile with a range of 2,000 km, the latest missile of our country,” state television said.
“This is the third Iranian missile with a range of 2,000 km,” it added.
The Khorramshahr missile was first displayed at a military parade on Friday, where President Hassan Rouhani said Iran would strengthen its missile capabilities without seeking any country’s permission.
At the UN General Assembly on Tuesday, Trump said Iran was building its missile capability and accused it of exporting violence to Yemen, Syria and other parts of the Middle East.
He also criticised the 2015 pact that the United States and other world powers struck with Iran under which Tehran agreed to restrict its nuclear programme in return for relief from economic sanctions.
The United States has imposed unilateral sanctions against Iran, saying Tehran’s ballistic missile tests violated a UN resolution that endorsed the nuclear deal and called on Tehran not to undertake activities related to ballistic missiles capable of delivering nuclear weapons. (Ha’aretz)
Sisi-Netanyahu meeting: Lights, camera and a new era of public diplomacy?
By Herb Keinon The Jerusalem Post
It is not every day that Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu meets leaders of Arab countries publicly and with cameras capturing the moment.
In fact, it has hardly ever happened in the eight years since Netanyahu became prime minister for the second time in 2009. And that is precisely why the 90-minute meeting in New York on Monday evening with Egyptian President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi was so significant.
This is truly an example of the importance of the meeting being in the public nature of the meeting itself. In this case the visuals – Netanyahu and Sisi sitting next to each other smiling, shaking hands – is what is important.
Though Netanyahu met twice in secret in 2016 with Sisi – once in Aqaba with then-secretary of state John Kerry and Jordanian King Abdullah, and another time in Cairo with Zionist Union head Isaac Herzog – this was the first time he did so in public.
The last time an Egyptian president shook hands publicly with an Israeli leader was in the days of deposed president Hosni Mubarak.
Netanyahu speaks often, though always amorphously, about Israel’s good cooperation and strong security ties with its Arab neighbors. That is the good news.
The bad news is that those neighbors – including the neighbors like Egypt and Jordan with which Israel has peace treaties – are not willing to take those ties out of the closet and into full public view.
The reason given is that if the leadership of these countries would make the ties public, they would face a wave of angry backlash from their publics not ready for cooperation with Israel.
But this is circular reasoning, because only when the leaders make their meetings with Israelis public will the message filter down to the street and perhaps incrementally change public attitudes toward Israel. This may take long years and a peace deal with the Palestinians, but without positive cues from the top, it will take even longer.
Egypt, Jordan, Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates and other Gulf countries are benefiting from security and intelligence cooperation with Israel as they face with Israel the common enemies of Iran and radical Sunni terrorism. At the same time, however, they have until now not been willing to give Israel something important to it in return – public recognition of those ties.
By meeting Netanyahu publicly, Sisi is acknowledging what everybody knows – that Egypt has an important and significant relationship with Israel.
The fact that he no longer feels the need to hide this may lead others to do the same.
With sharp words and stealth strikes, Israel sends a message to Hezbollah and U.S.
By Loveday Morris and Louisa Loveluck The Washington Post
Israel has flexed its military muscles in recent months as the regional balance of power has pitched further in favor of its most bitter adversaries: Iran and its Lebanese proxy, Hezbollah.
Analysts and former senior Israeli military officers say Israel is showing that it will act with force to protect its interests, while using just enough of it to limit its enemies without sparking a war. But it’s a precarious line to tread, and even a small misstep could lead to conflict, they say.
Israel is scrambling to adjust as Syrian President Bashar al-Assad has taken the upper hand in his country’s six-year war, propped up by an emboldened Iran and an array of Shiite militias, including Hezbollah, which has sent thousands of fighters to back him.
The Israeli government had expressed frustration as the Trump administration focused on fighting Islamic State militants without, in Israel’s opinion, sufficiently limiting Iran and its proxies. Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu publicly criticized a U.S.-Russia cease-fire deal in southern Syria for not including provisions to stop Iranian expansion.
Israel is now making itself heard. Last week, Israeli jets buzzed so low over southern Lebanon that they shattered windows and caused panic. That followed this month’s bombing of a military site in Syria that had been linked to missile production for Hezbollah.
On Tuesday, the army used a Patriot missile to shoot down a drone that neared its airspace.
Threats have escalated on both sides. “If the Zionist regime makes any wrong move, Haifa and Tel Aviv will be razed,” Iran’s army chief, Maj. Gen. Abdolrahim Mousavi, warned this week in comments published by the semiofficial Fars News Agency, referring to Israeli cities within the range of Hezbollah rockets.
Hezbollah and Israel fought a month-long war in 2006 that caused heavy casualties, and both sides claimed victory. Since then, the Syrian war has provided Hezbollah fighters with a training opportunity, while Israel estimates that the militia has built up a stockpile of more than 100,000 rockets.
Israel fears that Iran will help Hezbollah upgrade to more accurate precision-guided missiles and establish a permanent military presence in Syria, from where the militia could eventually turn its focus south.
“Generally speaking, this is the kind of threat we can’t live with,” said Brig. Gen. Nitzan Nuriel, a former Israel Defense Forces officer who was deputy commander of the division responsible for the Lebanese front during the 2006 war. “This is the kind of threat we need to deal with.”
