The Army and Hezbollah's Preparations
Elias Harfouch Al-Hayat - 01/03/07//

There have been an increasing number of reports in the western press recently on Hezbollah's activities in southern Lebanon, specifically in the area north of the Litany River. One of these reports, published by the UK-based 'The Guardian', even cast doubt on the mission of the Lebanese army in the area, where 16,000 soldiers have been deployed.

The report implied that the army is patrolling areas 'off limits' to the international forces. One of Hezbollah's officials, who the paper called 'Ali', was quoted as saying that such areas were sensitive military zones, in which operations are being carried out under agreement between the Lebanese army and Hezbollah.
And while a UNIFIL official admitted that these forces conduct nearly 200 daily reconnaissance patrols in its zone of operations, in coordination with the Lebanese Army, where it was able to destroy rocket launch pads, fortifications, and underground shelters; he confirmed at the same time a marked surge in Hezbollah fighter's activities, especially in the area not covered by the mandate of the international forces These activities include training operations and construction works of new underground facilities.

In a similar report, the UK-based 'The Times' published a report of its correspondent Nicholas Blandford, who has been covering the border area for a long time and knows it well. Blandford quoted Milos Strugar, one of the UNIFIL officers as saying that there are continuous attempts of arms smuggling to the area, and that Hezbollah fighters are constructing a new array of fortifications and expanding facilities that existed before last summer's war.

The UNIFIL officer further said that upon trying to inspect one of these sites, he was challenged by two of Hezbollah's fighters armed with machine guns and equipped with wireless communications equipment. They asked him politely for identification before asking him to leave.

He added that in another spot he saw a sign up on the entrance of one of the fortifications that said: 'Warning. Restricted Access', signed 'Hezbollah'.
At the same time, Hezbollah does not make a secret of its preparations in the South. In an interview with the Associated Press, Hezbollah Deputy Undersecretary Sheikh Naim Kassem said that his fighters were laying down emergency plans in the event of a new Israeli offensive on Lebanon, as part of a potential US-Israeli attack on Iran.

Kassem also confirmed that Hezbollah is taking all the necessary measures to be ready and prepared, and is constantly changing its plans to prevent Israel from uncovering the truth about its true military capabilities, drawing on lessons learned from the experience of the last war.

Hezbollah Secretary General Sayyed Hassan Nasrallah corroborated in his last public statement that Hezbollah was ready to back the Lebanese army in the last border clashes with the Israeli troops if it was asked to, which means that Hezbollah was present in advanced military posts in that area.

All this poses a question on the real role of the Lebanese army in the southern area and on the extent of commitment in observing the articles of UN Security Council Resolution 1701, which Hezbollah has been saying was "imposed" on it under political circumstances similar to those that led to last summer's war.

The truth is that the Lebanese army is the one in charge in the South for enforcing the sovereignty of the State and eliminating any arms except for the legitimate ones.
The army's mission, however, is marred with sensitivities in this situation, as it is unable to enter into a confrontation and, at the same time, cannot leave the arena to Hezbollah. This role is as sensitive as the role being played in the streets of Beirut.

In an extended interview to Annahar newspaper, Army Chief Gen. Michel Suleiman complained about shortages of equipment and the absence of a defense policy. Speaking of the resistance's arms, he reiterated that 'The issue of the resistance is to be settled among the people of Lebanon'. Since the issue of the resistance's arms is controversial, the chief of the army, who reiterated in his statements his respect to the State's institutions, should have left the decisions on this issue to the political leadership.

Much has been circulated on the army's role in the recent clashes in Beirut, and over its 'leniency' toward the riots that took place. Regardless of the interpretations of this role, the situation in the South remains more complex and does not lend itself to subjecting the security situation there to the haggling over political agendas, since any new confrontation would be extremely costly for this country and may not end in a 'victory' similar to what happened last summer