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Israel and its allies must not underestimate Hezbollah firepower, military expert warns

Hezbollah is an “extremely formidable” enemy with more weapons than the West realises, an expert has warned, amid fears that the war in Israel will escalate.

Israel’s military is evacuating 28 villages in the north of the country after two people, a civilian and a soldier, were killed by an anti-tank missile fired from Lebanon on Sunday.

Naim Qassem, deputy chief of Hezbollah, has said the Lebanese Shia milita was “fully prepared” to join the war against Israel following the surprise terror attack carried out by Hamas on 7 October.

Backed by Iran, Hezbollah is a powerful military and political force in Lebanon and fought a war with Israel in 2006.

Dr Frank Ledwidge, a defence expert at the University of Portsmouth, said Israel and its Western allies should not underestimate its capabilities, especially in light of the fact intelligence agencies failed to predict the atrocity carried out by Hamas.

“Most assessments of their manpower put it at about 20,000 [soldiers],” he told i. “If I were an intelligence officer for the Israelis, I would be thinking, ‘They have deceived us strategically with efforts towards some kind of political status quo, they’ve deceived us operationally for years.’

The deputy chief of Lebanon's Shiite militant group Hezbollah, Sheikh Naim Qassem, delivers a speech during a rally in Beirut on October 13, 2023, as thousands of protesters poured onto the streets of several Middle East capitals in support of Palestinians amid Israeli air strikes on Gaza in reprisal for a surprise Hamas attack. Thousands of people, both Israeli and Palestinians have died since October 7, 2023, after Palestinian Hamas militants entered Israel in a surprise attack leading Israel to declare war on Hamas in the Gaza Strip on October 8. (Photo by ANWAR AMRO / AFP) (Photo by ANWAR AMRO/AFP via Getty Images)
The deputy chief of Hezbollah, Sheikh Naim Qassem, delivers a speech during a rally in Beirut (Photo: Anwar Amro/AFP via Getty)

“Therefore I think we can assume that any assessment we have of their weapons systems are likely to understate their capabilities, because they will not have revealed them.

“It’s difficult to assess what they really do have. I think Hezbollah are certainly better armed than we think they are. But I think the Israelis won’t be complacent about it at all, they saw what happened last time and the time before.”

Hezbollah has the ability to fire rockets deep into Israeli territory in an attempt to draw Israel into further conflict.

Dr Ledwidge said the group would also be likely to copy warfare tactics which have proved successful in Ukraine, including making use of drones.

“[Hezbollah’s] weaponry, I think is going to be pretty sophisticated,” he said. “The Israelis are going to be pretty concerned about the anti-tank missiles.

“Both sides will have learned from Ukraine and the way Ukrainians used their anti-tank units to maul the Russian invaders eighteen months ago. The particular weapon they will have lots of is called a Kornet – those have proved effective against Israeli tanks in the past.

“We know they’ve got them, what we don’t know is what else they have in respect of anti-tank weaponry but that’s probably enough.

“They’ve almost certainly got quite a well-developed drone capability. Again, that will take the form of utilising the lessons of Ukraine, using quadcopters.

“Clearly they’ve got the full panoply of weaponry that the likes of the Taliban have had, basic anti-aircraft missiles, RPGs [rocket propelled grenades] by the thousand.

“If you look at the weaponry they’ve deployed against civilians, they clearly have the latest rifles and infrantry equipment. They will have got an awful lot of that from Iran. In the context of where they are they’re extremely formidable.”

Israel believes Hezbollah is launching attacks from Lebanon in order to distract it from events in Gaza.

The situation remains extremely tense in southern Israel, with Israeli troops amassing at the border amid an expected ground invasion with the intention of removing the Hamas leadership.

A Picture taken on October 12, 2023 shows the Israeli-Lebanon border wall in Rosh HaNikra, north western Israel. There have been days of back-and-forth shelling with the Iran-backed Shiite militant group Hezbollah on Israel's northern border with Lebanon since the start of Hamas's operation against Israel from Gaza on October 7. (Photo by Thomas COEX / AFP) (Photo by THOMAS COEX/AFP via Getty Images)
The Israeli-Lebanon border wall at Rosh HaNikra, north-western Israel (Photo: Thomas Coex/AFP via Getty)

The Palestinian Health Ministry says more than 2,300 Palestinians have already died in Israeli air strikes, and over the weekend Joe Biden warned Israel not to reoccupy Gaza.

Dr Ledwidge suggested that Israel also faces a political threat from getting involved in a war with Hezbollah. “As Alex Younger [the former head of MI6] said last week, there’s a danger here [Israel] is going to fall into a political trap,” he added.

“They could get drawn into a city battle that swallows their brigades up, but there’s also the political danger, which surely they can already see, of killing too many civilians.

“The more killing they do in Gaza, the more pressure is on Hezbollah and Fatah in the West Bank there will be to kick off two more war fronts.

“In many ways Hezbollah are better prepared for this than Israel. They [Hezbollah’s leadership] were surprised by the success of what happened last weekend, but that doesn’t mean this wasn’t intended to happen.

“And certainly Hezbollah exists for the purpose of this kind of operation happening – let’s not forgot, these people are desperate and brave. They also seem to be quite tactically well-led.”

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