In recent months, Netanyahu has accused Iran of establishing manufacturing sites for long-range missiles in both Lebanon and Syria. Satellite images showing one alleged site, near the Syrian port city of Baniyas, were shared with the news media.
Israel seeks to leverage more favorable outcomes in Syrian cease-fire deals where it feels its interests have been ignored, and public threats and messages are meant as much for Israel’s allies as its enemies, Nuriel said.
“At the same time, we will try to keep Hezbollah weak to remind them what happened in 2006,” he said.
After speaking out against the “deescalation” deal for southern Syria reached by the United States and Russia on the sidelines of the Group of 20 summit, Netanyahu traveled to Sochi to meet with Russian President Vladimir Putin. A high-level delegation was also dispatched to Washington.
Russia’s foreign minister, Sergei Lavrov, later made a public assurance that Israel’s security interests in southern Syria were being taken into account.
In a speech last month, Hezbollah’s secretary general, Hasan Nasrallah, mocked Netanyahu for “crying” over the defeat of the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria.
Nasrallah has repeatedly warned Israel against attacking Lebanon.
“If the Israelis think they can now make war in Lebanon, then they are making a big mistake. In Syria, we have learned to attack,” said a senior official from the military alliance of Hezbollah, Syria and Iran. He spoke on the condition of anonymity because he is not authorized to speak with the news media.
“The rhetoric on both sides is a substitute for action — a way of reinforcing deterrence without having to take military action — and a way of saving face,” said Faysal Itani, a fellow at the Washington-based Atlantic Council. “But I do think things are trending negatively.”
Netanyahu tried to drive home his point Tuesday at the U.N. General Assembly in New York, saying that “those who threaten us with annihilation put themselves in mortal peril.” Israel will act to prevent Iran from opening “new terror fronts” on Israel’s northern border, he said.
He also pushed for changes to the international deal limiting Iran’s nuclear activities.
“This is all classic Netanyahu,” said Ofer Zalzberg, a senior analyst at the International Crisis Group. “Saying, ‘Hold me back before I do something.’ But I don’t see Israel launching a preemptive war. The next war between Israel and Hezbollah will be dramatic for Israel’s population and will have consequences for whoever is in power.”
But the prospect is not impossible; there are some Israeli officials advocating intervention, he said, describing Israel as “panicked.” “Advocates are saying bomb now.”
They see a window of opportunity. While Syria has refrained from retaliating against Israeli strikes on its soil, that is likely to change as the war draws to an end, raising the stakes of the occasional intervention with airstrikes that Israel is currently engaged in.
In Lebanon, Hezbollah’s growing strength has come at a cost, one that could cause personnel problems in the event of renewed conflict.
The group does not publish figures for the number of its members who have fought and died in Syria, but more than 1,000 have been killed, according to one study of Arabic language news coverage of funerals in Lebanon.
On a recent day in the Beirut suburb of Dahiyeh, a steady trickle of relatives passed through a newly opened cemetery for fighters killed recently in Syria. Marble slabs are adorned with photographs of the men in fatigues, some decorated with roses for Father’s Day.
Sitting quietly at the gravestone of a commander killed last year, a woman named Rukiya said her son died in the battle to recapture the northern city of Aleppo. “He knew he didn’t have to go, but he didn’t listen to me,” she said. “The resistance was everything to him.”
But in the war, Hezbollah has also gained experience. The Israeli military now fears a scenario in which Hezbollah, which formed in the 1980s to fight the Israeli occupation of Lebanon, could raid one of Israel’s 22 border communities as war in Syria winds down.
In April, Hezbollah organized a rare trip for journalists to the area to highlight what appeared to be newly constructed fortifications on the Israeli side of the U.N.-patrolled buffer zone between the two countries.
“The Israeli enemy is undertaking these fortifications and building these obstacles in fear of an advance,” said a Hezbollah commander who went by the nom de guerre Haj Ihab.
Israel’s Defense Ministry confirmed that it was indeed bolstering its defenses, including walls near northern communities that are vulnerable to cross-border sniper fire or antitank missiles, Israeli media reported. It also said the project will cost about $34.7 million.
“We are strengthening the border based on the understanding that in any future conflict, Hezbollah would make a concerted effort to cross the border,” said an Israel Defense Forces official in the Northern Command who spoke on the condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to talk publicly.
In the meantime, Israel will continue its strategy of “deterrence and prevention,” Nuriel said, managing the risks of escalation.
“You need to ask yourself, if you do this, what will the enemy do?” he said. “Many times we decide taking action is better.”
But Israel’s 2006 war with Hezbollah began when militants launched a cross-border raid on an Israeli patrol, killing three Israeli soldiers and capturing two. Nasrallah later said that if he’d known how Israel would react, Hezbollah would not have carried out the raid. The war left 1,000 Lebanese and nearly 160 Israelis dead. Now the stakes are higher.
“Syria made the machine faster,” said Kamal Wazne, a professor at the American University of Beirut who studies the group. “A confrontation is going to be deadly, destructive and painful for both sides.”